The news cycles spin faster and faster as our lives come grinding to a halt. Life as we knew it has shifted and we wait, gazing with fear into the vast unknown. Pandemic is no longer “out there.” It has moved in close and is “right here.” Our lives have taken on a new rhythm and we may find ourselves wondering if there’s a God in the universe and if he cares at all about the plight of us humans below. Drenched in fear, the weight of worry we carry is like trying to run under water.
Last week I was putting the finishing touches on a talk I was scheduled to give in a few weeks on the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. With social distancing now firmly in place, my talk will have to wait for another time when people can meet together freely. But the central message of this section of Scripture—maintaining a posture of faith in a culture of fear—is too timely not to share, at least in written form.
Beginning with the last seven verses of Mark chapter four, these fifty verses read like a hit parade of Jesus-miracles—the calming of the stormy sea, the deliverance of the man possessed by a multitude of demons, the healing of the woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years, and the raising to life of Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter.
At the heart of each of these stories, chaos holds center stage, causing fear to grip each of the main characters.
Nature itself is in chaos in the first story, as the seas are churned up and the storm threatens the lives of the occupants in the vulnerable boat. In the second vignette, chaos is personified as the presence of evil spirits wreaking havoc in one man’s life. Jairus’ daughter’s life is in chaos in the third story—little girls aren’t meant to die so young. And the bleeding woman’s life has been in chaos for twelve long years.
Their fear is palpable, because their crises are unimaginable. I know their fear. Heightened fear of illness and death is now our shared condition as a global community.
Into this fear, and into every storm of life—even into pandemics—Jesus’ invitation to us remains the same. “Peace, be still. Don’t listen to fear, trust me instead!”
Jesus says to his disciples in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” The word he would have said in that day is “shalom.” You might know shalom to be the Hebrew word for peace, meaning contentment, fullness, and wholeness. But, the root of the ancient Hebrew word “shalom” means the spirit that destroys chaos. This is the kind of peace Jesus offers us. The peace, or shalom, that destroys the chaos swirling in our minds, preventing us from sleeping in our storms.
Where’s the chaos in your life today? Of course, it’s the threat of COVID-19. But, perhaps going into the current global crisis you were already feeling like you were in the midst of a storm-tossed sea and wondered if God even sees you. Perhaps you’re experiencing long-term suffering—whether physical, emotional, financial, relational, or vocational—that has dragged on for so long it seems too late for any real change to happen. Adding a pandemic on top of life’s pre-existing conditions is enough to leave us feeling threatened or hopeless. Oh, God might be there in the boat with you, but he’s sound asleep on the cushions while you’re trying desperately to rouse him.
The question is, do we trust him in our storms? Or do we find ourselves gripped by fear, accusing Jesus of being asleep in the boat, imagining he doesn’t even care about our plight, or concluding he’s powerless in the force of such mighty storms. Fear prevents us from hearing the invitation to come to God in a posture of faith.
Jesus’ question of his disciples is one I hear him ask me today, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus wasn’t disturbed by the storm; he was disturbed by their lack of faith. Jesus comes to bring peace in the storms of our lives, to destroy the chaos, if we’ll let him. Yet, so often we choose instead to partner with fear, when we need to partner with the Prince of Peace.
Jesus comes to us in this spirit of shalom, the spirit that destroys chaos, bringing peace wherever he goes. He enters our storms and brings peace. His gift to us if we choose to follow him is this same indwelling spirit of peace. It’s one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith—”Christ in me, the hope of glory.” Shalom taking up residence in us, giving us peace in the midst of our storms.
Yet, when we’re afraid, our tendency is to enter into the chaos, joining the cries of fear we hear all around us. Jesus’ invitation is clear, “I don’t want you to enter into the chaos, I’m asking you to stay outside the chaos and bring my peace, my shalom, into the chaos around you.” Because of him, our internal reality can be peace.
Because of shalom, the storm swirling around us doesn’t have to become the condition inside of us.
The external chaos doesn’t have power over my internal peace, unless I let it. God invites us to walk in shalom, like Jesus did, and instead of becoming like the atmosphere around us, to change the atmosphere wherever we go, reflecting his peace. God invites us to be agents of change in a world desperate for his peace.
Nothing is too difficult for the Lord. He can raise the dead. He can calm the sea. He can deliver a man possessed by many demons. He can reverse a seemingly hopeless health crisis and bring healing. He is Lord, even over a pandemic.
Jesus saw the chaos around him and cared deeply for everyone who was hurting. Yet he never lost his sense of peace. He allowed the shalom within him to break the power of chaos around him. And he invites us to do the same—to turn from fear and partner with him, the Prince of Peace.