Harvey. Irma. Sandy. Ike. Katrina. Andrew. Agnes.
To most of us these are a random assortment of names. But in fact they are the names of some of the most devastating hurricanes in history -- storms whose impact on the lives of people continue long after the clouds have parted, the floods receded and the winds died down.
We watched with horror the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey on the Gulf Coast last year. Interstates in Houston became surging rapids. Islands in the Caribbean like Puerto Rico lost most of their infrastructure. Harvey was soon followed by Irma, which hit the Caribbean again and then turned her wrath on Florida. The recovery from these storms is ongoing and will take years but, even then, the memories will linger longer.
Naming storms is something that humans have been doing for a long time. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) began the process of officially naming Atlantic storms in 1953, at first using female names and naming them in alphabetical order. Male names were added in 1979. Which many females would say is appropriate since men create many of their most difficult challenges. I won’t go further into that subject.
Let me ask you, if you were to give name to a current or recent storm what might it be called… Hurricane Cancer, Hurricane Divorce, Hurricane Unemployment, Hurricane Financial Crisis, Hurricane Acute Anxiety, Hurricane Recovery, Hurricane Disappointment, Hurricane Bitterness, Hurricane Unexpected Change. What would you name your Storm. Some of the most vicious storms and Hurricanes take place in the summer months but life’s adversities are no respecter of seasons and they seldom come with advance warning.
Biblically speaking storms are an old story. It's no coincidence that the first major story after creation is a story of a Storm. Noah is a righteous man who obeys God, builds a huge ship, and prepares for God's judgment on a world where the wickedness of humanity was its own storm.
God allows the chaos of the waters to break loose in a horrific flood, reverting back to the watery void of Genesis 1. And yet, while the waters rage, God saves Noah, his family and the creatures of the earth on an ark tossed by stormy seas. God's judgment, God's grace and God's rescue come together in one season. And these storming accounts shown in Scripture we encounter a God who is involved in the deliverance and assistance of His covenant people.
Noah steps out of the ark and into a new creation washed clean by the flood. Chaos is pushed back again. In Exodus God parts the waters of the Red Sea to save Israel from the evil of slavery in Egypt. In the book of Job, Job rails at God in the midst of evil and suffering and God eventually shows him the great sea monsters under his control – as a sign that chaos doesn't have the last word.
In Isaiah we have a futuristic look to a day when all can come to the waters and drink without fear (Isaiah 55:1). Jonah tossed into the raging sea but saved by the belly of a whale (Jonah 2-3). In the New Testament we see Jesus, going through the waters of baptism and into the desert to do battle with the forces of evil (Mark 1:9-13).
The story of Scripture is the story of how God brings the people of God through the waters of evil and into a new creation. It's no accident, then, that Mark 4 preserves this story of Jesus and his disciples on a boat being tossed by an unexpected and violent storm. The chaos rages once again; rickety boats are swamped by 10-foot waves and are starting to sink. Fear, panic and desperation come over these fishermen, who have clearly never experienced this type of storm (vv. 35-37).
Mark tells us that in the midst of all the chaos, Jesus is in the stern of the boat napping quietly (v. 38). The disciples, meanwhile, are in a panic. Jesus apparently doesn't sense the chaos, the evil that surrounds them, and so they are concerned. "Wake up!" they yell over the howling wind. "Don't you see that we're dying here? Don't you care?"
Jesus wakes up, and in my imagining he looks at them for a long moment with one eye open. He doesn't answer their question. Instead he stands and addresses the wind and the waves. Mark says that he "rebuked" the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" (v. 39). Isn't it interesting that these are roughly the same words that Jesus uses to cast out demons? He rebukes them and tells them to be quiet. It's no coincidence that the next scene in Mark is Jesus casting out a demon on the other side of the lake in Mark 5. Mark, as well as the other gospels, makes it clear: Jesus has command over the wind and waves, over chaos and calamity and over evil and despair.
How did he calm the storm? How did he turn a violent, raging sea into a placid pond of tranquility? We might expect a presentation outlining Jesus' humanity and divinity. Jesus instead turns and asks them a question: "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" (v. 40).
And I could easily imagine the disciples response, "Well, duh, of course we're afraid! We're in a Category 5 storm, we almost died we had no idea the forces of nature would obey you…yes we were afraid!”
And we remember how Jesus said to the waves, Quiet! Be Still! He brought absolute calm to raging storm and terrifying fear. In their fear, however, the disciples had forgotten the important fact: Jesus in in the boat with them. They woke Jesus up so that he could share in their panic. Jesus, on the other hand, wants them to have faith -- not fear. "Always remember, I'm in the boat with you," Jesus says in effect, "and I've got this."
The storms hit us, often with great fury. Devastating hurricanes can hit our lives no matter where we live: Where is Jesus in the midst of these storms? Where is Jesus when the typhoon of devastating illness hits? Where is Jesus when the lightning strike of a loved one's death leaves us in shock? Where is God when the waves of death, destruction, and doubt threaten to sink us?
Where is Jesus? In the boat, with us, and there he invites us to turn from fear to faith -- the kind of faith that Jesus himself had in the God who brings order out of chaos and will one day still all storms forever. At the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation, we see a vision of the new creation made possible by Jesus' as the completion of God's plan.
In chapter 21 we read about the new heavens and the new earth "coming down" and casting aside all the storms of evil from the old creation, making all things new. As John sees this vision, he notices that in this new creation "the sea was no more" (Revelation 21:1). There's no place for evil in the new creation. No place for tears. No place for mourning or crying or pain (21:4). No more storms! But until such eternal peace prevails let us remember He is always in the boat with us!
He told me to tell you!