When God Sleeps through Storms (Lectionary Reflection on Theodicy for Mark 4:35-41)

Flickr Creative Commons by Ben Salter
Flickr Creative Commons by Ben Salter

Proper 7 — Year B – Mark 4:35-41

“Even the wind and the sea obey him,” the awestruck disciples say.

Just minutes before, they had been in the most terrible storm of their lives. Out on the open sea, the storm had threatened to swamp the disciples and their boat. They were terrified. Completely undone and beside themselves at the prospect of capsizing and drowning. They were baling water, wrestling the wind-whipped sails, and hanging on for their lives.

And Jesus was fast asleep.

In the stern, his head propped up on a cushion.

Were it not for the crashing waves and shouting disciples, I’m pretty sure you could have heard Jesus snoring.

Finally, the disciples, in terror and exasperation, shout, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Jesus wakes and rebukes the wind and commands it to quiet down.

“Peace! Be still,” he says, but I imagine this is as much a rebuke of the disciples as it is at the wind.

We are like the disciples. We want God to calm the wind and seas. We want to shout at God, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you see we are perishing? Don’t you see so many of us — children, even! — have already perished? Wake up, God! Stop sleeping when we need you most!”

Like the disciples, we believe the power — the divine — is in the ability to control things. We assume, like the disciples, that the miracle is in Jesus rebuking and calming the storm.

But if you notice, Jesus only reluctantly uses his power. He doesn’t seem to want to do anything. He wants to keep sleeping! He goes so far as to rebuke his disciples for even asking for his help. He calls them faithless. This storm-calming power isn’t the kind of power Jesus came to demonstrate. Rather, it is the exact kind of power Jesus came in order to give up, to empty himself of. It is the same power he rejects when he refuses to throw himself from the pinnacle when he is tempted in the desert, the same power he turns down when he refuses to kneel before the Adversary, that same superficial power that controls earthly things.

Though we might like it to be, this isn’t a story, I don’t think, about Jesus’ ability to control the weather. He is bothered to perform the miracle and is annoyed, it seems, that his disciples even asked. This is a story, rather, about how little we believe God to be with us in the midst of an overwhelming storm. It’s about how, deep down, maybe we don’t really believe that a God-with-us is actually enough. It’s about how what we really want is a God who is in control. And it is an indictment of the disciples and of us.

I don’t really think the miracle in this story is about Jesus calming the storm and taking control. The miracle in this story is that Jesus was with the disciples in the water-logged and weatherbeaten boat, experiencing the same terrible storm, the same terrible waves, the same terrible danger.

And that alone should have been enough.

God’s power isn’t in the control of creation or of people, but in being in covenant and relationship with them. It isn’t in imposing the divine will or insisting on its own way but in sojourning with us as we fumble around and make our way in the world. God’s power is not in miraculous interventions, pre-emptive strikes in the cosmic war against suffering and evil, but in inviting us to build a kingdom out of love, peace and justice with God. God’s power is not in the obliterating of what is bad in the world, but in empowering us to build something good in this world.

And isn’t this true power? Instead of enforcing control and solutions onto the world, God’s power is revealed in coming alongside us, journeying with us, suffering with us, and even staying with us in the boat when the storms come.

We might find this idea jarring because I think we misunderstand what divine power is. God isn’t in the business of controlling things like the weather, because that isn’t the nature of God’s power. God’s power is something stranger, more paradoxical.

The omnipotence of God isn’t about having all the power. That’s would turn God into a controlling, insecure narcissist.

Rather, the omnipotence of God is in the sharing of power.

God’s power is in the giving up of power, in the act of disarming divine omnipotence in favor of covenant and relationship with creation.

God’s power is in the act of becoming empty (kenosis), in becoming one of us.

In simply getting in the boat with us, in the midst of terrible storms.

Imagine if the disciples had been awestruck not that the winds and seas had obeyed Jesus, but that Jesus had stayed in the boat while the seas raged around them.

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