Peter was striding along over the waves, feeling, no doubt, an exhilaration he had never felt before. But there is an aspect of his experience that brings some questions to mind. What are the implications of the words introduced after he is described as walking on the water: "But when [having taken his eyes off Jesus] he saw [became aware of] the wind, he was afraid" (Matt. 14:30)?
It seems to be the wrong place to mention the wind. Surely he had "seen" it before.
When Peter stepped from the boat and began to walk along on the water he was not moving in a trance; he knew what he was doing. He experienced the strange, yet real, sensation of water swelling beneath his bare feet, carrying his weight without breaking open to swallow him. He felt the turbulent wind whipping his garments about his legs and body.
What is the situation here? Now that Peter has taken his eyes off Jesus, is he seeing the facts as they actually are? Does faith block out reality, and doubt see it? Or is it the other way round?
The answer could be something like this: Faith has a way of overriding even the largest difficulties and dangers potential to a situation. Any threatening or unfavorable reality is overshadowed by a confidence in God's ability to look after it. In this sense the greatest obstacles become no more threatening to the Christian than the ordinary hazards one might encounter while walking down a street. And these generally concern us only minimally. There are valuable truths in this thesis, and it could be our answer. But it is not the best one, for there is a weakness.
This solution to our problem of the wind suggests that the reality is seen but is more or less neutralized. It is virtually swept aside by faith.
That is only partially the picture. Let's find the better answer.
When the servant of Elisha, the prophet of the Lord, looked out around Dothan he saw the army of the enemy mustered to destroy them. A threatening reality indeed. Then, following Elisha's prayer, his eyes were opened, and he saw the mountains around the city "full of horses and chariots of fire"-the army of the Lord.
The army of Syria was reality. But faith revealed the greater fact-the army of God.
So the solution to our problem is this: faith does not ignore the reality of our physical senses. It accepts the fact that it is there, but reveals the higher, the preeminent, reality-God's.
Paul says something to this effect in 2 Corinthians 4: 18: "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
This concept is difficult for many of us mortals to grasp. The flesh-and-blood enemy, the flashing spear, the broad shield, the neighing horses, the iron chariots-all of these are substantial and convincing. How can it be accepted as a fact that there are other armies and chariots around, more substantial, more powerful, more swift, when the senses cannot discern them?
Our physical senses were created to comprehend objective, material existence. We were also created with the ability to comprehend spiritual things. But when sin came in, Satan all but blinded that spiritual eye. His will was to blind it totally, irretrievably, but God intervened.
So we see the realities on the lower level-the physical, the material-very well. We view with clarity the situation around the walls of Dothan. We altogether too often do not lift our eyes unto the hills and see that they are "full of horses and chariots of fire."
We look with blind eyes at our personal sins, so entrenched, so long with us, so much a part of our personalities, and see no possibility of their being cast fully from us. We struggle against them doggedly, hoping that we are making progress.
We hear a call to move away from our mountain, where we have been long enough. But we view the logistics of the problem and decide it is easier to erect more tents and strengthen our present stakes.
Meanwhile, God goes marching on. And we shall be left behind if we do not do some forced marching very soon.
To respond to the question raised at the beginning of this chapter: Does faith block out the reality, and doubt see it, or is it the other way around?
The physical eye sees the problem. The spiritual eye sees the answer. Doubt, through the physical eye, sees what to it is reality (Ellen White writes of doubts blinding perception; see Selected Messages, book 1, p. 28).
Faith, the spiritual eye, pierces through the veil hiding the higher, spiritual reality, and sees it clearly.
Doubt quakes at the enemy surrounding Dothan. Faith is at peace because of the horses and chariots of fire.
Perfect faith, as well as perfect love, casteth out fear.
But the spiritual eye sees only by reflected light-light mirrored from the glory reflected in the face of Jesus Christ. Take that eye off Jesus, and fears rush upon us, dissolving the view of the higher reality. We see only the army of the Syrians-or, to get back to our figure, the wind and the waves.
So it was that Paul wrote, "The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (2 Cor. 1: 14).
"But when he saw the wind." Curious, isn't it? The wind was undoubtedly blowing with the same force when Peter called to Jesus to invite him to come. What was the difference?
We have just seen it. When the spiritual eye is taken off Christ, faith weakens. The higher reality disappears. We perceive only the wind and the waves. Suddenly the impossibility of a situation moves into fearful focus and gathers itself to sweep upon us as we stand defenseless. We are vulnerable indeed because our faltering faith has taken us away from our old security, leaving us with nothing. We are in a worse situation than if we had never exercised faith. We are in the midst of the sea. And we have left our boat.
Thus it was that the impact of where he was hit Peter. He was walking upon that most tenuous of surfaces-water!
At the same moment that the force of the situation hit Peter, he saw it-a monstrous wave, only a few yards away, sweeping swiftly and implacably upon him. Then the wave rolled between him and Jesus. It was no longer possible for him to look at his Master. A terrible fear gripped him. At that instant he felt the water give way beneath him somewhat as a plank one is walking on over a stream suddenly breaks and gives way. He plunged helplessly downward. He felt the cold wetness-he knew physical reality-as he began to sink.
Gone now were Peter's pride and self-sufficiency. Possessed by fear, he had only one thought. Jesus. "'Lord, save me!'"
When the wave came between Jesus and Peter, making it impossible for that disciple to see his Master with the physical eye, he might still have beheld Him with the eye of faith, had self not come between. But in the crisis, faith too gave way.
Peter was to have another, darker, more mountainous, more lethal, wave roll between himself and his Lord. It also came at night-the darkest night of the soul for Peter. It came for the same reasons-self-sufficiency and a looking away from Jesus.
And it was only because the eye of the suffering Christ pierced for a moment that dark wave of denial and looked in pity and forgiveness upon His disciple that Peter was saved, perhaps, from being swallowed up forever, as Judas was swallowed.
Peter needed to see the wind and the waves. He had to see them at some time in his life. Jesus led him through the experience as gently as He could. Peter was not aware of his self-sufficiency and pride, but until he was brought to recognize these sins, and thus to turn to Jesus for help to be saved from them, he could not really sense his need of his Master. Until he truly grasped that need he could not be brought to the necessary repentance for his. sins.
Peter was nothing if not sincere. But he did not know himself. He was not aware of his own weakness, and actually considered his most serious faults to be strengths.
There are many of us who are sincere in our desire to serve Jesus who will, at some time in our experience, have to be led to see the wind and the waves. In other words, we must see ourselves as we really are. Until this happens, we may never realize our appalling spiritual and moral shortcomings.
Before we can walk on the violent seas ahead there must come a facing up to the defects we cherish, the precious sins we may not want to see, our weaknesses, our real characters-our self-sufficiency, our helplessness. We will have to see that what we think of as our area of greatest strength is the point of greatest weakness.
"'My power,'" said God to Paul, "'is made perfect in weakness'" (2 Cor. 12:9).
"Our own strength is weakness, but that which God gives is mighty and will make everyone who obtains it more than conqueror." - Testimonies, vol. 2, p.203.
To say that we have no strength of our own, that Christ is our strength, is not to resign our responsibilities and become passive. Writing of what takes place in a person who grasps the depths of his own insufficiency and the power of Christ's sufficiency, Ellen White says, "You will have strength from God that will hold fast to His strength; and a new light, even the light of living faith, will be possible to you .... There will be in you a power, an earnestness, and a simplicity that will make you a polished instrument in the hands of God." -Ibid., vol. 5, pp. 514, 515.