On the Side - March 2012
by Robin Kaufmann
Like most people, I am enamored with the seashore. A blue sky, warm sand and breaking surf...there are few places I’d rather be.
I’ve been thinking about the seashore quite a bit these days. I live in Minnesota, after all, where winter is long, so I admit that by the end of February, the shore is calling my name. But it’s more than that.
I’ve been thinking about what is beyond the shore.
Beyond the seashore is...well...the sea.
At some times and in some places, the sea is calm and turquoise, sparkling with quiet brilliance. At other times and places, the sea is violent and indigo, roaring with power and mystery. However that surface may appear, underneath the sea is very, very deep.
I am competent enough as a swimmer to be confident in the water, but a deep sea frightens me. A deep sea cannot always be safe. That’s why I like to plant myself comfortably on the shore: the shore is safe.
The Israelites once stood in front of the sea, certain that the waves they faced would overwhelm them. As the Red Sea loomed before them and the Egyptians closed in behind, the recently liberated Israelites found themselves longing for the dry and safe, albeit incarcerating shore back in Egypt. “Do not be afraid,” their leader Moses implored them. “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13-14, NIV 1984).
The Lord did deliver. Did He ever! The Israelites experienced firsthand the depth of the sea as it was parted, and they passed through the waters. Just as God promised, they never saw those Egyptians again.
Most of us here in 21st century North America have not been caught between an enslaving army and a raging sea, but we face threatening waves of our own:
The debt grows larger.
The toddler has another tantrum.
The husband is working the weekend again.
The words of a friend cause pain.
Occasionally, those waves are more like an overwhelming tsunami:
The diagnosis is cancer.
The teenager rejects faith.
The husband is unfaithful.
The wife is widowed.
Splash. Gasp. Breathe. The sea can be very, very deep.
Job knew that deep sea. The man whose name is synonymous with suffering buried his family, lost his wealth and endured tormenting physical pain. Instead of enjoying the friendship and admiration of the community, he became scorned and avoided. The tidal wave that took him under left him despairing and thrashing for the shore. Like the Israelites who had encountered a literal sea, he desperately wanted to go back: “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me...” (Job 29:2, NIV 1984).
So there was the poor man, drowning in his pain, when God said (my paraphrase here), “Job, I think you’ve forgotten who I am. Were you the one who set the foundations of the earth or told the sea to go no further? Seriously, Job, have you not seen Me? I’m pretty powerful and I can fight for you. Will you just trust Me for a minute?”
Job, still under water, had new perspective: “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5, NIV 1984). It is there, in the deep, in which Job experienced God. There in the sea, Job learned to breathe underwater. His pain was legitimate. The waves had taken him under, but the waves did not destroy. The Almighty had not abandoned. The Almighty...the waves...had enveloped. Like the Israelites, Job was surrounded and sustained and knew the deep.
As we enter the season of Lent, we are reminded not just of the powerful God that parts the sea or tells the sea how far it may go, but we also recall the Almighty Son, the Lord of those seas. While we hope in the triumphant God, we first find comfort in the suffering Son. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34b, NIV 1984). In the most excruciating moment of all history, the same Almighty who fought for the Israelites and displayed His power to Job, now despaired in a sea of agony. Jesus Christ endured the ultimate drowning so that we might not be overcome, but instead be enveloped by His deliverance. Every wave that threatens to take us under, He has endured.
And because He endured, and triumphed, every wave that threatens you turns out not to be a threat but instead an invitation to go deep into a union with God. Author George Eliot said it like this: “Deep unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.” Jesus Christ turned the threatening waves into Living Water. He is that Living Water.
Go deep into the Water, sisters in Christ. He envelops you there. Breathe in.
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you." (Isaiah 43:2a, NIV 1984).
Robin resides in Rochester, Minnesota, and is married to Tim Kaufmann, a Neuroradiologist. They have three children.