Walking on the Sea, part 1

Here’s a story – maybe the story – that causes people to conclude that Christianity is



Completely fantastical

A waste of time

Here’s the heart of it, from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 14, verses 25-26:

And in the fourth watch of the night he came toward them, walking upon the sea. And the disciples, seeing him walking upon the sea, were disturbed, saying, “It is a phantom,” and they cried out in fear.
David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
-New Revised Standard Version

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.
–English Standard Version

There you go. Any religion that tells a story like that must be ridiculous. Worthless.

I can hear my family saying, with disdain they mean to convey:


I can hear them saying – with me at the table, with me a known quantity:

Religion is stupid.

(OK: family pain around religion. Common as mud. I will move on.)

There are attempted scientific explanations for this story, none of them convincing. Was it an optical illusion, with Jesus really walking on the shore and only looking as if he was approaching them? Then how did he arrive at the boat?

Was there something solid beneath the surface of the water that he could have walked on? What could it have been and how could it have escaped the disciples’ notice?

Was the boat really closer to the shore than the story teller realized, and in fact Jesus simply walked out to it through shallow water? The specificity of the story strongly suggests not. (D.B. Hart’s translation: the boat was many stadia away from land.)

I don’t find the scientific explanations convincing, so I have to keep thinking. How about this: God chose to make a point at that moment, and the event occurred exactly as described. People who are not Biblical literalists can find this the simplest, most convincing explanation.

But if that is too hard for someone to accept, is that it for that person’s life of faith? Should they firmly suppress their thoughts about God once for all because they can’t accept a Bible story as literal truth?

Well, they might hang on a little longer. Here’s another way to think about it:

A man incandescent with holiness blazed through the life of Israel in three short years, leaving his followers, after his death, to build a common understanding of what they had experienced. They obsessively collected and shared stories about him, and this is one of those stories.  It’s not intended to provide a scientifically repeatable and measurable account. It is intended to reveal the experience of that man’s presence. To do this, the story describes his power, unpredictability, and strangeness. The story goes on to describe how one man, Peter, responded to that power, unpredictability, and strangeness with near-suicidal abandon and longing.

The tellers of this story didn’t give a good goddamn if it sounded ridiculous to other people. They didn’t care, and I don’t care.  If you are unable to accept it as scientific fact, don’t let that trouble you. It’s not the purpose of the story to provide a provable account; the purpose is to tell you something about God With Us: Jesus. An inability to accept the story as scientific fact does not place a limit on your knowledge of God.

August 5, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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