Co-operate or Else!
Mark 4.41 Who then is
this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
can be hardly one of us who hasn't become aware at some point in our lives
that we have been mislead by someone else - perhaps someone we admired and
trusted. In a way this can be something of a saving grace. At least we can
blame the other person for the unfortunate consequences of a bad choice.
Those who wrote the gospels upon which we depend for almost all we
know about Jesus did not intend to mislead us. Unfortunately they did
just that with stories such as Jesus stilling a storm.
This is one of those cases where the fact that an account also occurs
in two other gospels doesn't add to its historicity. A great majority of
New Testament scholars agree that Matthew and Luke took their versions
of this story from Mark. So we have only one account, not three.
Lest someone think that the Mark set out to mislead us, it's important
to note that he and the other gospel authors did not think about the world
as we do. On the contrary, they thought it their duty to beef up what
seemed to them unquestionably credible accounts of the great deeds of
Jesus. Unlike the man himself, and almost certainly unlike his first
followers, they had concluded that Jesus was divine. Nothing could be more
natural to them than that he stilled a storm.
Moreover, they saw clearly that this tale unmistakably parallels God's
action in parting the Red Sea as the Israelites escaped from Egypt. It's
quite likely also that they also had in mind similar tales in Greek and
Roman literature. And we know that a certain Apollonius of Tyana was
highly regarded at the time for his reputed ability to master storms, fire
and other natural hazards, as were other famous men.
So while Jesus' power over nature was remarkable to them, the fact that
such stories were often told in those days about great men is not. And if
these stories were exaggerated, it was done with the best will in the
world, as a service to those who were to come after.
The trouble is that modern people are heirs to an intellectual
tradition which doesn't allow such things to happen at all. Everything we
know about the universe indicates that this is not how nature works. Even
though many today still think that such miracles can and do happen, the
general trend is towards an outlook which recognises that storms can't be
stilled in the way this story describes.
Such tales tended for many centuries to give the unintentional
impression that human beings (or at least one human being) are in some
sense masters of nature. It is not surprising therefore that when the
first scientists began to learn how to manipulate and control natural
events, they should also conclude that they would one day have total
control over nature. There was no strong cautionary thread in Christian
teaching to give them the slightest pause.
Christian people have generally gone along with that outlook for the
past two centuries. They have on one hand reaped the benefits of
science-based technologies; and on the other they have credulously
supposed that their exploitation of nature would have no consequences that
couldn't be managed.
As we advance into the 21st century, however, it is becoming daily more
clear that we are not masters of nature. Far from it. The human
race cannot exist, never mind prosper, unless we consciously and
deliberately play our part in that vast natural system which is our world.
It is tragic that by far the majority of those who today battle for us
to wake up to an uncertain future are not Christian. In contrast, the
churches sound an uncertain trumpet about ecology. Perhaps they are
fearful lest they lose yet more adherents if they don't stick rigidly to
"the faith". At any rate, Christians by and large have refused any
suggestion that they make do in life with the least they can. Instead,
they have followed the herd as it scrambles to gain ever more wealth and
Every Sunday many thousands of preachers rattle on about this or that
miracle, to the sleepy satisfaction of their congregations. Meanwhile
planet Earth must willy-nilly make rapid adjustments to our invasive
We need to remind ourselves that a central pillar of the Christian
faith is that our universe was created. It is not merely the result of
combinations of mysterious forces - though it is that as well. Our world
is not fortuitous. God designed it the way it is. If this were ancient
Israel, perhaps the prophet Hosea might be shouting out in the stock
exchanges of the world an ancient message about the laws of God's natural
With silver and gold they made idols
for their own destruction ...
For they sow the wind
and they shall reap the whirlwind. (8.6-7)
The message God is sending us through the inexorable processes of
nature is that to do God's will requires co-operating with the greater
system of which we are but part. We should be warned that there are
negative consequences to messing up our Garden of Eden.