Alas, did my Savior weep.
I recall at some point in my teenage years I became quite depressed with life. As someone who had made it through a childhood that was physically and emotionally abusive to entering the time of my life where the physical assaults started to fade and the emotional slander was amplified, I lost track of my own unique personhood and accepted an identity of worthlessness which I had been assigned.
Can you blame me?
It had become difficult to look into a mirror every day and wonder what all this life is for. Where is this great God that people claimed existed? Where was the joy that the teenage years bring? Where was my worth in all of this?
It is in reflecting on memories like this that I do find Jesus. Only, it isn’t the Jesus we usually talk about. We talk about the Jesus who bravely stood in the face of the world’s ways and rebuked them. The Jesus who came to set the captives free. The Jesus who died and resurrected because not even death could hold Him. You might say, we are comfortable with the portrait of Jesus where He is painted like our understandings of a superhero.
It’s not that Jesus didn’t do these things. It’s not that these attributes of His life and His mission as the Word made flesh should be ignored. They should definitely be reflected on, taught, and incorporated into our theology (except for the superhero part, but you already knew that!).
The problem is we take this picture of Jesus and make a mess of it. We somehow get the idea that if someone is going through a difficult time, telling them to “pray on it” is a sufficient response. We should know better. We should understand that sometimes prayer isn’t enough. Sometimes we are called to be the answer to those prayers.
This was my experience with religion in my youth and adolescent years. “Jesus loves you, that’s all you need”, “everything happens for a reason”, “God has a plan for this” still race through my mind like nails on a chalkboard wrecking my mind and my soul.
This is the result of allowing only one portrait of Jesus to emerge from a Bible that tells a tangible, multi-faceted story about Him. We must understand that Jesus was fully divine, but He was fully human as well. This means Jesus lived the human experience and it means He lived and embodied human emotions. Just think about Him flipping a table in the Temple in a theatric attempt to show the hurt and betrayal He felt in His heart. That’s Jesus in the raw.
It is clear that Jesus felt a range of emotions with heartbreak, hurt, and depression being on full display. And there is nowhere this is on a fuller display than when He is praying in the Garden before He is to be betrayed and arrested for crucifixion.
We find Jesus on His knees praying feverishly. The kind of praying without ceasing that He taught in His ministry. The kind of prayer we weep over in a dark night of the soul. The kind of prayer when nightmares become realities.
I’ve come to appreciate the part of the story that says Jesus prays so intensely that His sweat turns to blood. That’s powerful stuff. That is humanity at its finest. That indicates a sort of prayer from the deepest depths of the soul in the middle of a world where darkness engulfs and hope is flat out denied.
However, the story goes on. Jesus prays that His cup be passed on if God wills it. It is here that the human side of Jesus is further illuminated. It isn’t that Jesus wasn’t sure of what was coming (He even predicted it multiple times in His ministry), it is that the humanity of Jesus was coming to grips with the torment of sin He was about to take on and the true weight of it.
All sins are horrible, but physical and emotional violence against the personhood of anyone is certainly quite high on the list. There is little doubt in my mind that child abuse and domestic violence were on the mind of Jesus as He prayed this prayer. He dedicated a good portion of His ministry to the preservation of life and the importance of children’s lives and even used them as the example of what faith is.
When I encounter the text in the Garden, I see a Jesus who is facing the reality and pain that accompanies abuse in a human way. It is shattering, it is unbearable, it is a complete and total denial of hope. His human side does not want it. He yells to His Father “Let this cup pass from my hands!” because His human side cannot bear it.
I think back to times I would try to pray in those years. I vividly remember them being similar to the plea of Jesus, only quite a bit darker. I prayed like Job in the midst of calamity “God, if You’re there, I don’t want this life anymore. This isn’t right.” And He never seemed to answer.
It wasn’t until years later that I became drawn to Jesus in the Garden. I realized that all that time I spent looking up and to either side of me was the problem.
I realized I should have been looking down to find my Savior face first on the ground agonizing over my pain.
It is then that I find a fuller picture of Jesus: His humanity caught in the mess between the divine mandate of free will and the realization that people abuse it.
Alas, did my Savior weep.