What is one to think? How should one feel? What is a husband to do to help his wife? How should he comfort his children? Will YHWH God The Almighty step in and give us the outcome we ask? Is the outcome we ask best? What is the decree of the Lord? Does my breaking heart and crushed spirit mean His command is faulty or His decree callous? Why it is worse this time? Does the wound just keep getting bigger and deeper every time I must surrender? Will it ever stop hurting? What does it mean if it does stop hurting? …….
The questions never cease. Exhaustion is all that stops the mind and the prayers each night. God’s Word is clear, the edicts unmistakable, the commands unambiguous – no escape hatch, no get out of jail free card, no release valve just painful obedience or soul-killing damning rebellion. What a choice!
Hebrews 4:14-15 tells us that we have a great High Priest who is not unsympathetic to our weakness but has been tempted and tried as we are yet without sin. There are clearly many things about the mind and counsel of God of which I am rightly and completely ignorant but it seems clear that one of the reasons we are given a glimpse into Jesus’ travail in the Garden of Gethsemane is so that we might understand this truth. My human mind is incapable of truly understanding all that was going on that night in that still quiet garden. Cosmic War was raging in the heavenlies and yet on the earth the quiet was so deep that the Apostles slept. The world was going on as it had for 4000 years and alone, in the dark the Son of God wrestled, prayed and wept. Even the strengthening presence of an angel from heaven was not sufficient to assuage His anguish. His agony so deep, the battle so fierce, the cost so high, the pain so deep that even after that angel came He sweat great drops of blood. On His face He cried out to His Father for relief; for a change of plan; for another way! He did this not once but three times! This was not some exercise, not a rote prostration or a perfunctory nod – this is gut wrenching, visceral entreaty. Do not lessen what is happening here in the Garden. Oh yes, Jesus knows the prophesies – He knows He will be raised by His Father, His death is temporary but He knows more fully than any human since Adam exactly what death is. Moreover He will suffer as no-other human ever has, not only will His death be excruciating and humiliating on a human level but His suffering will be un-just. Every other human who has ever suffered in this world stands guilty before a Holy God and any suffering we may encounter truly pales in comparison of what we deserve for our cosmic rebellion but Jesus is Holy, without sin and perfect before God’s law. Further, Jesus the Holy innocent Son of God will suffer the wrath of God’s justice as our sins are laid on Him at the cross so marring Him that His Father will turn His face away – Jesus who has known only complete perfect unity and fellowship with the Father will be cut off and forsaken. We cannot even begin to truly comprehend the horror from which Jesus is pleading relief. Yet the Scriptures allow us to peek into this scene as the Son of God peers into the cup of God’s wrath, a cup filled by the Divine Counsel He Himself participated in and ordained before the foundation of the world, and in peering in agonizes with the Father in prayer.
Why do we get to glimpse this great agony? What are we to learn? One thing I think we are to learn is that it is OK to assail heaven with our desires so long as they do not violate the written Word of God. In the Garden we see Jesus asking His Abba to remove this cup from Him because He knows that all things are possible for His Father (Mark 14:36). This is amazing to me, the God Man, Jesus of Nazareth, fully God and fully man, the one who has clearly taught His disciples that He must suffer and die to fulfill the Scriptures – this one is the one agonizing in the Garden. Jesus knows that it is the desire of the Father to redeem a people for His own possession and moreover He is in full agreement with this divine will and yet when peering into the coming hours and the pain they will bring He boldly requests a plan B if the Father wills. What are we to make of this? I think it is safe to say that it is OK for the children of God to bring their desires to Him and to plead earnestly for them for that is exactly what our elder Brother did in the Garden.
This is not to say this is the end of the discussion. Our Savior also shows us how to rightly plead with our Father. He does so with an open hand – “if it be possible” (Matt 26:39) “if you are willing” (Luke 22:42) “if it were possible” (Mark 14:35). This is an earnest pleading like none of us has known but it is still the pleading of a child to a Father. When we approach our Father in Heaven we should do so with the humility of knowing our frame – that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14) who are we to darken the counsel of the Almighty (Job 38:2)? I am not now nor will I ever be wise enough to know definitively what I need in a situation – I may see what appears to be the best outcome in the moment but I do not know nor understand the Providence of God in the every day moments as He directs all of creation to His glorious desired end. How then could I ever begin to know what is best? This is one of the evidences that He is God and I am not. He knows perfectly and rightly the end of every decision that bring Him the most glory and my highest good. Jesus travail in the Garden shows me that I am free and welcome to plead with my Father for His gifts but I should always do it as a respectful child to their loving Father – with an open hand and humility.
The Garden also shows us that we are pray with hearts in submission to our Father. In every account of this long night Jesus’ prayers all ended with a variation of “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). Jesus had made it clear through out His ministry that He did not act on His own accord but carried out the will of His Father (John 8:28-29; John 5:30) and this dark night was no different He was still about His Father’s will. You see Jesus’ prayer hinged on the will of the Father – He had made his request known and left it in the hands of His Father to do according to all His holy will. We are finite and at an even greater disadvantage in tracing the paths of God’s Providence so how much greater then should be our submission to His will. If I am praying in humility then it is a natural and necessary outgrowth to pray in submission to His will – even if I don’t understand why He chooses a particular course. How am I, the creature, to know if the pain I fear is necessary to conform me to the image of His Son Jesus? Would not the wisest course be to entrust myself and my desires to the Mighty, Omniscient King of Heaven who WILL do all things rightly?
Finally, the Garden teach us that our earnest, humble, open- handed, submissive pleading will be heard in the heavenlies (Heb 5:7) but may not receive the answer we desire. Jesus’ cries ascended to His Father but it was the Father’s good pleasure to crush Him (Isa 53:10-11) so that by Jesus obedience many would be made righteous (Rom 5:19; Heb 2:9-11). The Father, who sees the end from the beginning (Isa 46:10), had His purpose in the suffering and there was no other way for His Divine Providence to come to pass. Sometimes obedience and God’s will follow a path into and through pain. This pain is by its earthly nature of necessity temporary but can be unfathomably deep. What if my pain is the only way to conform me to Christlikeness? Does this somehow impugn the righteousness of God? Does this prove Him malevolent? No NEVER, the absence of pain does not prove the existence of love or goodness – the cut of the surgeon’s scalpel inflicts pain but by removing malignancy it brings healing. The surgeon is both good and kind to the patient even though he inflicts temporary pain. So it is with our Father in Heaven – if I am to suffer all my days in this mortal coil even then my pain is temporary in comparison to eternity. My pain is real but I have a listening Father who is with me in it and is ready to hear my pleadings so I will cry out to Him who is able to save me (Heb 5:7) and even if He does not answer as I have asked I will worship Him (Job 2:10; Dan 3:17-18; Job 13:15; Prov 14:32; Job 19:25-27; Ps 73:26, 28)
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, Heb 5:7-9