Walking on the Water During a Hurricane
by Gary Simpson

Hebrew Scriptures:

1 Kings 19:9, 11-13

9 And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?

Elijah Meets God at Horeb

11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:  12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.  13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

Christian Scriptures:

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.  23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.  24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.  26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.  27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.  28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.  29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.  30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.  31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?  32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.  33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.


The Gospel story is challenging, stretching my theology, because of the shades of meaning we get in the original Biblical languages. From Greek, we get the sense that Jesus "compelled" the disciples to take the boat trip.[1] We are not certain why Jesus wanted to be away from the disciples. John's Gospel tells us that after feeding the multitude, the people wanted to make Jesus their king. Bible commentator William Barclay felt the political situation was becoming dangerous and Jesus did not want the disciples around to complicate the political dynamics.[2]

A sudden storm, for which the Sea of Galilee was famous, hit the disciples.[3] And this was no ordinary storm. In Greek, we can picture the boat being in pain, being tortured and tossed around, by billowing and bursting waves.[4] As a result of the storm, he disciples were not making good progress.[5] Probably around 3 am, the disciples make out Jesus.[6] Because they were not expecting Jesus, they were terrified. Jesus spoke words of assurance and we get into the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. As much as I would like to get into a discussion of the miracle of walking on the water and Peter's inability to tread water, I am going to leave that discussion for another time.

There are times when we find ourselves in storms of our own creation. On an emotional and spiritual level, those storms can be a challenge. But how do we react when we get the sense that God compelled us to go into the midst of a nasty storm?  Many gay, lesbian and bisexual people feel their sexuality was not a choice, that in effect they were compelled by God to be queer.  How do we react when we believe that God compelled us to be either sexuality queer or gender queer, when we believe that God compelled us to come out of the closet and when we believe that in our being out put us in the midst of a threatening storm?  The level of distress is elevated when, from our perspective, it looks like God lead us into a storm.

Collectively and individually, our lives are a journey, not unlike the disciples in the boat. In our church's journey, we faced many storms. With each storm, there was a sense that God is present, offering comfort and a sense of direction. In storms, there has been a chance for our spiritually adventurous members to see if they can walk on water without getting their socks wet. In the past 100 plus years, I am certain many people in our church have walked on the river without getting their socks wet. How much of that was due to 20 below weather and how much was due to the life of faith is a debate for our church historians.

Individually, we are on a boat journey too. We have periods of smooth sailing and periods when we encounter either unsettling waves and winds or frightening storms. Our personal storms can be related to a host of problems, including educational, career, financial, marital, family and health related storms. Those who live long enough will eventually face storms and crises in all of these areas, especially storms related to health and disability.

At times, we long for deep answers to life, when there are no real answers. In an effort to make sense out of pain, which is often senseless and pointless, we attribute to God terrible motives. And that is where we can move to looking at the Hebrew passage for the week. In 1 Kings, there is a story from the life of Elijah that might help us understand the Gospel.

Elijah was a charismatic prophet. His ministry was marked by the extraordinary, the miraculous. Some of the miracles associated with Elijah include:[7]

·Announcing a severe drought.[8]
·Being fed by ravens.[9]
·Making a container of flour and a container of oil last until the drought was over.[10]
·Calling fire down from heaven.[11]
·Bringing rain that marked the end of a drought.[12]
·Restoring a dead child to life. [13]
·Calling down fire to kill soldiers. [14]

God asks Elijah to stand while God moves past Elijah. As God moves past the charismatic prophet, there are a series of destructive events. The wind blows so strong that it "rent the mountains" and broke rocks into smaller pieces. [15] Some powerful wind! But God was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake. [16] But God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But God was not in the fire.[17]  God does not speak to Elijah, God does not "disclose" to Elijah using any display that could have destroyed Elijah.[18]  Then there was a small voice. God was in the voice and spoke to Elijah through the small voice. [19] Hebrew gives a possible meaning of God's communication coming through a "voice" of "silence." [20] There are times when God speaks in "pregnant silence." [21] In the book of 1 Kings, this encounter with God, where God was not in the destructive wind, the earthquake or the fire comes after the miracles of God attributed to Elijah. Perhaps, the story is a reminder to Elijah, a man who often saw God make statements in the miraculous, as well as a reminder to the children of Israel, that God does not stop speaking when the miracles cease. Or the story might be a reminder that God is not in what hurts and destroys.

