Tuesday, June 16, 2015

He is not Asleep

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

For those of us who have been through a crisis would know what it means to be gripped by panic, doubt, fear.  One likely reason for such anxiety is that we begin to wonder whether God is really paying attention to us during our distress or had slept off on the watch. It is enough to drive a man crazy when he is confronted with the deafening silence of God.

Today’s gospel narrative raises this mysterious dilemma. While Peter and his companions battled the storm, Jesus slept like a baby in the back of the boat. Simply amazing! Jesus sleeping while the boat was on the verge of capsizing. Jesus, asleep in the boat, the seeming inactivity of God often mystifies us. We wonder why God doesn’t seem to be doing anything in the midst of our storms. What is more perplexing is that God often allows these storms to blow in our lives? Jesus may have deliberately set up his disciples for this crisis. At the beginning of the gospel reading, it is Jesus who tells his disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Could it be that God is capable of dropping us into a pot of boiling water and then sits back and relaxes in His sofa as He watches us squirm?

Why did Jesus ask them to cross the lake? A more disconcerting question - why did Jesus lead them into a dangerous storm that threatened their very lives? Was it to look for greener pastures? On the contrary, it couldn’t have been better. Jesus was at the peak of his ministry. The disciples could well be excused for thinking “why would we want to go over the lake”. At the other side of the lake was the region of the Gentiles, hostile and unfamiliar territory – and anyway it would be a hazardous  trip to get there. The status quo seemed more appealing. And yet, our infatuation with our present circumstances can often lead to stagnation.

The unpalatable fact is that to follow Jesus means that we will be consistently in a situation of having to make change, in our moral life, in our personal situation – and in every way. To follow Jesus would always mean crossing the lake, encountering the storm, and facing the inevitable crisis. The choice comes down to whether we want to be with Jesus, out of our comfort zone, or whether we want to stay in our comfort zone – but be without Jesus. To the credit of the disciples, they chose to get into the boat, they were heading into challenge, into danger and into the very heart of the storm. Crises often come in a most unexpected way. But for us Christians, a crisis is always to be expected if we wish to be faithful followers of Christ. A Christian should know better than to expect a trouble free ride.

Even when we can accept that crises are unavoidable, what still remains a mystery is the apparent silence of God.  In human experience, God does not always intervene or seem to intervene as we would desire and our cries of agony often continue unattended. Rather than the presence of God, we perceive only his absence. One of the philosophical answers to this perplexing mystery of the silence and inactivity of God is called Deism. Deism pictures God as the great “clockmaker” who created the clock, wound it up, and left the scene. The Deist picture of God is one that is aloof and uncaring. Sometimes, our own experience of unanswered prayers and unabated crises seems to confirm the Deist claim. But as Christians, we can never accept the Deist conception of an uninvolved deity. Scripture does not present God as inactive or uncaring. On the contrary, we see unfolding before us a history that speaks of a God that is sovereign and deeply loving, although incomprehensible in His totality.

If God does care, how then can we understand His silence or inactivity? In the first reading, we have the example of a man who was well acquainted with God's silence. His life becomes a case study of exploring the question of why God is silent during human suffering. Job’s suffering is no small matter. Job lost his family, his fortune, his health, his psychological peace and now his child-hood faith lies in tatters. Job’s comforters only increased his suffering. They blamed him for his illness and argued that Job’s suffering was self-induced. In his pain and suffering, Job cried out to God for an answer. But for the first 37 chapters of the book of Job, his cries for God's help and relief were met only by a deafening silence. God remained elusive. And finally, in Chapter 38 God breaks his silence. But God’s revelation remained very much a mystery. It contained both answer and mystery, disclosure and silence.

Why did God wait so long before he answered? God’s silence in our suffering brings us to a point of decision. At the beginning of the book of Job, we have a glimpse of the scene in heaven, which sets the context for Job’s suffering. God’s silence and Job’s faith in spite of that silence were the point of the wager made between God and Satan – it was to keep Job in the dark. If God had made the request personally – “Do this for me, Job”—then Job, ennobled, would have suffered gladly. But Satan had challenged whether Job’s faith could survive with no outside help or explanation. If he did, that would be authentic faith!

This is at the heart of today’s readings – the matter of faith. Faith demands that its object be hidden, else it would not be faith. It would be sight. “Faith is the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Therefore, the point of the wager was to force a decision from Job: would he continue in the way of faith even when that faith was unrewarded and painful or would he desert God. In this, we see within every a crisis, a moment of decision – would we choose to continue believing, and if so this could be the moment of breakthrough for growth, a revision of one’s life? Or conversely, would we choose to reject God and permit suffering to lead us to resentment and bitterness to the point of abandoning all faith and hope?

The silence of God should not be interpreted as His refusal to answer, nor does it indicate that He is disinterested in our affairs. The silence itself is an answer.  God in His infinite wisdom, reveals Himself both in word and in silence. Both serve His purpose. Both silence and revelation bring us to a point of decision, offering us faith that goes beyond the superficial, a deepened relationship with God, a broadened understanding of who He is. In his silence we come to discover that true joy is not the absence of pain but the presence of God. As we come to accept his Silence, we humbly acknowledge that in this life God never fully discloses all the answers to our questions. Our comprehension will always remain as at dusk, between the full illumination of understanding and the darkness of complete ignorance. We may know enough to see, but not enough to fathom its depth. He has given us what is sufficient for the next stage of our journey, and allows us to crave for more. With that mystery, with that craving, there is a lesson to be learnt just as Job and the disciples in the boat did. God is to be trusted. This will stand us in good stead for what lies ahead.

The good news is that God does not remain silent forever, and he is definitely not sleeping on the job. God will speak from the centre of the maelstrom to declare his authority over the mess in our lives, and God will rise up to calm the storms that continue to assail the illusory and temporary calmness of our lives. So, in the face of such stormy weather, what should we do? Pressing the panic button, fleeing or just throwing in the towel are certainly not viable solutions. We recognise that great temptation to abandon faith in God who seems to have abandoned us to our troubles. But the story of Job and the disciples in the boat lead us down a different path. In and out of trouble, in good times as well as in bad, let us turn only to the Lord, for His “love overwhelms us,” for only He alone can calm the storms and “pent up the sea behind closed doors.” So, even when He seems silent or asleep, don’t PANIC! Believe that He is firmly in charge and He will steer us on course. 

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