Real danger

One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and started out. As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger.
The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?”
The disciples were terrified and amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!” Luke 8:22-25 NLT

We live in an age of technology. We have endless gadgets to assist us in our daily life, which has made life easier in many ways than any age that has preceded this one. Definitely the biggest change that has occurred in my lifetime is the immediate availability of almost endless amounts of information to the masses of humanity. A tiny phone which I carry in my pocket gives me access to a worldwide library of data about every subject imaginable.

The result of this is that there is very little that is unknown. Wherever we go, someone has been there before, and they have recorded words and pictures of that place to give us an idea of what to expect. Before we embark on any venture we have access to real time information about what we are about to do which can inform our decisions about whether to do it.

In theory this makes our lives safer, more predictable, than ever before. In theory this should give us a greater sense of control, which should reduce our fear and anxiety in life, make us feel safer and more secure.

Yet as doctors we see an epidemic of anxiety taking hold of our patients, indeed many doctors are themselves affected, with indecision and paralysis the result. Rather than life becoming easier, it seems to have become harder. When it comes to health in the Western world, infectious disease has receded as the main cause of illness, being taken over by chronic diseases of lifestyle and aging. But in recent years the main cause of suffering, especially in the younger generations, is neither of these, but rather mental afflictions, psychiatric illness. We live in the age of depression and anxiety – of apathy, hopelessness, and fear. The technological age has accompanied this. It is easy to wonder if it has caused it.

The disciples of Jesus were eager to follow him wherever he went, to go wherever he asked them to go. On this occasion that meant embarking on a voyage across lake Galilee, an inland body of water that was known for its sudden storms. At least some of his disciples were seasoned sailors, but even they could not predict the weather all the time. If they had misgivings on this occasion Luke did not record them. They simply got in the boat and started out. They did not know what lay ahead.

Jesus, on the other hand, probably did have an inkling of what was going to happen, though he didn’t tell them. He knowingly led them into “real danger,” into harm’s way. Then he promptly went to sleep. As the storm arose the disciples’ anxiety turned to fear and they no doubt began to discuss amongst themselves what they should do. If there was a sail, they would have reefed it and manned the oars. But they quickly realized that they were too far from the shore, and before they could ever get there they would have been swamped and sunk. Life jackets did not exist then, there was no rescue service, and even if there was, no one had a mobile phone or a radio to call them. Even distress flares were a technology that was still a thousand years in the future.

The disciples had nothing to fall back on, there was no hope of rescue, and they began to realize that they were staring death in the face. They were gripped by fear. And there was Jesus asleep in the boat, the spray from the waves splashing over him. They woke him in desperation. He fixed the situation.

Why did anxiety not affect Jesus? Because he had something that try as we might, with all our technological marvels, we do not have. That something is control. Jesus could control the wind and the waves, he could command the storm to stop and it did. He could fix the situation with a word. In so doing he got his disciples out of trouble.

Having done so, he asked them a simple question, “where is your faith?” The disciples were still getting to know Jesus. They had seen him heal, they had seen him cast out demons, but they had never seen him command the elements. They were overwhelmed and though before they were fearful of drowning, now they were terrified. Who was this man they had thrown their lot in with? What couldn’t he do?

There is much we can take from this story. Not least is that we live in a dangerous world, and that sometimes Jesus leads us into danger. A life following Jesus is not always “safe” – there are risks involved which can provoke as great an anxiety for us as the disciples experienced. How often we cry out like the disciples, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” This story teaches us something about how to approach such situations, and indeed might contain some keys to how to cope with anxiety in general. It is timely for us in an age of anxiety.

It is natural to respond to anxiety by striving for control. But there are limits to the extent of our control. Despite our technology, we are not God, as much as would like to think we are. Disaster can unexpectedly affect any of us, at any moment. We cannot anticipate every possible scenario, much less control it. The insurance industry is built on this premise, and it is a thriving industry.

What this story teaches us is that though we have little control, Jesus does. And we are his friends, or we can be, if we follow him. If we trust him, he will save us. The key to anxiety is not insurance, nor technology, nor being always in control. It is trust. “Where is your faith?” Jesus asked his disciples. He asks us he same question.

Does that mean that following Jesus gives us control over our circumstances? Does it mean that following Jesus is an insurance policy that always pays out, guaranteeing a life free of suffering or pain? Yes and no. Our ultimate fate is sealed when we put our trust in Jesus. We have the promise of heaven. But though we are encouraged to pray “your kingdom come,” and we are challenged to live by kingdom principles here and now, the fullness of heaven is something that we will not experience before Jesus takes us there. We catch glimpses, of course, and they give us great joy, and increase our hope and faith. But for most, perhaps all of us reading this, the real thing will be after we have died and not before. How and when we die that natural death is uncertain for all of us. What is sure is what awaits us after, if we are followers of Jesus, if we have handed control of our lives over to him.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that the answer to anxiety lies in how we think about our own death, how we cope with the reality that we will all die. We live in an age of technological triumph and medical marvels, but they have not helped us cope better with death. In many cases they have made us less resilient, because they deceive us into believing that we have control, when in reality we don’t. Jesus offers a solution to the cause and the reality of death, a solution that nothing and no one else does.

What will we put our trust in? Our technology? Our medicine? Our insurance policies? Our own wisdom and ability? Our achievements? Our goodness? I don’t think Jesus is opposed to any of these. But they will not free us from our deepest existential angst, for we will all die. Jesus challenges us to see all our achievements realistically and not expect them to give us what we long for most deeply – eternal security. That is the ultimate solution to anxiety, and that is something that only he can give. Jesus is the only one who has defeated death, and he holds the key to us doing the same. Whatever boat we are in right now, whether it is on calm, or stormy seas, he says to us, “Trust me. I’m in control.”

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