Following Jesus: An Out of Boat Experience

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In discussing my biblical views with some Christians —especially the one about God saving all—I’m always a little surprised how tightly they cling to every jot and tittle they’ve been taught in church (many of them not even biblical), as if their church (or they themselves) can’t be wrong about anything. Even when you suggest a way of interpreting Scripture that makes a heck of a lot more sense, people don’t want to believe that there is any chance they are wrong, so they don’t even listen to valid or reasonable points I might bring up.

I’ve thought a lot about why it’s so hard look at things through new lenses or to question what you’ve been taught. What is it that makes people either too afraid or too stubborn to look at things from a new viewpoint?

When Jesus asked Peter to join Him out on the Sea of Galilee—out of the boat—Peter could have used 101 excuses why it wasn’t a good idea.

…But Jesus, no one ever does it this way, we always cross the sea in a boat. Fully trusting the beliefs, traditions, or consensus of the day, especially when you haven’t looked into teachings for yourself (which is a lot easier than you think), is a powerful temptation. But it’s not the way Jesus did things. In fact in His day, He completely bucked the system by frequently disagreeing with the scholars, theologians and calling into question the stifling traditions and popular teachings that they used to hold people in bondage and fear. Jesus didn’t do it the way everyone else does it, and we shouldn’t either.

…But Jesus, all the other apostles are back in the boat. It’s so tempting to stay in the same boat with your friends, believing there is safety in numbers and that your friends aren’t holding you back in error or keeping you from deeper revelation. But Jesus demonstrated that the only way to have a thriving, revelatory relationship with Him and with His Father was to leave the group. He went alone to pray, to meditate, and even to die. Jesus did not dictate His beliefs, choices, and actions according to what His friends were doing, and we shouldn’t either.

…But Jesus, it’s safer in the boat—I know what to expect and how to conduct myself. We have a sure set of beliefs (that someone else decided for us) and we need not think too hard or study too much if we stay in the safety zone. Leaving the boat to find answers for ourselves seems scary. We don’t know for sure where it will lead, or what we might learn out there in the open sea. But one thing is for sure; we will learn that we are not in control, and that we don’t have to be. Safety is not the goal; learning about the character and intentions of God is the goal. Jesus didn’t stay in the boat, and neither should we.

…But Jesus, you first told me to get IN the boat and now it can’t be you asking me to leave it. I think Jesus asked Peter to walk on water because He knew only Peter was willing to trust that which was counter-intuitive. Think about it. Only one person had the courage to walk out on water with Jesus, but I believe Jesus wants all of us to leave the boat. What are you afraid of? Do you really believe that Jesus is more powerful than any lie or any destructive force? If so, why be afraid to get a new perspective on an old belief system? The water looks quite different when you’re walking on it instead of sitting in a boat. In my experience we must step out and away from what we know and what is familiar before we can tell if we have missed something. Dare to question. Jesus told His followers to question everything, and so should we.

…But Jesus, what if I drown? I don’t know how to swim on my own. Do you know of Anyone who is able and desires to keep you safe out on the open water? If you believe can trust Jesus with anything and everything (your very life) and that He is bigger than any lies you might encounter, then be willing to question and consider if you have missed anything important. The character and intentions of God are at stake here and we need to know for sure. Jesus didn’t let Peter drown, and He won’t let us drown either.

…But Jesus, what you are suggesting is impossible! Is it possible that Jesus will eventually draw everyone to walk outside the boat (John 12:32)? Is it possible He will save everyone—that His cross was more powerful than we’ve been taught and most victorious over all death and all evil? Yes! Jesus has said that with God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26). He asked God to forgive everyone from the cross (Luke 23:34). He prayed that the will of the Father would be done (Matt. 6:10). What is the will of the Father? That all people are saved (2 Peter 3:9)! Do you think that God would or could ignore any of these requests? I don’t, and that’s why I’m no longer in the boat.

Had Peter (or I) listened to the objections, he would have missed out on a miracle and the experience of a lifetime. He would have missed out on a most important aspect of his faith—following Jesus even when it goes against religion, tradition, and the ways of men. The boat might be safer, but it’s also not where you find a deeper revelation into the heart of God.

