Whether talking with the disciples, speaking in a public forum, or defending Himself before His enemies, Jesus consistently asked questions. In the four gospels, Jesus asked over 300 questions.
Why are you afraid?
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
Fear. It’s something I wish I could say that I rarely feel since becoming a believer. But even though I professionally counsel many who struggle with fear and anxiety, I can’t deny my own battle with it as well.
I know that because we live in a fallen world, we will always feel a measure of fear. In fact, God designed our brains to detect danger and to feel fear in order to prompt us to take action. A portion of our brain is constantly scanning our environment to detect threats. If this automatic and reactive region of the brain decides that something poses a threat, then a signal is sent to get our mind and body ready for whatever may be looming in our midst. Adrenaline pumps, hearts race, hands sweat, and stomachs lurch. hands are sweating and our stomach feels awful. We can’t always prevent this rapid surge from happening; it is naturally associated with dangerous situations.
The most advanced and rational region of our brain, the cortex, has the opportunity to either fuel or override the fear. Our knowledge of who God is, our memories of Scripture and our past experiences all play an enormous role in how the cortex will handle what we are experiencing, both externally and internally.
If we choose to trust God for wisdom, discernment, direction and leading, even if our lives are truly in danger, we can still experience a powerful peace amidst the storm. If we look at the situation and refuse to place our trust in God’s providence, His love, and His guidance, we can quickly go into panic mode.
I think this is what Jesus detected in this scene on the water. The storm would have been viewed as a threat to anyone, simply based on the way that we are created. But, once they assessed the situation—yet refused to trust that Jesus, who was right there with them, was in control—they moved from instinctive fear to panicky fear. Instead of believing in Jesus’ power, the gravity of their situation led them to doubt both His position and His passion for them.
In a similar situation my response has everything to do with what I choose to focus on. Once my physical symptoms alert me to the fact that I am feeling fearful or anxious, if I don’t allow the steadfast character of God and the truths of Scripture to be my anchor, I will inevitably flounder like the disciples did that day. My interactions with Him will be characterized by frightful cries instead of faith-filled conversations that affirm I know who He is, what He is about, and what I can lean on in the midst of the storm.
God knows that we will feel fear at times. But, as soon as we become aware of what is happening, we must take time to answer the question as well. “Why are you afraid?” Will your mind believe or doubt the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God?