And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:23-27 ESV)
“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”
Fear and faith are connected. Fear and love are connected also, as we know from verses like, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18). And of course faith and love are connected. I would like to argue that it is our faith in God’s love for us, a love that took our punishment, and our faith in God’s sovereign control, as seen in Jesus’ calming the storm, that together casts out our fear. If God is in control of everything and God loves me, what do I have to fear?
What is not being said in Mathew 8:23-27? First, Jesus is not saying, “Why are you afraid, this isn’t a scary situation. Have faith that I won’t put you in truly dangerous situations.” The situation was truly terrifying. Many of the disciples were fishermen and knew the danger of the sea and probably had seen a few victims of drownings. Their fear was 100% rational and justified on physical terms. The source of their lack of fear was not to be a foolish bravado or ignorance of danger, but rather a trust in the One in control who allowed them to be in a dangerous situation.
Secondly, Jesus is not saying, “Why are you afraid, don’t you have faith that I will save you out of all dangerous situations?” In the circumstance, Jesus did indeed calm the waves and save them, but I would argue that the point was to show His power over creation, thereby giving the disciples grounds for having the faith in Him that he mentions, not to imply that He would always save them out of physical troubles. Why do I say this? Because the Bible is rife with examples of God’s people getting into bad situations and sometimes they are rescued and sometimes not. Paul has a good parallel example in Acts 27 when he is being sent to Rome to testify before Caesar. He too meets bad sailing conditions and after many trials they do shipwreck…and then the trials continue. But Paul has the faith that Jesus talks about in Matthew 8. Paul knows God’s in charge. In charge of sending the storm, in charge of how long the ship is stranded, in charge of the shipwreck, in charge of the snake incident that follows, in charge of it all and using it all for His good purposes and indeed, what do you see in the whole chapter 27 of Acts? That God uses Paul’s faith and lack of fear in the midst of the terrifying circumstances to show His Glory to the Roman soldiers, sailors, prisoners and residents of Malta.
In Matthew 8, Jesus keeps them from being shipwrecked, and God is glorified. In Acts 27, God sends a storm and shipwrecks Paul, and God is glorified.
So ‘why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ God is in control. Of. It. All. And to quote Paul,
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. "