When God asks you and I to step out of the boat and get a fresh look at faith, we too can have 101 excuses ranging from fear, to pride, to extreme closed-mindedness. But Jesus is not in the boat. To follow His voice, we too encounter the open water so that we might be given ears to hear and eyes to see the miracle in front of us.

Dare to question. Dare to step out of the boat and believe that Jesus and His work on the cross are greater than what you currently know and believe. I think it could be great out there, walking on water!

 

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  • Julie, Great question! What is it that makes people afraid or resist investigating a new viewpoint? Particularly sweeping ones, like rethinking salvation, and like you said, even in the face of a more sensible interpretation with some sound evidence. You've nailed a great list. I think the major theme is insecurity.

    People envision having arrived at a safe haven, e.g. inside the boat, where they have discovered the truth all laid out for them by their church or the Bible or whatever. Now someone comes along and says, "Hey, maybe you're wrong about this. Look at this new evidence." That makes people feel insecure, just the thought that they and their church could be wrong rocks their world, leaves them shaky. If they discover they got in the wrong boat, they would have to admit they, their church, their favorite pastors/teachers/authors, were wrong, and suddenly the confidence that they had found the truth–discovered the right boat to climb into–is lost.

    People aren't usually open to such change unless they have already questioned the boat to begin with. They're already shaky and wondering, "Is this the right boat? Why would a loving God have such a small boat?" Now if they're asked, "Step out of the boat," they are ready to try it because they know in their heart there's something not right and the answer might be off the boat.

    Dare to question. Right on. God is love. He is not condemning us for questioning and searching and even encourages us to leave our safe havens to venture out into the unknown. He can be trusted!

    • jferwerd

      Thanks for such a thoughtful comment Michael! I appreciate your input and I think you are right. When I look back to my resistance to questioning at times, I think it was a combination of arrogance and fear. I was sure I was right, and when confronted with reasonable questions, I was afraid to let the question surface in my own heart. I feel so blessed to be at a point where you finished your comment–I know that God honors and even encourages my questioning, just like any good Father would do.

  • Damian Masters

    I like this blog. I think out side the box. Out of the boat is very good.

    • jferwerd

      Yeah, I was thinking about this because I realized that in order to see the truth, you have to get outside your religion and take a more objective view. That is a very scary prospect for folks! Was for me too. But I am so glad I did!

  • Mark

    I agree with you that an unquestioned faith is certainly a foolish and naive faith. It's important we examine things deeply.

    But this comment:
    "Even when you suggest a way of interpreting Scripture that makes a heck of a lot more sense, people don’t want to believe that there is any chance they are wrong, so they don’t even listen to valid or reasonable points I might bring up"

    Suggests that you are judging these people, and not properly acknowledging the possibility that you could be wrong as well.

    Think about it this way. If you are right (objectively), it's probably fair to say that people who don't listen to you and refuse to 'step out of the boat' are close-minded, stubborn, arrogant, etc. But if what you are teaching isn't correct, then it is hardly foolish for these Christians to cling to their beliefs so closely.

    Personally, I've 'stepped out of the boat' numerous times and found truth. But I don't believe this truth is universalism.

    • jferwerd

      Hey Mark, if you have stepped out of the boat, kudos to you–you're not my audience for this post then. I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone has to believe the same way I do or come to the same conclusions in stepping out of the boat. I'm not even saying I'm right about anything. All I'm getting at is that there is a lot of Christians (like I was) who don't question what they have been taught because they are afraid to, even when presented with alternative interpretations of Scripture that make more sense (such as Hebrew perspectives, or whatever). If you perceive this as judgmental, I have to disagree.

      You threw out a broad sweeping term, universalism, which I have not used. Can you define that word?

      P.S. That was a good pun about you stepping out of the boat.

  • Jesus did not dictate His beliefs, choices, and actions according to what His friends were doing, and we shouldn’t either.

  • What is it that makes people either too afraid or too stubborn to look at things from a new viewpoint?