This painting hangs on the wall inside my office. I have stared at it a lot lately. It was painted by Rembrandt to depict the terrifying time the disciples were caught in an incredible storm at sea (Matthew 8).
Living by faith and hope in the midst of a storm is hard. Just a couple of weeks into this pandemic of Covid-19, I’ve heard many stories of how this is not just an abstraction but being felt in hard ways. We are hearing of people we know test positive, weddings are being postponed, hours are being cut and jobs lost, businesses are struggling to survive, and just the day to day rhythms of life have been disrupted. Those are all real losses to be grieved. It's appropriate to feel sadness, grief, and fear.
The question is, "What next?"
Jesus sits with you, lifts your head, and calls us to live with hope. Not because of our strength or ability, but because of his strength and love for us.
What is Hope?
Hope is "a feeling of trust, desire, and expectation for a certain thing to happen."
Being trapped on a boat in the midst of a hurricane-like storm had to feel incredibly scary to the disciples. So much so, that it would seem natural to forget who was in the boat with them.
But What If I Don't Feel Hopeful?
Sometimes we need to be reminded that what we feel isn't ultimate. You may be on the mat in the ring, bloodied and bruised, but you are not crushed or destroyed, my friend. You may not be able to see ten minutes ahead of you in this storm, but you need not despair. You may be feeling frustration and opposition from every part of your life right now, but you are not abandoned.
Paul anchors our particular hope later in 2 Corinthians 4; he points us beyond our momentary feelings to Ultimate Reality.
"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
The dominant, momentary scripts for many are either:
1. That what you feel is true for you personally is what is most true
2. What is most true is what you can see, experience, or measure in this material world; there is nothing beyond that.
But Paul, Jesus, and a Biblical view of God show that those scripts are not only too small but insufficient in the midst of crisis. They aren't enough.
What is most true is that what you are experiencing now is but a shadow in light of the eternal glory that lays ahead of you. Take all that fear and anxiety that feels relentless; and see that the shoulders of Jesus are big enough to carry those burdens for you. What is most true is that Jesus stands not just with you but ahead of you; his love for you, the love that you know in part now, you will know in inestimable fullness one day.
You Get to Decide
One of my favorite lines in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings comes from a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo as they're talking about the chaos of the moment and the challenge of their task. (And remember, Tolkien is writing the book during WWII.)
“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
You cannot change your circumstances. What you can do is decide what to do, right now, with the time given to you.
May God help you, help us, to live with a resilient hope in the Gospel of Jesus. Our God is the Lord of the storm, and he is with us.