All of us would like life to be all about ‘plain sailing’, a metaphor describing smooth and easy progress in a process or activity. As Christians, we sometimes believe that this is what a life of faith means: the constant intervention of a benevolent God who, if He only wants the best for us, surely owes us deliverance from evil and access to a life of continuous ease.
Acts 27 bursts this idealistic bubble, however, as it describes a fierce storm and shipwreck which certainly threatened the life of the apostle Paul, finally on his way to Rome after over two years’ imprisonment on false charges. This chapter resonates with detail and vividly describes the desperation felt by even experienced sailors when facing the merciless sea during a storm. Nonetheless, God’s presence with Paul sustains him (and encourages others) and is a vivid reminder to us that troubles and difficulties do not automatically mean God’s displeasure.
Jonah faced a similar storm that was indeed the result of his disobedience, but we would be wrong to assume that all trouble is linked to sin. Jesus made this plain when he spoke to people about a blind man (John 9:1-3) or when he spoke about different disasters. (Luke 13:1-5) Difficult though it may be for us to grasp, life in a sin-stained world is never going to be all ‘plain sailing.’ There will be testing, trials and troubles, but these do not invalidate or negate God’s goodness, mercy, kindness, love and grace. Paul was able to testify to God even in these extremely hazardous circumstances; he was also able to reassure all 276 on board that they would survive this ordeal. (‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ Acts 27:24) The one thing we can rely on, even in the fiercest drought or storm, is that God will never leave us or forsake us. (Heb 13:5)