Of the twelve men whom Jesus chose to be His disciples, the one I identify with most closely, and most often is Simon Peter, because he seemed to be the ‘talker’ of the bunch; always having something to say, with a tendency to put his foot in his mouth, and a penchant for spectacular faith one minute, and equally spectacular failure the next. The fact that Jesus continued to love, accept, encourage and invest in Peter is a constant source of encouragement to me.
The empathy I feel for him peaks at every recounting of Peter’s struggles with doubt. Sure, poor Thomas is the one stuck with the nickname ‘Doubting Thomas’, after his emphatic declaration that he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he saw Him with his own eyes and touched the scars from the crucifixion. But there is more evidence in the Bible of Peter being repeatedly plagued by doubt, than Thomas’ one recorded moment of unbelief, not doubt; but more on that later.
There was the time when Jesus sent the disciples away in a boat, promising to catch up with them later; which was all well and good until they were caught in a sudden, violent storm on the Sea of Galilee which battered the boat around and put them all in peril. Suddenly, a ghostly figure comes walking towards them on…top…of…the…water, instantly redefining the nature and meaning of fear, until Jesus identifies Himself and they recognize that it really is Him.
Personally speaking, had I been in the boat, the first thing I would ask Jesus would be for Him to please calm the storm before somebody got seriously hurt or killed; after all He had done it before. But not Peter:
“Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.” Matthew 14:28-29 (emphasis mine)
Little bit of doubt; spectacular faith! People can say what they want about Peter, but I don’t see anybody else jumping up and down, waving their hands and hollering, “Me too!”, willing to get out of the boat for something so gloriously life-changing as walking on water! They may have wanted to slap him upside the head for being so presumptuous, or maybe they felt a little jealous they hadn’t thought to ask first, or maybe they secretly wanted to see him fail, to justify their own lack of spontaneous, reckless faith, especially in light of what happened next:
“But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’” Matthew 14:30-32
Peter still believed Jesus could walk on the water. He still believed that Jesus had told him to come walking on the water too, and of course he believed that just moments before he had been doing exactly that; walking on water! As a matter of fact, that very belief put into action was the substance of faith that propelled him over the side of that boat and on to the water in the first place. But then Peter allowed the sight of the ferocious waves to invade his belief, corrupting it with uncertainty, stopping him from continuing to act on his belief and keep on walking toward Jesus.
So, while unbelief is a stubborn, rebellious refusal to accept truth (remember poor Unbelieving Thomas), doubt may be more accurately described is that venom of uncertainty which, if we allow it, will paralyze us into inaction; stuck where we don’t belong and sinking rapidly below the ferocious waves of whatever circumstance, trouble or trial it was that injected uncertainty into our present active participle believing.
Believing God is the biggest, most important, most thrilling, most adventurous, most daring thing I ever do in my life, and sometimes it frightens me how much, and how often I can be just like Peter; as likely to go flying over the side of the boat when I hear Jesus say, “Come.”, but equally likely to start hollering for Him to save me when I let uncertainty corrupt my faith, I begin to sink, and start feeling like I am going to drown.
Back in the early 1980’s no one knew I was sinking as I stared out a classroom window at the Jamaica Theological Seminary, in Kingston watching a herd of cows lumbering leisurely down the street in front of the school on their way to pasture. After much investigation, prayer and counseling, I had resigned from a perfectly good, stable job at the Bank of Jamaica to pursue studies in Christian Education, because I truly believed that was the next right step God wanted me to take in my life.
In that particular moment however, the rest of the class was engaged in a passionate, scholarly, but what I felt was completely pointless debate about the Second Coming of Jesus, (pre-tribulation versus post-tribulation versus mid-tribulation…aaaaaargh!…as if any debate, discussion or argument on the subject could affect in any way whatsoever, the time God has already set for Jesus’ return). All the while I was completely distracted by my envy of the care-free life of self-herding cows, and by the doubt that was quickly becoming a cacophony of squawking parrots in my head screaming, “What have you done?! What were you thinking?! You lunatic person you! Has God said…?!”
Back then I had already acquired a PhD in negative self- talk, but this was the first time I had chosen to believe God enough take action; to attempt to get out of the boat and go walking on water, and though I did not know then, but it would not be the last time. However, walking on water is hazardous business and over the years I have swallowed enough sea water to be highly motivated to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, because certainty about God is the only thing that neutralizes the venom of paralyzing uncertainty or doubt.
Oswald Chambers describes it this way:
“To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our life with surprises.” Daily Devotionals by Oswald Chambers.
So here’s the thing, in our relentless pursuit of God’s plan and purpose for our lives we are guaranteed at some point to feel the venomous sting of doubt or uncertainty. We must make every effort to know our God; His perfect character, His eternal word, His unfailing love and His unwavering commitment to finish the work He began in us the moment we first believed. Of these things we must become certain, and remain certain, if we are ever to get out of the boat, and go walking on water, in the middle of a storm, every time He says, “Come.”
Peter and me, impetuous and imperfect, but certain of God and …just living the thing.