Will you have faith when the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives?

Father John A. Kiley

From the creation account in Genesis, through the release of the Hebrews from Egypt, during the sojourn in the wilderness and even into the apocalyptic visions of the later Hebrew Scriptures, it is clear that the God of the Old Testament was the God of nature. God first manifested himself in the successive days of creation. On the first three days God created the area of the universe: the heavens, the seas and the dry land. Then, on the next three days he created the beings that would inhabit those areas: birds, fish and animals. The universe’s formation was all very orderly, but also very powerful, very majestic.
The release of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery was also accompanied by grand displays of natural (sometimes unnatural) phenomena. Consider the astonishment that was provoked when water turned to blood, when frogs, lice and flies covered the landscape, when livestock died from pestilence, when boils plagued everybody in Egypt, when hail, locusts and darkness covered the entire Nile valley. Certainly, the killing of the firstborn of humans and beasts was jaw-dropping to say the least. Again the power of God, the majesty of God, indeed the Divinity of God was manifested through mighty, natural phenomena.
The Jews themselves must have scratched their heads in wonder as they saw the sea part in two allowing them to cross while fleeing Pharaoh’s troops. And they certainly did a double take when those same mighty waters rushed back to drown the approaching forces. Consider the plentiful manna that fed the fleeing Jews for forty years and the water that quenched their thirst in the wilderness as well as the quail that provided some variety in their diet. These were all God’s gracious gifts of nature that accompanied and sustained his people on their return journey to their Abrahamic homeland.
Later Jewish seers were equally impressed with the power of God manifested through feats of natural marvels. Many of the prophets, both major and minor, employ apocalyptic images that convey awesome Divine events in sometimes inspiring and sometimes scary images of nature. Consider the Prophet Joel’s well-known words about the end-times (3:3-5). “I will set signs in the heavens and on the earth, blood, fire and columns of smoke; the sun will darken, the moon turn blood-red, before the day of the LORD arrives, that great and terrible day. Then everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD will escape harm.”
The ancient world was very much at the mercy of nature, and nature’s God. Floods and famines were accepted as God’s judgment on mankind’s sins; harvests and health were God’s blessings for humanity’s compliance with the Divine Will. The contrivances of the modern world to escape nature’s wrath and the inventions of the modern world to prolong nature’s blessings were unknown. Ancient man was both the beneficiary and the butt of nature.
How handy it was then for the Son of God on arriving in this world to employ the same strategy in the New Dispensation that his Father had employed in the Old Covenant. Miracles were the stock and trade of Jesus Christ. As the Master advised the disciples of John the Baptist: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” But Jesus’ miraculous powers did not limit him to healing alone. After the fashion of his Father, Jesus manifested his Divinity through his mastery over nature as well. St. Mark writes in this Sunday’s Gospel passage: “A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Complete control over the wind and the sea would be impressive under any circumstances. But to Jesus’ Jewish followers, the outstanding ability to calm a storm and to smooth out waves could only have evoked Biblical notions of the God of their fathers who, time and again, had compelled nature to do his bidding, to accomplish his purposes, to follow his will. The disciples might well reflect on the person of this man they had sleeping in their boat. Had the great and terrible day of the Lord arrived?


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