This post continues from “Walking on Water: The Reality of Faith (Part 2)”. This series examines the conflict between faith and doubt through the lens of the account of Peter walking on water towards Jesus presented in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St Matthew.
Faith is not given as a wave of signs and wonders that forces us to abandon our reason and accept things on the same level that a child accepts a fairytale. Certainly, the Bible is filled with incredible miracles, after which one would think the people who were exposed to them would be filled with unshakeable faith; but faith based simply on signs is merely reactive, an emotional high at best. The same Jews who were led out of Egypt by a fiery cloud through a parted sea forgot within a few years about God’s power and providence, and then complained to Moses that their lives in slavery were in fact more comfortable than following the Lord in the desert. Similarly, after every answered prayer and every beautiful moment in religious life, I ask myself why I would ever doubt the Lord again; but in time, the more worldly routines of life take over, and I try to face struggles my way and forget the Lord, who led me out of my personal Egypt. That is why Faith cannot simply be one attitude overridden and replaced by a spectacular sign or insight. It has to sink into our bones through tests, and become ingrained through relationship with the one who gives us Faith.
Peter asks Jesus to beckon him to do something impossible, to act out of faith and come towards Him on the water. I imagine Jesus with a slight smile at Peter’s impetuousness, as He tells him, “Come.” But come he does, and as long as he was focused on Christ, Peter did walk on water.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30-31)
When we ask God to prove himself, He responds by asking us to do the impossible. Perhaps it will be to defy physics, as Peter did. More often, God’s test of our faith comes as exhortations to love that go beyond what we feel equipped to do. What I have seen in my own life, and in the lives of genuine believers I know, is that the one true God demands and equips us to make these acts of love. He asks us to give when it seems we have nothing. He asks us to forgive what seems unforgiveable. He asks us to be virtuous and honor His name in a world where so often sin is rewarded and righteousness is a punchline. In short, He asks us, amidst the stormy waters of doubt and fear, to give up whatever fragile security we feel we have in our boats and come to Him, walking on water. And when we fall, He is there to catch us, to set us back on the right path and to show us that He is the truest power and reality in our lives.
That is how faith is born and strengthened; through the initial inspiration, sign , or wonder that comes from outside ourselves, and the response we offer to God from the place inside us where He resides. We get out of our boats and whatever safety they afford and trust in Him, and as long as we keep our eyes on Him, we do what we think is impossible. Faith is not simply accepting that certain incredible events happened thousands of years ago, or being comforted that somehow life has a meaning that will be revealed after death. Faith is this passionate relationship with God, put repeatedly to the test in the laboratory of our lives, and made stronger for each doubt it conquers.
When we see this, we share in the experience of the characters in this brief passage, and we share in their exhilarating realization of who it is they are following.
After they got into boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”