When God Sleeps
The tempest flared up in an instant and waves beat against the boat. The Sea of Galilee lies six hundred and eighty feet below sea level. Mountains loom around it, with ravines and gorges that act like a funnel for winds. Violent storms could come down suddenly even on a perfectly clear day. Trapped in their boat, sinking and despairing, the disciples found themselves in a crisis much like we do in our own lives. God was present in their storm as he is in ours.
“There arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep” (Mt. 8:23).
Why a storm in the first place? They had left the world and followed Christ. So many of our problems come about because we do not follow Christ. We make foolish decisions and reap the consequences. Yet, in this scenario, they had done everything right. They were right where they needed to be, and the storm came regardless. In fact, this is often how it works. When we do follow Christ, you can be sure a storm will arise.
Who sent the storm? God sent it, the God “who brings forth winds out of his stores” (Ps. 134.7). Origin the theologian remarks: “This storm did not arise of itself, but in obedience to the power Who had commanded it…A great storm arose so that a great sign might be given.” God sent the storm as a foreshadowing of the storms in our lives, and for a sign of how we must react. “The more the waves beat against the little ship,” Origin continues, “the more did fear assail the hearts of His Disciples, and consequently the greater was their desire to be delivered through the power of the Saviour.”
Christ did not promise us an easy life. In fact, He promised the Church trials and tribulations. In His own words:
“Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars…nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes…Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake…iniquity shall abound, [and] the love of many shall wax cold” (Mt. 24:6-8).
I have been thinking about Christian persecution. Within the last century, Christianity underwent persecution on a global scale that surpassed all its persecution in the last 2,000 years before. Over the last decade, the numbers have risen exponentially. In 2020, 9,488 churches were attacked and around 3,000 Christians were killed for their belief. That was over seas. How will persecution look in the U.S.? Up until now, it has been subtle and indirect. We do not know what lies ahead of us, but we can expect rising tension.
Our culture has become increasingly tribalistic. We are at each other’s throats for minor disagreements. Sometimes it feels like we could start a civil war simply on the premise of face masks. Meanwhile, political opinions have begun to feel more and more religious. Worldviews have grown farther apart. There is not nearly as much elbow room as there once was. Do you remember the action films in the 90’s? There was violence and swearing enough, but the protagonists wore crosses and prayed in distress. In films today, the villains are priests and bishops. The cross is a sign of hate and ridicule. There will certainly be storms ahead.
Of course, even without persecution, we have enough troubles in our own private lives.
So storms do come. Where is God?
“Jesus was inside the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The followers went and woke him. They said, ‘Teacher, don’t you care about us? We are going to drown!’” (Mk. 4:38-40).
Cannot we relate with the disciples? In our own personal storms, we doubt God. “Where are you?” “Why are you sleeping?” Where was God on 9-11? Where is God in our country’s challenges? Where is God in divorce, death, sickness, or tragedy? Do you remember Lieutenant Dan in Forest Gump? That scene is so unforgettable — tied up on the mast, sailing off in the storm, cursing and yelling at God. At some point in everyone’s life, I suspect, we wish we could be up there with the Lieutenant.
“Wake up Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” (Ps. 44:23-24).
Where is God when he seems to be sleeping?
“It is an astonishing thing,” Origin says, “that He Who never sleeps nor grows weary, is here said to sleep. He slept in His Body, but in the Godhead He keeps watching.” Why? “In His Body therefore He slept, to make the Apostles keep watch, lest we should also slumber in our souls. The Disciples were fearful, and so nearly out of their senses that they rushed upon Him; they did not beseech Him modestly or quietly, but rather awakened Him violently.”
How should we pray to God? God does not want us to pray modestly and demurely. He wants us to pray violently. God grows quiet so that we can turn to him with zeal. He steps back and seems to disappear, so that, in our despair, we strain our hearts to Him. He lets us feel the weight of darkness, so that we can crave for light.
Why does God allow persecution? Every time Christianity becomes comfortable, it stops being Christianity. Every time church becomes “nice” and “easy,” it has lost God and His Holy Spirit. God allows persecution to fuel our desperation.
What is the real crisis in our lives? The psalms call it “slumber unto death.” We are asleep in our souls, disconnected and indifferent to God. God sends the storms to wake us.
“And Jesus saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”
Elder Cleopa was a spiritual hero in 20th century Romania. The authorities were tired of his preaching and threw him into jail. Then, they dragged him into a torture chamber designed to break down the psyche. The normal victim came out broken and insane. Elder Cleopa came out with a bright smile on his face and a peaceful countenance. They were bewildered. “Why were you unaffected!” He retreated into his heart, he said, where he had learned to rest in the Name of Jesus. He had built a sanctuary in his heart, the place of peace, and there, no storms could shake him.
Jesus Christ is the calm, if we can only learn to rest in Him.
St. Augustine prays: “Your ship is in peril; your heart is buffeted by waves, your soul is endangered…Why? Because in thee Christ sleeps. What does this mean…It means you have forgotten Christ. Then awaken Christ, bring Him to mind; let Christ keep watch in thee…Let us awaken Christ that we may sail on in peace, and come safely home…[May Our God] bring us to unending joy through His Son Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen”