- Pentecost 10.17 “Why Did You Doubt?” Matthew 14:22-33
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” A great question, that Jesus asks Peter! Now, Jesus can do the “Why?” questions because He’s the Lord and we’re not—just as He asked Job why he was making such a fuss in our Old Testament reading. At a pastor’s conference last April I heard a church consultant tell us we need to get past the “What” of Jesus, sin, grace, forgiveness and start with “Why” like “Why don’t people come to church” and have courage to come up with our own new and innovative answers to that question.
I have had fun mocking guys who start with “Why” ever since and my wife has grown truly sick of it and has begged me to shut up about it. But there’s a serious point:
When we start asking “Why?”, we get caught up in this tangled web of cause/effect that Scriptures tell us will never give the answers we need. The Scriptures don’t say much on “Why” this is, exactly (see what we did there?) but strongly suggest that it’s because our notions of cause/effect don’t really reflect the way the world actually works. It’s far more mysterious, divine, and complex than that! Ever since the Enlightenment, Mr. Isaac Newton and Co., the world has persuaded itself that the world is like a big watch, that works according to strict, rational, linear principles of cause/effect. We are linear thinkers, most all of us as a result, but we live in a non-linear world—as faithful Christians and a few avant-garde scientists realize (the chaos theory and quantum physics types at least). That’s why “Why” questions won’t work; why sticking with the “What” of Jesus is the Way…
Job had a bunch of “Why?” questions. Actually, he was correct about what was going on—his sufferings were not because of his sins (which God had forgiven in Christ Jesus always already). His friends, very linear thinkers, insisted Job must have done something terrible. But Job stuck to his guns, the righteousness of faith, and said they were wrong—and they were. But Job couldn’t leave it there. His friends’ badgering made him restless for an explanation. He had to know “Why?” God was doing this to him. And the demand for a rational answer got Job into trouble. Because, it was not for any rational reason, nor because of anything wrong Job had done. No. All the chaos had to do with a wager God made with the devil for reasons known only to Himself! If anything, it all happened because Job was good! Job’s demand to peer into the hidden things of God; that is what got Job in trouble and moved God to vent a little bit on him.
To sum up the point: it is for God to ask us “Why?” we do the things we do. It is not our place to ask Him “Why?” He made us this way. My mother was visiting us last month. While we were playing a card game with the family, my mom remembered how very Lutheran my daughter Bethany was in her theology already at age 4 or 5. Bethany observed, in that very direct way a 4 or 5 year old has, “Grandma: you have so many wrinkles around your eyes!” Grandma said it was because she was getting old. Bethany did not like this answer, but shot back: “It’s God’s will Grandma! He made you wrinkly and me chubby, because that’s just the way He likes us!” And a little child shall lead them, right? Bethany, to this day, is not burdened excessively with “Why” questions. That everything is God’s will and happens for our good in Christ Jesus is usually good enough for her. At least someone was listening to our sermons and catechism class!
Peter was having a rough day (and night!). He’d trailed along dutifully all day with Jesus as He healed thousands of sick people. He schlepped a whole lot of bread and fish around for 5,000+ people, and then gathered big baskets full of leftovers (Peter likes leftovers!). And then, at evening, Jesus sent him and the rest of the 12 away in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. And the wind was contrary and the waves were huge, and the boat was taking on water and it looked like a long day might end at the bottom of the sea…
And then, Peter and the rest see what appears to be some ghost or goblin come walking on the turbulent sea, like it’s smooth, level land, giving them a nod and a wave as He passes them by. So, on top of everything else, they’ve got a ghost to deal with who may not be friendly at all. He certainly isn’t obeying Newton’s laws of nature and motion which is not a good sign to linear thinkers like Peter and us!
So, Peter and the rest cry out like frightened children, “Ahh! A ghost!” scared out of their wits. And the “Ghost” answers: “Be of good cheer! I AM!” And Peter, not fully convinced this is really Jesus (because Jesus didn’t routinely violate Newton’s laws of gravity and motion like this) goes: “Lord, if it is really You, command me to come to You on the water.” There is a line of thought, popular with “church consultants” that says we need to get out of the boat in which Jesus has placed us, show some courage, get out of our comfort zone to make things happen.
But Peter discovers the limitations of this popular notion. The “Ghost” invites Peter to knock himself out. And, at first, it goes really, really well. “Whoa! I’m walking on water! This is awesome! John, get my iPhone and record this, man! What a Facebook post this will make! So inspirational!” And then; Peter notices that the wind is boisterous, the waves are big, and “I’m walking on water! What am I thinking?” And wondering if and how and why, he starts sinking like a Stone—which is the nickname Jesus will hang on him later—“Stone”, as in sinks like a…
As he’s going down, Peter cries (somewhat embarrassingly), “Lord, save me!”. And Jesus saves. Back in the boat, it’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t commend Peter, doesn’t say: “Wow, you showed a lot of courage in getting out of the boat!” He doesn’t go: “You were so close! If only you’d tried a little harder!” Neither does the Master scold: “If only you’d trusted in Me a little more…” No. He asks: “O you of little faith: why did you doubt?”
What do you think Peter answered? “Why did I doubt? Well, let’s see: because the wind was like 30 knots! and the waves 10 feet?!!! Because it isn’t possible to walk on water!?!? Because You let me sink!? And, as I was going down, I was thinking about the OT reading, realizing that You, walking on water, You, commanding wind and wave, You probably sent the Storm in the first place!!!!
“Why did I doubt? Because, well… I really need that college degree for my job! Because I can’t live without healthy lungs and the doctor says they’re full of cancer? ‘Cause I miss my dad! Because I don’t see how the bills are going to get paid next month, don’t feel Your presence near me the way I hear other people do? Because it’s hard to be a Christian. It means believing things that are contrary to sight, sense, and linear, enlightened thought. Because I have some hard days with little hope in sight. Are You serious, Jesus? Why did I doubt? How can I believe when Your Word is so far beyond understanding?!”
Jesus never does explain. Instead, He puts out a hand, grabs us as we sink; maybe we don’t need courage as much as faithfulness to stay in the boat, with Jesus in the worship of Him, in His Gospel, Sacraments, here, (beyond all explanation) is Peace surpassing understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.