Print Version August 5th, 2003
Readings like the first one put you in a dilemma. They don’t sit easily—at least I hope they don’t sit easily—with what experience and personal history has taught us each about God and our relationship with God. I hope we each know God well enough to have got beyond the fear of opening our mouths lest God press the smite button and blast us to kingdom come.
But who am I kidding—I’m as bad as anyone for forgetting the God I love, the God who loves me, and worshipping instead Miriam’s violent God. It’s always a failure of memory and a failure of trust.
Staying with God—the real God—is like walking on water. All it takes is trust but can you imagine anything more improbable? It takes trust of a tremendous order to put your feet on breaking waves and expect to walk. And yet Peter does.
It takes a fathomless faith to believe that God really is trustworthy when we are assailed from all sides by evil, impostor Gods always sounding so plausible. And yet a lot of the time I do so believe.
But then both Peter and I feel the force of the wind, fright takes us, and down we go—Peter into the wet and I into the dark. But … the hand is always there to lift us back up, Jesus’ hand, familiar and firm, to raise us back where we belong.
What am I saying? Only this: it takes trust to believe God is good, and that trust is always tested by our fear of a vengeful God. We always go under but we are never left alone to sink.
And just in case that all seems like a downhill story of failure after failure—as though we were always getting it wronger and wronger—notice something about this story. When the story begins the only thing the disciples can make of Jesus is that he is some kind of ghost but after Peter’s unwanted baptism they can make an amazing affirmation of faith: ‘Truly’, they say, ‘truly you are the Son of God’.
We learn by sinking. We know God better after doubt swallows trust for a while. Faith grows best when we lose sight of it. And the hand we grasp grows more familiar each time we drown.