27 January 2012
Storms of life
A glance at the news this week reminds us of the power of the ocean. On the one hand, a 16-year-old girl has become the youngest sailor to single-handedly circumnavigate the Earth. On the other, a cruise liner lies wrecked off the Tuscan coast. As I write, the death toll stands at 16, with more still unaccounted for.
To some the sea is a challenge to overcome. To others, a dangerous enemy.
Other news stories describe various storms and shakings; terrorist attacks in Nigeria, and the IMF's warning that the world's economy is "deep into the danger zone". In the face of such challenges, Christians must draw strength and comfort from their faith in God. The Psalmist writes: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the Earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging" (Psalm 46:1-3). As the Psalm continues, the writer contrasts the violent sea with a stream that makes glad the City of God (verse 4).
Even in the midst of storms, God provides comfort.
Many people in our society have no belief in a personal deity who offers peace or intervenes in history. When they find themselves shaken by the storms of life, we must be able to offer them a glimpse of the peace that can only come from hope in the Christian God.
On one occasion, the disciples were on a boat in a storm, terrified for their lives. They woke Jesus, who uttered two words - "be still" - and the sea turned calm. It's this kind of God that the world needs to know right now; a caring, powerful God who immersed Himself into our experience, faced the storms head-on, and in an instant calmed them. As we introduce people to the storm-stilling Jesus, they ought to wonder, as the disciples did: "Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!" (Mark 4:41)
The message of Christianity, however, is not simply comfort now, but hope for the future. In Scripture the sea is a symbol of evil, chaos, or hostile powers, so when John writes: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth […] and there was no longer any sea" (Revelation 21:1). He anticipates a day when all elements that currently stand against God's purposes will be banished forever. With language echoing Psalm 46, John describes a river of life that makes glad the City of God (Revelation 22:1-3). In this New Creation, world economies will no longer collapse, for in it will be the wealth of nations (Isaiah 60:11). There will be no suffering, sickness or death; God will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4).
The Christian hope is not that God will evacuate us from earth to a disembodied existence elsewhere; a dramatic rescue from a sinking ship. Rather, God will renew creation, undoing the brokenness once and for all. The storms of life are like birth pains, anticipating the day when God will make everything new (Romans 8:18-25). Until then, we are to proclaim the gospel message of hope. We should seek to alleviate suffering, care for the poor, and give people a taste of what life will be like in God's New Creation.
Whatever storms you may be facing, take comfort from the promise of hope, and seek to extend His peace to those around you. The same God who said "be still" to a raging sea, encourages us likewise: "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).
David Stroud is the leader ChristChurch London and host of the Everything Conference on 17 March with keynote speaker Os Guinness