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Jonah 1:6 says,
6 So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”
The Hebrew word for “captain” is rav khoval, “great (or chief) rope handler.” He “knew the ropes,” as they say. This was their term for a ship’s captain.
The gospel of Mark records two occasions where Jesus’ disciples were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. We have already noted the incident in Mark 6, but two chapters earlier, in Mark 4:35-41 we read of another incident. In this story, Mark 4:37, 38 says,
37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38 And He Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
Is this not also connected to Jonah, who was sleeping in the bottom of the ship during the storm? Just as the captain questioned whether or not his God was “concerned about us so that we will not perish,” so also the disciples asked Jesus, “Do You not care that we are perishing?”
The fact is, He does care. But at the same time, it is in His purpose to try the hearts of believers, in order to increase their faith. So after calming the sea, we read in Mark 4:40,
40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Faith and fear are incompatible. Those with faith are those who “fear not.” Those with fear “have no faith.” If we live by fear, we cannot walk by faith. Faith is not about which religion one accepts—as in “what faith are you?” Faith is believing (knowing) that God is always with you, knowing that you do not go through any circumstance without Him caring whether or not you perish.
We all go through times where it seems like He has gone away or that He has forgotten us. Israel thought the same in Exodus 17:7, asking, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” Such experiences are tests of faith, not that God needs to be informed of our level of faith, but that we need to see our own hearts. We all think we have faith, but we really do not know for sure until our faith is tested by real experience.
The ship’s captain was an unbeliever, a pagan. We do not know which god he worshiped, but being a man of the high seas, it is likely that he worshiped Neptune, the god of the sea who had a fish tail. No doubt he had prayed to his own god to no avail. Though he worshiped his god, he did not have faith in that god’s power of deliverance. If he had had faith, he would not have been so fearful, nor would he have wanted everyone else to call upon their own gods.
The captain’s god proved to be inadequate or unsympathetic to his plea. So he sought help from other gods, hoping that at least one of these gods might come to his aid. How pathetic is it to worship a god in whom you have so little faith? But such is the case when we believe in a god who does not answer prayer.
The same can be said about Christians who have little or no real-life experience that proves that God is real. Many believe in God, but they have no experience that proves His care for them. They may believe that He cares for others—for “saints”—but not for an average person like “me.”
I worked with an agnostic many years ago while I was working as a typesetter in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been raised in a well-known Christian denomination. His uncle was one of six in the denomination who had memorized the entire Bible. But this man had become an agnostic, because, as he put it, “in all my years in church, I never saw any evidence that there was a God.”
I was able to share my own experiences with him and how God had been leading me directly for many years. I shared how God answered prayer and told him the results of our prayer campaigns. Once we talked all night after getting off work. (We both worked the evening shift until 1:00 a.m.) In the end he said that if he should ever have even one experience like I was relating to him, he would be willing to cross the seven seas to preach the gospel to every creature.
I trust that God has revealed Himself to that man.
As we see in Mark 6, the problem is that most Christians are unwilling to get out of the boat (denomination). Their trust is in the boat, not in Christ. For others, as in Mark 4, they just think that Jesus is asleep, or that He is too busy to care, or that He is too holy to be bothered by average sinners. Whatever the problem may be, real faith comes by revelation, grows through experience, and is known by testing.
Hence, we see that the story of Jonah is the foundation for at least two “storm” stories in the gospels. The story in Mark 4 is designed to teach us about faith vs. fear. The story in Mark 6 teaches us about the difference between the church and the overcomers. These two groups have different levels of faith, and so they are given two different rewards in the end.