Have you ever heard about “the Ring of Fire”? When an earthquake hits the countries around the Pacific Ocean, we can often see the reporters on news channels mention this term. The “Ring of Fire” is the name of the geological area that follows the 25,000-mile perimeter of the Pacific Ocean.
It is in this area that 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions take place. Yes, this area is truly on fire. Believe it or not, last week, only in a week, there were five earthquakes and one volcanic eruption in that area. Scary…isn’t it?
Because of this danger, the countries along with the Ring of Fire have developed a special engineering to construct safer buildings that can survive from large-magnitude earthquakes. Although it would be impossible to build perfectly protected buildings against earthquakes, some countries found ways of building even almost earthquake-proof skyscrapers. How? We may think…they make a structure so solid and firmly fixed that can resist any impact, any shock waves. But the answer is no. The astonishing secret of this engineering is quite the opposite.
After many simulations and experiments, engineers have found, a structure with a solid base that is firmly fixed on the ground collapses rather easily as it resists shock waves from an earthquake. It doesn’t really matter how strong a structure is; the type of structure eventually falls down when hit by an earthquake large enough. But actually, the structure that can survive earthquakes is the one designed to actively absorb shock waves—not resist them. This type of structure has an adaptable base rather than a fixed foundation, so that it can effectively take the waves in and disperse the impact fast. So, for the recently constructed skyscrapers in the Ring of Fire area, this key feature is not an option but a must-have.
I think this secret of earthquake-proof engineering tells us something about our faith today as we continue to reflect on the theme of our Lenten meditation, “Embracing the Uncertain.” Last Sunday we learned that uncertainty is an irremovable component and irrevocable condition embedded in our lives. So true…we live our lives in the ring of uncertainty. There, challenges and hardships come to us just as unpredictable as earthquakes, and sometimes seriously affect us just as devastating as volcanic eruptions. They shake our certain ground and ruin our hopes and dreams. Then, the question is, “how can we live our lives with this uncertainty as people of faith?” “Can we have earthquake-proof faith in the ring of uncertainty?”
In today’s Gospel story, Peter’s certain faith breaks down. Jesus begins to teach Peter, “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). What a bummer! Jesus is going to die. Shock waves hit Peter so hard. Immediately, Peter takes Jesus aside and even rebukes him. We can easily see where Peter’s impulsive resistance comes from. For Peter, Jesus has been his only hope. He left everything behind to follow him. From Jesus, he witnessed the great new kingdom in the making. It looked so concrete and sure to his eyes. And Jesus was the one who could give him the solid future. But this certain faith of Peter is now shattered into pieces by this tragic news from Jesus. And it is not easy for him to give up all his certain ground and take in the uncertain possibility, although he believes that Jesus is going to do what God asks him to do. Peter’s faith that looked so solid and firmly fixed on the ground collapses as it resists shock waves from uncertainty.
So Jesus admonishes Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:33). Then, he speaks to the crowds and other disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Here, Jesus gives Peter and all of us a precious two-part lesson on faith. Jesus tells us first, faith and following Jesus begin with denying ourselves, denying ourselves who always seek to get our lives fixed on a ground that looks certain and sure from our human perspectives. This ground may be the ground of power, possession, fame, honor, money, and so on. However, the more we get fixed on those seemingly solid grounds, the easier our structure of faith gets collapsed by earthquakes and shock waves in our lives. So Jesus asks us to deny them, set our minds and hearts on the divine ground—not on a human ground.
Then, Jesus tells us also, faith and following Jesus require us to embrace uncertainty, to take up our own cross. Yes, things can get rough and uncertain for us if we decide to bear our cross and truly want to walk with Jesus down his narrow path. We may have to follow Jesus to the wilderness where we only see challenges and needs, where we inevitably confront our innermost doubts, fears, sins, and limits. We may have to follow Jesus to Calvary where we are called to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of God’s mission just as Jesus did, where we are invited to lay down our own lives for others. It looks onerous and tough to take up our cross and follow Jesus. It looks like a way of losing our lives, risking our lives, and wasting our lives. However, the more we come to embrace uncertainty on our way of cross and take in its impact and waves, the higher our structure of faith can stand like the skyscrapers that survive from earthquakes.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, this may be the secret of earthquake-proof faith. In our lives’ ring of uncertainty, let us not get fixed on seemingly certain grounds from our point of views. Rather, let us learn how to live with uncertainty, because it is through those uncertainties, the wilderness, Calvary, the “valley of the shadow,” that we see Jesus truly walking with us, holding us, reinforcing our structure of faith. So in this Season of Lent, let us try to take up our cross and follow Jesus. And faithfully walk with him on the way of dying to ourselves and living only for Christ. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim