You have to admit that the weather and storms that we experience in Kamloops are pretty docile compared to other parts of British Columbia or Canada. Amongst BCs list of worst natural disasters is the winter of 1935 when the temperature in Vancouver dropped to minus 16 Celsius (3F) accompanied by 40 cm (16in) of snow, followed by four days of rain – resulting in fuel shortages, frozen water supplies and the collapse of the hockey and curling rink. In December of 1996, one BC winter storm was dubbed “Whitemare” as the coast saw over 100 cm of snow. With 65 cm (25in) of snow falling on Victoria on December 29 the one-day snowfall record was set surpassing even the records of Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. The summer of 2003 saw most of the province go up in flames with over 2500 wildfires. The worst wildfire season on record destroyed 334 homes and it took the lives of three pilots. The spring of 2012 began with a pine beetle infection which was followed by devastating flooding in the interior as some communities received more rain in one day than they normally get in one month. Flash flooding in Salmon Arm was strong enough to knock houses off their foundations. A short review of the worst weather disasters in BC history helps us to appreciate the weather we’re having now.
The gospel begins with a violent storm. “When evening came, he [Jesus] said to his disciples, let us go over to the other side” … “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:35, 37). The combination of Greek words used here describes the weather disturbance that had suddenly appeared as a “great windstorm”. At first, we wonder what a group of seasoned fishermen would be doing crossing a lake if a storm might be imminent. But these sudden windstorms were and are still a common phenomenon today when the cold air descends from the 9200-foot-high peak of Mount Hermon to mix with the warm air sitting over the Sea of Galilee - which is only 700 feet above sea-level.
I don’t think that it’s too difficult for many of us to make a connection between a storm and actual life. Even a simple thunderstorm, with all its awesome beauty and fury - will send many people into hiding. Country Music star Randy Travis released an entire album of songs in 1986 under the album label “Storms of Life” which includes a song by the same title along with his all time classic about heartbreak and broken homes titled “Diggin’ Up Bones”. “Storms of Life '' challenges us with the tension that exists in a wayward soul experiencing a serious case of guilt signing “I'd better change my wandering ways I know I've seen my better days. I left my soul out in the rain Lord, what a price I've had to pay. The Storms of life are washin' me away”.
Television shows and movies, although make-believe, have honestly represented the incredible destructive force of lightning, wind, rain and the sea against human life and civilization. When the apocalyptic (end of time) genre is added the storms become unrealistic like the movie “2012” as the world is affected by major natural disasters which lead to world-wide flooding or the 2004 movie “The Day after Tomorrow” depicting a cooling of the oceans resulting in atmospheric tornadoes sending cities into a deep-freeze and creating a sudden ice age or the 2011 film “Contagion” which depicts the spread of a deadly virus, transmitted by respiratory droplets which sends health officials into a panic in the face of a pandemic.
In the past year, we have learned about how to deal with a viral pandemic and over the centuries we have also gained much experience in predicting natural disasters and learning how to prepare and deal with them. In those areas where the threat of great windstorms and tornados exist people take shelter in underground chambers when danger approaches. No one wants to be above ground or in a boat on open water when any kind of a windstorm hits. When the furious squall came up the disciples were afraid. “The disciples woke him [Jesus] and said to him, Teacher, don’t you care if we drown” (Mark 4:38)? It’s not too difficult for us to see that when life’s problems and worries are like a storm – those things will also cause our hearts to fear.
The greatest story about dealing with the storms of life doesn’t actually come from the Gospel or the New Testament. Jewish author Harold Kushner deals with these same fears that cause our hearts to fret along with the message of hope that we need to hear when in the midst of our storms in his 1981 book entitled “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” as he explores the existence of evil in the world in which we live.
The great storms of life afflicted an Old Testament personality whom we know little or nothing about. His story of devastation, loss and terrible destruction is found in the story of Job. “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).
This man had great wealth in both possessions and family and “he was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3). But, before we can even get to the end of chapter one Job loses his property and all his children, and if that wasn’t enough, he quickly loses his good health as even his wife turns on him and his God. In a few short moments, Job has gone from riches to rags. “Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes” (Job 2:8) and “when [his friends] they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him [Job]” (Job 2:12). His closest friends come to see him, to comfort him in his loss, but instead they try to get Job to confess his sin so that he can again be made right with God. Sin was considered the cause of bad fortune, as even the disciples of Jesus questioned him about a man’s blindness asking, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind” (John 9:2)?
The author of the life of Job weaves together a story using Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar presenting the reader with the ancient world’s views regarding suffering. Eliphaz the Temanite begins by saying, “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7). According to Eliphaz, Job must have sinned against God in order to have brought such great suffering upon himself. No one suffers for doing what is good and so justice is being served, as Job must be being punished for something he has done. Job must have sinned against God, his friends argue, but Job stubbornly insists that he is innocent, while his friends plead with him to admit his guilt and appeal to the Almighty.
Some modern people believe like Job’s friends that what we do causes our own suffering – going so far as believing that our suffering is punishment which comes from God. This might be why some people think of suffering in this life as being ‘hell on earth’. Without a doubt, suffering is often caused by the choices we make in this life. Take suicide for example. Not everyone who attempts to take their life succeeds. The fatality rate when using poison is less than two percent, while a self-inflicted gunshot suicide has an 82 percent success rate leaving 18 percent of those attempts as survivors who may suffer physical and mental trauma afterwards.
