“When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’”
The appearance of Jesus in our mundane world can be a cause of terror at first. We are shocked out of our comfortable stupor and faced with the reality of God and His power in our lives. This can happen through the power of a natural disaster, where we feel like the objects of God’s wrath. It can also be just as shocking in a personal experience of God in prayer. The first time we have a profound spiritual experience of God can be scary. We see this throughout Sacred Scripture whenever an angel appears to human persons. They immediately cower in fear at the presence of such an otherworldly being. My own first encounter with God’s direct and unmistakable intervention in my life literally staggered me. The power of God shocks us into seeing a reality greater than ourselves.
Why do we fear letting God be God? Why did the disciples fear Jesus when He manifested His power as God by walking on the sea? I think it is because we regularly make assumptions about how the world works, and these assumptions neglect or exclude God’s role in the cosmos. We are quite comfortable with God if we can keep Him at a distance, safely tucked away in a church or temple, away from our day to day lives. We want God to be powerful only when we invoke Him to do our bidding, particularly in times of crisis. We can even be persuaded to humble ourselves before God’s power when our lives, our safety, or our security are at grave risk. God is God; we are not gods, yet we cling to the illusion that we are somehow the highest power in our own lives.
Times of crisis, like those we live in now, are a convenient reminder of the deeper realities of this earthly life. We are unable, even as a species, to conquer a mere virus. A creature so small that we cannot see it with the naked eye has brought human civilization to its knees and redefined how we see the world, other people, and ourselves. At a time like this, is it not comforting to know that we are not God? Is it not reassuring to know that the real God of the Universe loves us and has promised to be with us even to the end of the world? I, for one, rejoice that there is Someone in the universe who can and does order all things for the good, and that He Who Is Lord of heaven and earth is also our Father, our Savior, and our intimate friend. He says to us, in the midst of the storm, even as we sink in our arrogance and our doubts: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Let us take Him at His Word. Let God be God, and let us take refuge in the shadow of His wings.