by Gene Van Shaar (& assoc.)
Faith Not Fear
Gene Van Shaar
May 27, 2020
[Note: This article is based on chapter 12 of the book, My Life and Lessons.]
And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:35-41)
The Sea of Galilee is about seven miles wide and twice as long. It is the lowest freshwater lake on earth. About 65 miles to the south lies the famous saltwater Dead Sea, the lowest lake on earth. Both lakes are fed by the Jordan River. The Sea of Galilee is about 30 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea and about 700 feet below sea level. Because of its geographical circumstances, the Sea of Galilee is subject to sudden and fierce wind storms. Between April and October there is very little rainfall. In his account of the calming of the sea Mark specifically says that it was a great storm of wind. (Mark 4:37) Most pictures and videos mistakenly show rain.
When the windstorm occurred, they were probably in Peter’s fishing boat. (See Concise Harmony of the Four Gospels, 25, note 30.) Peter, and at least three other disciples, were experienced mariners. As the storm continued, so much water had splashed into the boat that they were in danger of sinking. Jesus must have been very tired and sleeping soundly. By the time they woke him, even the seasoned fishermen were in a state of panic. When Jesus arose and calmed the sea, he demonstrated power over the elements and weather. Thereafter, instead of just saying some comforting words, Jesus admonished them, saying, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” It appears that Jesus was using this incident as a powerful object lesson to teach his disciples that they needed to learn to live by faith, not fear. He wanted them to understand that they did not need to live in fear. He tried to help them understand that they could overcome or endure the storms of life by using the power of their faith. It is also interesting to note that this incident is a partial fulfillment of the Messianic prophesy found in Psalms 107:19-20, 28-29, which says, “Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions…Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.”
I would like to share an experience I had related to Mark 4:35-41. When I was teaching seminary and institute in New Mexico, there was an older sister named Gail who attended institute class. She had experienced some of the effects of sin, grief, and sorrow in her life. She was converted to the gospel when she was older. She was the only one in her family who was converted, except her son, David. At the time of this account he was in his early thirties and had recently been released from prison.
Gail did well in her church and institute attendance and in being a disciple of Christ. I became friends with her and David. I helped him with some spiritual issues and he helped me with some computer issues. Eventually, she became very ill and was diagnosed with late stage cancer. The doctors said that her cancer was terminal. She received treatment, which was not effective. Finally, they sent her home to die. One day, David called and asked me to come to their house and give her a priesthood blessing. I took one of my sons and went to their home. When David opened the door, we felt a very negative feeling in the house. He invited us in and led us to his mother. We passed others of her family who all glared at us. David escorted us into the room where his mother was. Half a dozen family members followed us. They all wore harsh, mean expressions. I could tell that they were angry that we were there. I think it was because they were opposed to the church.
Gail lay on the bed, unconscious, but thrashing around. She moaned and cried, threw her arms and legs around and rolled from side to side. It was shocking and horrible. She seemed to be suffering greatly. David repeated his request for a blessing for her. I suggested that it would be best if the others in the room left during the blessing. I did that because it is more difficult to feel the Spirit when surrounded with negativity. However, they refused to leave.
We had a hard time anointing her head because she was jerking so much. When I laid my hands on her head, it was difficult to hang on. As I started to give the blessing, a strange thing occurred that has never happened to me on any other occasion. Even though my eyes were closed, in my mind it seemed like I was high above her. It seemed like my arms got very long and my hands went far down to where she was. Then it seemed like I actually descended down to where she was, with my hands still on her head. Then, I was there with her. She and I were on a boat in a fierce storm. I wondered what in the world was going on? I had never even heard about anything like that before. It was like I was in her nightmare. I was surrounded by wind, water and fear.
I wondered what was going to happen and what I was supposed to do. Then suddenly inspiration came to me. I knew where I was and what I supposed to do. With the power and authority of Christ I commanded, "Peace, be still." Instantly, everything was calm. There was no more storm or fear. Gail immediately quit thrashing around and lay very still and calm.
I finished the blessing with an explanation that storms can be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. I blessed her to be at peace with the Lord, that she would see him soon, and that all would be well. When I ended the blessing, took my hands off her head, and opened my eyes, I looked down and she was lying there just as peacefully as could be. There was a feeling of great peace over the whole room. I looked at the family members. Their eyes were wide and they were stunned. We all knew something miraculous had happened. They did not understand, but they felt the power. David and I hugged. He told us thanks and we left. Gail lay there peacefully for a few more hours, and then she passed away.
That experience gave me a new depth and breadth of understanding. When I read Mark 4:35-41 before that, I always visualized things on the outside, not the inside. Sometimes the storms we have are from external things. Sometimes, the storms we have—the mountains of grief and the oceans of sorrow—are on the inside. But here’s the thing—whether it’s on the inside or the outside, Jesus can heal it. He can calm it. Even if somebody is going to die, there can be peace. The hymn, “Master, The Tempest Is Raging,” is a wonderful song about this. The text was written by Maryann Baker and the music by H.R. Palmer, who both obviously had a deep understanding of these things. This song encompasses everything that we’ve discussed.
Now let’s return to the New Testament setting at the Sea of Galilee a few months after the previous account, near the time of the Passover Feast. Jesus taught and demonstrated another lesson about having faith, not fear.
"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. 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. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God." (Matthew 14:22-33)
Note that the disciples in the boat were trying to return to Capernaum on the northwest end of the Sea of Galilee and that they were attempting to go against the wind. It is possible that they were using the sailing technique known as tacking, but they were probably trying to row the boat into the wind, an extremely difficult and tiring task. When Jesus finally went to them, it was the fourth watch of the night, meaning that it was between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. They had been struggling for at least seven hours. By walking on the water, Jesus demonstrated his power over astronomic physical forces, including electromagnetic force, nuclear force, and gravity. Jesus had probably been walking over the waves for miles before he approached the boat. When the disciples first saw him, they were afraid that he was a ghost. One might wonder how they could see him during the night. In fact, some pseudo-intellectual types have used this issue as an excuse not to believe this account. However, we know that this circumstance occurred at about the time of the Passover Feast, which happens every year during the first full moon after the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. They could have seen him on the water during a windstorm because the moon was full.
Note that one of the first things Jesus did was to tell them not to be afraid. Consider Peter’s assertive, courageous desire and behavior in attempting to walk on the water with Jesus. However, he was distracted by the boisterous wind, became afraid, and slowly began to sink. There was time to cry for help, and for Jesus to reach out and lift him up. Of course, part of the message is that we need to ask for and reach out for divine help in order to be saved. Another part of the lesson is that we need to resist being defeated by fear. One of the most important things to observe is that Peter was being supported by his own faith. It was not just Jesus supporting him. When his faith wavered he began to sink. Of course we need to rely on Jesus. In addition to that, we need to think, feel and live by our own faith. In both of these lessons on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus is teaching his disciples, both then and now, that we need to live by faith, not fear.
Copyright © 2020 by Gene Van Shaar