God’s Holiness Frightened the Disciples and Confounds the Atheists

By Published on December 20, 2017

I once heard the late R.C. Sproul discuss this passage:

On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. (Mark 4:25-39)

I’ll paraphrase what he taught me.

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“Religion Is About Safety and Comfort”

If you travel much in certain circles (make sure you have a thick skin and a cast iron stomach), you’ll know that there is much speculation among atheists about why people are religious. A common speculation from atheologians is that we have a fear of our mortality, and especially a deep seated fear of the uncontrollable, unpredictable, undiscriminating and potentially lethal natural disaster. Floods, hurricanes, droughts — these things terrify us, so we invent religion to give us a sense of security. As long as we behave, our gods can control these things. Therefore we control them with our behavior, and if they still come it’s our fault, not random bad luck.

The passage above fits perfectly. A storm arise from nowhere. Even seasoned professional fishermen are terrified, fearing a capsizing wave that meant a cruel death. Jesus sleeps. They wake the master, and He calms the wind and the seas.

The disciples were not happy at all. They were terrified. They were more afraid after they had been saved than before.

This is good. It makes sense. We are afraid of death by capricious nature, and this man, this God-man, can save us. The disciples’ response fits this theory perfectly: They got on their knees in gratitude of the one who saved them, deliriously happy that in Jesus they never again had to fear the elements.

Except That Doesn’t Fit the Facts

If fits — except for the fact that I lied. That should have been their response, if the atheists’ theory of why we seek religion is correct. Their actual response doesn’t fit the theory at all:

But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:40-41)

The disciples were not happy at all. They were terrified. They were more afraid after they had been saved than before.

God’s Holiness Is a Fearful Thing to Face

As with other encounters in both the Old Testament and New Testament, they had come across something that was different. Something that was set apart. Something that was alien. Something that was unnatural. Something that, because it is so unlike us, so starkly other, we actually despise it and fear it in our xenophobia.

It was God’s holiness.

I learned that, and much more, from the teachings of R. C. Sproul.

 

David Heddle is a professor of mathematics and physics at Christopher Newport University, Newport News, Virginia. This article was first published on his blog, He Lives, and is used by permission.

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