At the moment of this writing, I’m on a cruise ship in Alaska with about 1900 other passengers. For most of our voyage we sailed the Inside Passage which is protected, peaceful, and calm; almost lake-like. But last night, as we near the end of our adventure, we entered the Pacific. On top of that, a weather system was generating 10’ swells, causing our large ship to pitch and sway.
Now, in the grand scheme of things 10’ seas is of little consequence to a vessel this large. We were nowhere close to sliding dishes and the water level in our cups barely showed any movement. Even so, it was difficult to walk in a straight line as the swells caused the ship to slowly rock side to side. Many, most, in fact, angled through the halls as if they had drunk just a bit much at one of the bars. I’m sure that was the case for some, but not for all. It so happened that when Betty and I entered the dining room the ship rolled and we were “blown” a good three feet off our course as we sought to walk across the open floor. Betty almost shipwrecked against the maitre d’.
Scripture uses wave metaphors for doubt, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5–8, NASB95) For gullibility and immaturity, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” (Ephesians 4:14, NASB95) And for the wicked, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, For it cannot be quiet, And its waters toss up refuse and mud.” (Isaiah 57:20, NASB95)
After our experience riding the waves of the Pacific, these pictures have a greater reality for me. While faith is laser beam focused and straight, doubt causes us to turn in unexpected and unhealthy directions. Even though we may desire to travel straight, our path is broken and disrupted as we bounce from side to side. I think that James’s summation of being unstable is very apt. Betty and I looked very unstable as we walked the halls to dinner last night.
Once seated at our table I marveled at the wait staff, the movement did not bother them at all. Even the young man carrying trays stacked with entrees did not waver from his path even though we felt the ship move. That’s Paul’s point in Ephesians. There will always be something seeking to blow us from our path. The mature know by practice and experience how to walk the waves. They know how to discern the deck and make adjustments so their path remains unaffected. In our fast-paced and connected society, winds of teaching and deceitful schemes come much quicker and generate larger waves. Fads are quick and strong. Some may wish that we had never left port, that we had remained safely and securely docked. But there is a journey to undertake as we walk ever closer to Christ. We must learn to walk the waves and discern the deck so our path is straight even though much around us is not.
For the last metaphor, we must consider the way of peace and forgiveness. The Illinois River is a good example. It is a mostly peaceful flow that allows the silt and debris to settle out. The promise of Psalm 23 is that our Good Shepherd leads us beside still waters. The wicked, however, are like the prop wash of a ship which stirs up all kinds of things. One of the promises of forgiveness is that God throws our sins into the sea (Micah 7:19). The wicked rejoice to dirty our water by stirring up those things that God has forgiven and forgotten. Not only muddying the water but seeking to push us off of the path of peace. They thrill to fill lives with waves instead of calm and peaceful seas. But even then it is possible for our cup to be at peace by rejoicing that our sins are forgiven.
Whether our waves are caused by our own doubts, the deceitful teaching of others, or the stirring of the wicked, God’s desire is that we grow in maturity so that we can walk the waves and discern the deck. Surely He does hold, comfort, and guide us as we learn to walk the waves. Old sea salts will tell you to maintain three points of contact in order to keep your balance on a pitching deck. Perhaps, when life seems to get the best of us we need to check our points of contact with our Lord and Savior.