And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28-31 ESV)
It’s always important to not only look at the words that the writers of the Bible use, but also, in context, what they associate those words with. Sometimes, the specific way to define a word is neatly presented in the context, helping us to see what is being said with greater clarity. And sometimes, curiously, words aren’t defined as we would define them in our modern vernacular.
Near the end of this story Jesus asks Peter why, as he was walking on the stormy waters, did he “doubt”. We have a tendency to see doubt as a result of scrutiny and lack of evidence. We doubt because we see discrepancies (“I doubt that car will make it to Nevada, it barely rolled off the lot.”). We doubt, sometimes, because we have PLENTY of information (“I doubt I’m going to make it to dinner tonight, I have 3 other appointments and some needle point to finish up.”).
Jesus’ question, “why did you doubt?”, however, doesn’t really fall neatly into any of these categories. If we look back at the story the reason that Peter began to sink was not first a cognitive process of fact analysis. Peter didn’t work through the mathematics of the situation and determine that he ought to be sinking. The first thing Peter did, and the thing that Jesus refers to as “doubt”, was allow himself to become distracted from the face of Christ.
Distraction and doubt are rarely, if ever, considered synonyms. If that is on the SAT then its a trick, fill in another bubble. But for Jesus distraction is the source of all doubt. This is true, I believe, because the opposite is true: focus is the foundation of faith. Faith is, as Tozer said, “the gaze of a soul upon God”.
With little time to expand this today I simply offer this: don’t allow distractions to steal your attention from the face of God. Keeping our head “above water” in the middle of the storms of life is not about blind confidence, and it’s not about being able to quote a mantra, and it certainly has nothing to do with how “good” or “bad” you’ve been. Walking on water comes down to a decision, will we look at Jesus or will we look at anything else. This is the dilemma. This is one of the practical outworkings of “dying to ourselves”. This is what Paul referred to as being “in Christ” so many times to the Ephesian church. The unwavering gaze of the elect upon the sovereign God of all creation makes anything possible.
Faith is a gift. It is not something that we drum up. We see very clearly that Jesus invited Peter onto the water. He who speaks the language of our hearts calls into the deepest places of our being and offers us His face. The face that Mary wiped off after His birth. The face that baffled the older and “wiser” religious professionals in the Temple in His childhood. The face that dripped cold river water after resurfacing from Johns baptism in the Jordan. The face that looked upon the leper without concern for the health hazard. The face that saw the blind and lame as something more than a nuisance. The face that the candle light danced off of as Nicodemus desperately tried to grasp the utter simplicity of salvation. The face that was dusty and dry and willing to associate with the Samaritan woman at a well on the wrong side of the border. The face that stared into the eyes of a shamed, naked woman and offered hope in place of condemnation. The face, with pink rivers of sweat running down it, that Judas kissed to begin the longest day that anyone has ever endured. The face that was slapped, punched, spit on, and torn by the angry hands of those who couldn’t fathom a love so deep. The face, swollen and punished, that caused Pilate to care about justice for a simple Nazarene, even if just for a moment, and try to save him from death. The face that was framed by thorns and thistles, drooping and gasping for air as He dangled from that that cursed crossbeam. And the face that Mary Magdalene saw in the garden on that beautiful morning. The face that the two disciples didn’t recognize until He broke bread once again. And finally the face that Thomas, the one that we call “the doubter”, looked into and believed once for all that anything was possible.
It was looking at this face, this glorious and merciful and gracious and loving face that brought the faith to believe. May we never doubt, may we never be distracted. May we scrutinize this face, look at every nook of grace, every crevice of mercy, every line of compassion, every wrinkle of joy and stand in perpetual awe. And as we look into the eyes of Jesus we will find that we’ve unknowingly walked safely across a thousand stormy lakes and stood cool in a thousand fiery furnaces.