Doubt and faith

SINGKIT - Doreen G. Yu - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The nagging question around our dinner table on the shore of the Sea of Galilee was how an inland body of water could generate such fierce storms and strong waves that sent Peter, an experienced fisherman, into such a panic that he blew his one chance of walking on water.

The scientific explanation, if you Google the question on storms, is: “Being about 680 feet (209 meters) below sea level, the body of water becomes quite warm during certain times. Cold air rushing down from the sharply rising hills meets the warm air rising from the water. The result is a sudden and violent storm.” And on the strong winds: “Along the western side of the Sea of Galilee is a mountain range whose crests are 2,000 feet above the sea. The wind storm would have been created because of the difference in the cold temperature of air on tops of these mountains and the warm temperature of air at the lower elevation of the Sea of Galilee.”

And it’s not really a sea; it is called that by tradition. It’s also known as Lake Tiberias or Lake Gennesaret, the lowest (only the Dead Sea is lower at 430 meters, but it’s a saltwater sea) and largest (over 20 kms long and 13 kms wide, with average depth of 25 meters) freshwater lake in Israel.

The Sea of Galilee is significant for two episodes in the New Testament: Jesus calming the storm (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25) and Peter walking (a bit) on water (“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water,” Matthew 14:22-23, Mark 6:45-53, John 6:15-21). Peter stepped out of the boat but panicked and began to sink; Jesus saved him but said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

It is easy to tsk-tsk at Peter for his lack of faith, but pause and think how often we, too, doubt – God’s promises, his ability to fulfil his promises, his concern, his fairness, his wisdom. In our everyday world of instant messaging and instant coffee and instant everything, anything short of an immediate divine response plants a seed of doubt in our mind.

A trip to Israel, particularly the areas associated with the Bible – Old and New Testaments – impacts on our faith, positively or otherwise. To sail in a replica fishing boat on the lake where Jesus calmed the storm and where the disciple who would be the Rock upon which the church is built let doubt take hold of him; to walk where Jesus walked, to trace his steps on the way to Golgotha (although it is now lined with souvenir stores with hard-sell shopkeepers who may remind you of why Jesus cleared the temple), even to touch the rock on which his cross was planted and enter the small chamber that was his tomb (there is on display a fragment of a rock that had sealed the tomb) make Christianity a living experience.

A couple of weeks before our trip, a friend told me that someone – perhaps a self-proclaimed “expert” – said all the areas and spots identified with Jesus and his ministry on earth were simply “invented” and identified to create this religious experience. What definite proof is there that the cross was really planted on that rock? That he was buried in and rose from that cramped chamber?

There is no proof, but I do not seek proof. I went to Jerusalem with doubts and fears and all the burdens of this pandemic life, but I went with and in faith, and came away rewarded a thousandfold.


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