But then, like Job we are often confused amid human suffering to discover and to ask why good people also suffer and apparently unjustly. Look at the number of children worldwide who suffer and die of malnutrition, from the effects of preventable diseases, because of the lack of clean water, et al. In 2017 the worldwide child mortality rate was at its lowest in three decades with 5.4 million deaths. Modern medicine in developed countries helps infants born with cancer and other diseases to live longer while introducing new challenges and suffering into their lives.
Sadly, some modern Christians take the story of Job and our earthly life one step further – believing that suffering is a test of one’s faith. They understand suffering as God’s way of purifying our faith in Him. I’ve known people suffering through cancer who believed that God was inflicting them with pain, sickness and suffering in order to teach them, or to test and strengthen their faith. When I hear of such stories, I wonder what kind of narcissistic, sadistic and malicious god they have created for themselves. It reminds me of the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel. In order to try and get Ba’al’s attention the prophets ``shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed” … but there was no response” (1 Kings 18:28-29).
A correct reading and interpretation of scripture must always be attempted as if Jesus Christ is speaking to us through the printed words – because Christ himself is the Word of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to see and hear who Christ truly is when we cradle him in our hands as we read through our Bible because, as his own disciples asked him, “to whom shall we go? You [Lord] have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
As the story of Job draws to a conclusion, we discover that Job’s suffering was not about anything that Job had done or had not done. Suffering, sickness, and death was simply part and parcel of living in a broken sin-infested world. Job understood this from the very beginning saying, “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (Job 1:21). Jesus would further clarify this saying “[our Father in heaven] he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Notice that God does not show partiality. So, if I am willing to quote John 3:16 and 1 John 4:8 I cannot in good conscience dismiss those traits of God from my reading of scripture or my interpretation of God’s actions in my life – whether I am suffering or not suffering. Martin Luther King once said “As my sufferings mounted, I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course”. I also chose within whatever this earthly life sends my way, to believe in a redeeming and loving God in Christ who willingly suffered and died for me on the cross, and not in a god who would purposely goes against his own nature or example to cause or inflict pain and suffering on me, or any other of God’s children - for any reason.
Martin Luther agreed with the Word of God that everything from the universe to the smallest creature was created by God. This belief emphasizes God's complete omnipotence – that God is all powerful, but this omnipotence also carries with it, as a consequence, the fact that anything wrong with the universe cannot be attributed to anything within the created universe, because everything is created by God. God is the author of all that exists. The story of Job opens a “pandora’s box” which creates a dilemma regarding the subject of evil and suffering as Satan is initially presented as a created angel of God and not an evil red demon with a pointed tail. “The angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them” (Job 1:6).
Now, if God is “all powerful” as previously stated – we have a problem. When we look at the existence of evil, we are struck by two questions. (1) Does God want to relieve suffering, but is unable? This suggests that God is good but not all-powerful. (2) In the opposite scenario, we ask whether God is able to relieve suffering, but he is either unwilling or unconcerned with it? As such, God is then all-powerful - but God is not good. We could get God off the hook by saying that evil and suffering enter the world because of Satan, which results in human sin, but that simply pushes us back to the beginning as we now have to ask why God could not have created humans in such a way that they would not sin? There is no easy answer to this question.
The story of Job is clear on one point. God does allow suffering and pain whereas the story may put a little bit too much emphasis on the Satan, which in Hebrew is translated - the accuser. In the end of it all, the true cause of suffering, pain, and death in our world is sin which the story Genesis makes perfectly clear. Like Job, we will also discover that the truth behind why suffering and pain exists, is beyond our limited human capabilities to understand. When God finally answers Job the Almighty asks, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (Job 38:4). Can we really understand what God has done and why?
Let’s get back to where we started – sailing across the Sea of Galilee with Jesus. His disciples have a very real encounter with danger and fear in today’s gospel. The disciples aren’t in a hurry and Jesus is taking a nap. It was a peaceful time away from the crowds and the disciples likely dropped a few lines in the water as they travelled across the sea. Without warning, the wind shifted, and a great windstorm arose. What is truly surprising about this story is the disciples’ reaction to the storm. These seasoned fishermen are terrified that they will drown.
In the midst of all their calamity, Jesus is present with them – although sound asleep in the stern of the ship. The sound of the storm nor the cries from his disciples are able to wake him. Having Jesus in the boat with them is not enough. Finally, they wake Jesus up. Do something, they cry out. Do anything, don’t you care that we are about to die. Jesus awakes and “rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:39). Notice how a lifeless storm recognizes Jesus’s authority more than his own disciples did!
Everything, the wind, the sea and the disciples were still. ‘Peace! Be still!’ One has to wonder if Jesus’s words were directed at the wind and sea or were they directed at his disciples? The sea did obey and there was a great calm. But that great calm also affected the disciples, as they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41). Jesus concludes this encounter with two questions. “[Jesus] He said to his disciples, [pause] (1) Why are you so afraid?” [pause] and “(2) Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
The storms of life often catch us off guard. These storms also cause our hearts to fear and our faith to waver. We often feel alone like Job, when suffering, pain and death occur in our lives. We forget that Jesus has promised to always be with us, and so, like the disciples, we also cry out to Jesus for help, at which point Jesus calls out “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). Jesus is active in our world through each one of us in order to bring us the peace of God that passes all understanding. Our faith also calls us to radical obedience as demonstrated by the wind and waves’ obedience to Jesus. Through Baptism Jesus comes and saves us through the same water that obeys him and the wind from God (Holy Spirit) claims us as God's beloved children as we promise to respond to God’s grace by living faithfully as the children of God.
Copyright © 2021 St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Kamloops
We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. We also host a Bible Study each Sunday morning at 09:30 am and on Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 pm. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.