“And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.'” (Mark 14:33-34)
When a grieving, troubled or distressed Christian is told by others in his or her church that they should “count it all joy…”, the implicit message to them is that a person with true faith is emotionally unaffected by their circumstances. This unwritten rule is prevalent in church culture. It seems we have elevated stoicism to the status of virtue. This idea is certainly not Biblical, nor is it even practical or realistic. To a person who is grieving or hurting, it is at best frustrating or insulting. At worst, it can be discouraging, demoralizing, or alienating. The logical conclusion from such a line of thinking is that anyone who is emotionally distraught must be somehow caught in sin or lacking in faith. If that is the message we are sending to those who are hurting in our churches, then we are drastically misrepresenting our Savior.
If we look closely at the Jesus the Bible describes, we see that He experienced the fullness of life as a man, with a rich and varied emotional life. He at various times showed joy, compassion, anger, love and grief. No place shows his emotional reactions more vividly than the description of his night in the Garden of Gethsemene. After the Last Supper with His disciples, on the night He was to be arrested, Jesus entered one last time into the Garden to pray in preparation for the suffering He was to endure. It was no surprise to Jesus that the Father was going to ask Him to suffer on the cross. Jesus had been telling people for some time about it. Still, it seems that it was at that moment when the reality of what He was about to go through hit Him in full force. You know that moment when a difficult step goes from being something you will have to do sometime to something you have to do right now? That is what the Garden of Gethsemene was to Jesus.
The adjective translated as “very distressed” is actually translated elsewhere as “amazed.” It is the same word used to describe the female disciples’ reaction to seeing an angel in Jesus’ empty tomb (Mark 16:5). Jesus, the man who was also fully God and without sin, was actually in awe of the suffering He was about to endure. He felt the depths of anxiety and grief to the point that He already felt as if He was near death. He was far from being cool, calm and collected as we like to imagine Him. None of us can claim to have experienced the depths of despair He faced as He took the burden of the sin of mankind on His back, but we can learn an important lesson from His response. The unspoken truth of this account is that Jesus did not sin in His reaction because He never deviated from His commitment to do the Father’s will. He suffered deeply and willingly walked right into a depth of despair we could never imagine. His faithfulness was not measured by a stoic, steel-faced response to the nightmare lying ahead, but by a willingness to suffer whatever the Father laid out for Him.
We will all at times taste of the suffering this world brings. It is unrealistic for us to think that we should be able to face that suffering without any form of negative emotion. If Jesus is our model, we can be anxious, grieving or overwhelmed and yet still remain faithful to our Father. There is no reason to feel guilty for grieving the loss of a loved one or fearing unemployment. We are not expected to enjoy an abusive relationship or take pleasure in the manipulations of an intrusive parent. The faith that Jesus displayed in the Garden of Gethsemene is something entirely different. It is found in His heart of obedience, His unflinching trust in His Father, and His determination to do what was right no matter the consequences. As we face whatever difficulty the Father has allowed, He is looking for those same qualities in us: not a lack of feeling, but a faithfulness that trumps our feelings.
Mike is the director of Safe Harbor Christian Counseling of Philadelphia and counsels at the Newark, Wilmington, Elsmere and Glenmoore locations. Mike counsels adolescents, adults, children, and couples.