Unlike some of my charismatic friends, I do not adhere to storm cloud theology, to a theology that sees God's voice and God's anger in every unpleasant twist of nature. I also do not subscribe to virus theology, a theology that sees God behind every disease. From this passage, we get a sense that God is not speaking in disastrous acts of nature. God's revelation does not speak through "acts of God", such as hurricanes. tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, tidal waves, forest fires or blizzards. God's revelation tends to come in a small voice. When major disasters strike, God is not expressing anger toward humanity in general or toward specific groups of people. God is not in what brings destruction, but in what brings life. As Christians, we have traditionally seen the life of Christ as God's ultimate revelation. The Eternal's voice of love, like other voices of love, is heard in silence or in quiet tones, not in blasts of volume.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, who is considered to be one of the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th century, describes God's love in an impressive way. He describes the momentum of God's anger over the broken Old Testament covenant as being taken up by the "far greater" momentum of God's love in the New Testament.[22]  When an ice cube of anger hits the water of a hot tub of love, the cold anger is gone, completely absorbed by the warmth and love.  God's incomprehensible love completely consumes any anger God had with sin. There is no need to fear God is angry with us when our lives are hit with challenging and painful storms, because God's anger is completely spent.

As Christians, we tend to emphasize the triumphant Christ, the risen, living and conquering Christ so much that we forget there are other elements of Christ. As a result, those of us who are Trinitarian and see Jesus as Devine tend to see God as being distant and removed from the storms of life that hit all of us. We do not let Jesus also be fully human, making God appears very remote and removed from our lives and experiences.

Now, moving back to the Gospel story for this week.

There are some deep meanings of the phrase of Jesus "walking on the sea." Buried deep in the Greek origins of the word translated walking an interesting meaning. In Greek there is a figurative meaning "to live."[23] Jesus lived in the storm, lived in the presence and the fury of the storm. The disciples were not alone in the storm. Jesus, the one the Christian church has traditionally described as God incarnate, was in the storm. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lives in the storms of life.

In the Christian scriptures, we understand that God is in those who love and that we are the temples of God.[25] We are God carriers. As a God carrier, God lives in your body and experiences the storms of your life, including the storms of bullying, the storms of racism, the storms of homophobia, the storms of career stress, the storms of poverty and oppression, and the storms of disability and poor health.  You are not alone in the storms of life.  As those around see us experiencing the storms of life, they see us spiritually walking on the water with Jesus and they find in our lives the hope that we find in the life of the risen Christ.


[1] "Strong's Numbers and Definitions." PocketSword. CrossWire Bible Society. iPad Application. 315 ἀναγκάζω [A)NAGKA/ZW] {anankázō} \an-ang-kad'-zo\ from 318; to necessitate:--compel, constrain.

[2] William Barclay. The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 2. (Burlington, Ontario: G.R. Welch, 1975), 104.

[3] Barclay, 104.

[4] "Strong's Numbers and Definitions." 928 βασανίζω [BASANI/ZW] {basanízō} \bas-an-id'-zo\ from 931; to torture:--pain, toil, torment, toss, vex.
2949 κῦμα [KU=MA] {kŷma} \koo'-mah\from κύω [KU/W] {kýō} (to swell (with young), i.e. bend, curve); a billow (as bursting or toppling):--wave.

[5] Barclay, 104.

[6] Barclay, 104.

[7] The following miracles to Elijah: "fire, and the sword. He had caused a severe drought, had been sustained by ravens and by a jar of flour and jug of oil that never ran out, had raised the dead, had called down fire from heaven, had slain the prophets of Baal with the sword, and had brought rain to the land." Henry H. Halley. Halley's Bible Handbook. (Nashville, TN: Zondervan, 1982), ebook.

[8] 1 Kings 17:1-7.

[9] 1 Kings 17:1-7.

[10] 1 Kings 17:14.

[11] 1 Kings 18:36-40.
[12] 1 Kings 18:41-46.

[13] 1 Kings 17:22.

[14] 2 Kings 1:9-16.

[15] 1 Kings 19:11.

[16] 1 Kings 19:11.

[17] 1 Kings 19:12.

[18] A. Graeme Auld. The Daily Study Bible: Kings. (Edinburugh: St. Andrew Press, 1986), 126.

[19] 1 Kings 19:12-13.

[20] Auld, 127.

[21] Auld, 127.

[22] Hans Urs von Balthasar. The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. Vol. VII: Theology: The New Covenant. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 205.

[23] "Strong's Numbers and Definitions." 4043 περιπατέω [PERIPATE/W] {peripatéō} \per-ee-pat-eh'-o\ from 4012 and 3961; to tread all around, i.e. walk at large (especially as proof of ability); figuratively, to live, deport oneself, follow (as a companion or votary):--go, be occupied with, walk (about).

[24] 1 John 4:12 (KJV) If we love one another, God lives in us.

[25] 1 Corinthians 6:15 (KJV) Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?