The author Madeleine L’Engle, most famous for A Wrinkle in Time, interspersed all sorts of Christian references into her series of novels for adolescent readers, albeit often with a sort of New Age-y twist. In one of her later books, Many Waters, she has seraphim repeat several times a passage from the Song of Solomon, 8:7 – namely, “many waters cannot quench love.”
Somehow that line sticks with me when I read this week’s Gospel story of Jesus walking on storm-tossed waters to come to the aid of his disciples in their boat far from shore.
The Bible, of course, is full of other passages that use similar themes. Psalm 77, verse 6 and verse 19: “When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled…Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.” Or Psalm 18:16: “God reached down from on high and took me; he drew me out of mighty waters.” And, of course, there are passages relating the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, along the route between the sea that God parted for their escape.
This theme of God controlling the waters would have been quite familiar to the disciples, which is why they proclaim at the end of today’s passage – as if finally, fully understanding it for the first time, that this Jesus who is not sunk by the waves is “truly…the Son of God.” The disciples know that God can rule the waters, and that only God can rule the waters. Ergo, Jesus must be one with God.
There are lessons here about God’s majesty and about his power. As many others have noted, there also are lessons about how amidst life’s storms we can look to God for help, just as Peter, momentarily walking on water as well, was saved by Christ’s hand when Peter’s sudden doubt made him sink. As described in an online sermon by the Rev. Canon Michael Rusk of Leicester, U.K., “There are times in your life when you may feel overwhelmed, when you may be out of your depth, when you feel you are drowning under a multitude of problems. Don’t lose heart. For it is at times like these that Christ will draw you out of your turbulence and calm the storms of your life.”
But, for some reason, a reason not purely theological or intellectual and probably not entirely logical, I keep returning to the only-tangentially-related passage from the Song of Solomon, via Madeleine L’Engle: “Many waters cannot quench love.”
Forgive the digression, but at a little talk I gave to a men’s prayer-group breakfast earlier this month, I was asked the question of what is my best answer to the conundrum of why God allows so much suffering in the world. I said that I had repeatedly attempted in these little PJ Media columns to posit a good answer, but had never fully satisfied even myself (much less my readers) with the answers. I said that despite all those attempts, the ultimate answer seemed to remain this: that no matter why suffering exists, the clear lesson from the Bible and lesson of our faith is that when we finally and most fully experience God’s love, the profound nature of that love will so dwarf any past suffering as to make it insignificant.
So even if we don’t know why, we do know, through faith, that the question of “why” is comparatively irrelevant, because God’s love puts all questions to rest.
I actually surprised myself by saying that, because for some reason I had never quite put forth that formulation of an answer before, or at least not in so many words.
Perhaps that’s why the “many waters” quote seemed so appropriate when re-reading the walking-on-water passage. While the Age of Aquarius (water carrier) line that “Jesus is love” can be uttered in such a trite and vapid manner as to lose most meaning, there is a deep truth to it. As the disciples are threatened with many waters, they see capital-‘L’ Love walking across the waters towards them, to rescue them – because while many waters can capsize a boat, many waters cannot quench love.
And what is the message of Jesus; what is the message that Love brings?
“Take heart. It is I: Do not be afraid.”
For at least a few steps, Peter believed in Love, and was not afraid, and he too walked across the waves. May all of us find times when Love gives us courage to take risks for Love’s sake, and to trust that the love of Christ will provide for us the salvation which only grace, through faith, can supply.
Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist with a degree in theology. His faith-themed satirical novel, Mad Jones: Heretic, is due for publication this summer by Liberty Island Media.