It is very likely that you know the story of Jesus walking on water—the one where his disciple, Peter, hops out of the safe sailing vessel to join his Rabbi atop the waves. When Peter starts to panic and sink, Jesus scolds him, asking, “Don’t you have faith?” If you’re like me, and probably most of us, you understand this story as a message about faith in Christ. If Peter trusted Jesus, he would have been able to miraculously walk on water just like his teacher. With faith in God, all things are possible.
The super hip American pastor, Rob Bell, has another interpretation of this story, however. In one of his super hip movie shorts, (one of the Nooma series), he cites Jewish rabbinic history to charge that Jesus’ question about Peter’s faith was not actually a question about faith in his teacher, as we often assume. Rather, Jesus was asking Peter, “Don’t you have faith in yourself? Faith that you can actually be like me?” Rob Bell suggests that by inviting all of humankind to be Christian disciples, disciples like Peter, Jesus was essentially communicating the radical message that God believes in us—in our ability to live good lives, and to live up to our individual callings. “Don’t you have faith Peter? I called you out here because I believe in you.”
I felt like Peter walking on the ocean today in my philosophy of religion class. As I looked up from the intimidating German names on my syllabus to the pensive faces of my anonymous classmates, and back down to those famous German names again, my faith waned and my heart began to sink.
I can’t do this. Why am I here? What was I thinking? I was drowning in self-doubt.
The thing is, I have read most of these German philosophers and theologians before. In fact, I have worked with these thinkers in classes in which I was quite successful. My fears were not rooted in a rational suspicion about my abilities as a student of philosophy and theology. They were not rooted in wise precaution. I have become self-aware enough to recognize my demons, and I know that low self-confidence is one of them. No award or grade or pat on the back has dissolved them thus far. It is going to take a deep form of self-work.
In the meantime, I find myself clinging to this fresh interpretation of that old biblical tale. Jesus has faith in me—to love my neighbor as myself and to turn the other cheek, ways of life that are simply much more difficult and demanding than the things I encounter in the classroom. If Jesus believes in my potential to do those things, then surely, it is worth having faith in my gifts as a student.
Jesus believes in me, and with time, hopefully I can too.