If only Job's friends had stopped here. This is enough, isn't it? To witness a friend in distress, to weep with him, suffer with him, to share your shoulder and let your wisdom be demonstrated in your silence?
When we read the story of Job, we almost always identify with Job. Those other people, Job's treacherous wife, his know-it-all friends who seem to have an answer for everything - they represent someone else; they have to.
But let's cut Job's friends some slack here. Imagine yourself in their position. You give up a solid week from your life to weep with a friend, to care for him, to share in his grief, and after all is said and done, he's not ready to get on with it? You've done what you can, have you not? Yes, he's paid an unimaginable price and you feel for him, but sooner or later, he needs to get on with his life! Perhaps it's time he owns up to whatever it is he's done to bring this on himself. No one is completely innocent, are they?
How great is the human instinct to want to make sense of this, to put things into a context that we can understand. If only we know what Job has done to bring this on himself, then we'll know the rule, we know what to do to avoid calamity. Because it is possible to avoid calamity, isn't it? On some level we must believe that we are ultimately in control, even if all that 'being in control' means is living a life that God finds pleasing enough to warrant us special treatment.
We Christians spurn this notion of self-determination wherever asked, but ultimately we want it, we crave it, just like everyone else. We pay lip-service to God's sovereignty but will often use whatever religious means we have at our disposal to wrest some control, any control, from His hands - because we can't believe that He would truly will us, His most loyal, to suffer as unbelievers do. That just doesn't make sense!
And yet we're reminded, time and time again, that at some time in our lives, we saw death on the horizon, and we pledged to imitate the Servant Who Suffers, our Lord, Jesus. We were willing to sacrifice the pleasures of this life for eternal treasures. Scripture tells us that while we can be rewarded here and now, spiritually, emotionally, materially, our ultimate reward isn't in this life, but the next. If suffering is the exception, rather that the rule, in our lives today, it's because we stand on the shoulders of martyrs who were willing to imitate Christ's suffering before us.
Today those martyrs still march to the Lord's drum the world over, giving their lives so that others may be saved. Today our brothers and sisters in Christ are imprisoned, tortured, torn from their families arms and murdered by hostile states, by Islamic militants, by God's enemies who find our message of love, joy and peace with the Living God so offensive they would kill anyone who utters it.
And yet we complain, why? Where is the meaning? That's why. I can endure anything if I know why. If only I were imprisoned for the cause of Christ, rather than imprisoned in a body that's been racked with a random illness, rather than imprisoned in debt, in a dead-end job... if only.
If only I knew why I was suffering, then I would know what to do. That's it, isn't it?
Notice that in the midst of the storm, while Jesus slept and the disciples panicked, there was very little they could do. Undoubtedly they were hard at work with oars and sails and trying to make a beeline for shore. When Jesus woke up, what did they expect? What would you expect? What would I?
What do you expect? What do I?
I expect Jesus to rise up, take control of the ship and tell me what to do. "Hoist that sail! Get on that oar! Row! Row! Row!" I expect Him to see me through the storm. If I expect any rebuke at all, I expect to be rebuked for what I've done wrong, or haven't done at all, to remedy the situation.
It retrospect, it's ridiculous though, isn't it? Would anyone in their right minds expect the disciples to 'succeed' in the situation described? Jesus doesn't rebuke them for their actions or their failures, but for their attitudes, for their fear, for their attempts to control a situation that God has firmly in hand.
"Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:40)
Jesus evidently has little interest in satisfying our desperate curiosity, in connecting the dots for us; I suspect this is mainly because of why we want these dots connected - so we can regain control of the ship.
Rather, He wants us to learn - He has even shown us the way Himself! He did so while catching some shuteye on a ship that appeared to any rational observer to be going down. He modeled simple trust in a God who never, ever fails to be in command of the situation. And when awoken from His slumber, what did He have to say?
"Peace, be still!" (v. 40)
One wonders, was He talking to the storm, or to those inside the boat?
Colin McComb lives in Edson, Alberta with his wife, Gail, and their three lovely children.