When God created the world, He made water first. In Genesis 1:2, the earth was “formless and void,” and the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). On the third day of the world, God divided the waters from the land, setting a limit to chaos beyond which it is not free to go. “The sea is [the Lord’s], for he made it,” the psalmist prays, “and his hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:5). God rules “the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, [He stills] them” (Psalm 89:9). Israel could not avoid the sea, but their adherence to God meant they need not fear it. Those who do business on the great waters might be lifted by the waves and plunged again into the depths. But they “cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress,” as the psalmist says. God makes the “storm be still” and hushes the waves, bringing their ship safely to port. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,” the psalmist exhorts us, “for his wondrous works to the children of man!” (Psalm 107:23‒32).
The hands that formed both sea and land became incarnate in Jesus Christ, who manifests a power more terrible than the ocean. In Mark 4, Christ sleeps while the storm rages around the boat that carries Him. Angry at His seeming indifference, His disciples wake Him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Christ fulfills the psalmist’s prophecy, making the storm be still. And then He asks His disciples a question: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Nothing was more natural for the disciples than their fear of dying. But Christ’s questions demand a fundamental reorientation of their imagination, for they discover that the Word of God is more dangerous than the power of the sea. As Mark writes, the disciples “were filled with great fear” after Jesus calms the storm. The disciples glimpse the power of one who “can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Their fear is thus the beginning of their wisdom, for the fear of the Lord leads them into wonder: “Who then is this,” they ask, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35‒41)
Christ not only protects us on the seas of doubt but has made a way over them for us. The wood of the cross has become an ark, which rescues us from the rising tides of unbelief and draws us into the confidence of faith. “My God, my God,” Christ cries during His passion, “why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) At the crux of history, the center of all things, the fulcrum on which the world turns—Christ asks a question. Will God be absent and leave us in the darkness of despair? The question expresses the deepest anxiety we can know and makes Christianity “the one religion in which God seemed himself for an instant to be an atheist,” as G. K. Chesterton wrote. Christ’s question does not end questioning, but liberates it. Christ carries the burden of asking about God’s hiddenness for us, freeing us from our anxious demands that He show Himself. We may still ask where God is, and sometimes we must. But we need not fear that we will meet silence. For the question Christ asks has gone to God before us and the Word of God does not return void.
Christ has sailed across the sea of death to the undiscovered country and returned to tell us of it. He explored the great unknown, answered the final question at the end of our lives, penetrated the silence of the grave with the voice of His Word. Christ does not stand outside death, comprehending it in His omniscience. He stared it down from within the limits of our humanity. His journey through death and back destroyed its power over our lives and imaginations. We must fear God—but we cannot fear the unknown, for God has searched it out and made a way for us through it.