TV evangelist Pat Robertson claimed his prayers helped steer Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and Hurricane Felix in 1995 away from the Virginia headquarters of his Christian Broadcasting Network (The Virginia-Pilot, Norfolk, VA, June 10, 1998).
Unbelievers, skeptics and even some believers had a field day laughing. Granted, Robertson has made strange claims over the years. Maybe these hurricane-prayers are one, maybe not . . .
* * *
35 That day (of Jesus’ parables—Mark 4:1-34) when evening came, he said to his disciples,
“Let us go over to the other side.”
36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.
There were also other boats with him.
37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat,
so that it was nearly swamped.
38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.
The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves,
“Quiet! Be still!”
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other,
“Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41).
Even the wind and the waves obey him! Earlier Mark reported how Jesus demonstrated authority over an unclean spirit (1:21-28), over many sick in Capernaum (1:29-34), over leprosy (1:40-45), over paralysis and sin (2:1-12) and over a withered hand (3:1-6). Because he broke the Pharisees’ legalistic interpretation of the Sabbath law (3:1-6), and probably because he was famous with the masses (1:28,45; 2:1,2,12), “the Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (3:6). These miracles were signs of God’s kingdom at hand (1:15). The Pharisees, however, were blind to them. They should have known better from their Bible.
“For [the LORD] commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men,
and were at their wits end (Psalm 107:25-27).
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still, and the waves were hushed” (Psalm 107:25-29).
Almost makes you seasick! But stomach-churning mustn’t make us miss the message: the Lord can send a storm and the Lord can stop a storm. “The LORD’s kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:15); therefore every storm exists within his sovereign will. The Unseen Hand doesn’t show up on meteorologists’ radar!
The Pharisees missed the message of Jesus’ miracle because of religious pride. We can miss it because of false piety. We can snicker with skeptics at Robertson’s claim. And maybe his prayer didn’t have anything to do with those hurricanes’ course-changes. But let’s learn from Jesus and the psalmist. Rather than regarding storms as the result of weather patterns, wiser to say with the disciples in fearful awe . . .
“Who then is this,
that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41).
Why are you so afraid? The disciples aren’t the brightest bulbs in the bunch. But how can we blame them for being afraid? If we were caught in a boat with mini-hurricane waves breaking into it and filling it, would we crawl to the stern and lay down to nap next to Jesus?
At Jesus’ rebuke “the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (4:39). At Jesus’ questions it’s clear he considered the disciples’ fright the opposite of faith. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (4:40). All the miracles they’ve seen and they still had more fear of the storm than they had faith in Jesus. (I hate to admit I would have had too.)
Maybe we can kick off the unbelieving disciples’ soaking sandals and fuel our faith by realizing . . .
One, faith comes from seeing and hearing. Jesus expected the disciples’ faith to come from his miracles they’d seen and his teachings they’d heard. His question—“Do you still have no faith?”—implies that. For us faith comes from “seeing” and “hearing” Jesus in Scripture. That’s why daily prayerful Bible reading is vital for our faith’s health. That’s why regularly hearing it preached and taught is “faith-giving”.
Two, believing is trusting he cares. Faith-teaching “specialists” complicate faith. In this case, faith is “simply” trusting Jesus cares. The cowardly disciples shook Jesus awake: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Yes,
” . . . he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). The cross is the most powerful symbol of Jesus’ love. And the most assuring promise of his love is Romans 8:37-39.
Three, silence doesn’t mean absence but presence. What good is a caring, powerful miracle-worker asleep in dreamland? But maybe Jesus sleeping meant he was in comfortable control! We naturally assume silence means Jesus is absent from our “sinking boat”. But, from the One who said “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20) and whose Spirit indwells us (Romans 8:9,10), silence doesn’t signal absence but presence.
With those “faith-fuelers” in mind, one question . . .
“Still no faith?”