Recently I visited a young woman in the hospital who was rehabbing from a viral infection that caused her to be hospitalized and on a ventilator for several weeks. On top of this, her beloved pet had recently died, leaving her distraught.
“Deacon Ray, what have I done to deserve this?,” she asked. “I have tried to lead a good life. I have devoted myself to caring for a family member. Yet, God has chosen to allow these terrible things to happen to me. I must have done something terribly wrong. But I don’t know what it was.”
My answer was as straightforward as I could deliver. “God does not reign havoc in people’s lives. Nor does God bring about illness or death as retribution for our human failings.”
Illness and suffering, even death are not God’s will for us – but instead these are part and parcel of our life on earth. God is a God of everlasting and unconditional mercy. God carries our pain and consoles the broken hearted. Rather than vindictive, Psalm 103 reminds us that – “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger. Rich in compassion.”
We are all familiar with John Newton’s inspiring hymn Amazing Grace. It was written after his ship nearly sank off the coast of Donegal.
Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
was blind, but now I see.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.’
We can identify with the second verse of Amazing Grace. We have all come through many dangers, toils and snares. We did not do it on our own, it is grace that has brought us safely this far and we trust that God’s will continue to guide us.
Like the disciples in today’s Gospel (Matt 14:22-33) struggling against a heavy sea in the boat being reassured by Jesus calming the storm we all need the reassurance and help of Jesus to calm the storms in our lives. Like Peter sinking, sometimes we need the Lord to stretch out his hand and save us (Matt 14:30-31).
When a trial comes we may be tempted to say, “God doesn’t care about me”, or to think other negative thoughts. But God is always faithful and never abandons us and doesn’t cause our suffering. When you think about it, an amount of suffering is caused by the cruelty and inhumanity of humans to humans. So much of the suffering could be avoided if everybody took the Gospel to heart.
We could have heaven on earth. But since we don’t, and we have to face storms like the disciples in the boat, Jesus catching Peter by the hand is, I think, Jesus’ way of telling us that he is there for all people of all time to catch them by the hand and take them to safety. If you are struggling with a problem at this time can you imagine Jesus catching you by the hand and pulling you up to safety? See him before you and hear him saying to you, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” (Matt 14:27)
Many passages in the Bible give us encouragement when we are struggling. Obviously God intended that the writers to include these passages in the Bible to give us courage in our storms. There are many such beautiful passages. Here are just a few:
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
stop being anxious and watchful, for I am your God.
I give you strength, I bring you help,
I uphold you with my victorious right hand. (Isa 41:10)
If God is for us, who can be against us? Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked. These are the trials through which we triumph by the power of him who loved us (Rom 8:31-37)
These are but two of the biblical tests that reassure us that God is with us in our storms. When a storm hits, take the hand of Jesus and let him lift you to safety.
As another popular hymn reminds us . . .
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I´m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing
“Man of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31)