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Jesus Did Not Want to Die

At least at one point, Jesus did not want to die for your sins.

Central to historic orthodox faith is the assertion that Christ is "the only Son of God" and is "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God."  This unique nature of eternal Logos incarnate in human flesh is a central claim of Christianity.  A second assertion, also held to be central and essential, is that Christ is "truly man" (or, in a more contemporary wording, "really human").

Theological conservatives have tenaciously defended the first of these claims, guarding the importance of faith in Christ in whom "all the godhead dwells in bodily form."  The importance of this truth, particularly during this season of the year, is a central theme that will be repeated in Good Friday services and Easter services throughout the world.

But, what of the other claim?  It is true, that most modern Protestant Evangelicals and conservative Catholic smile and shake our heads at images of the baby Jesus making the sign of the cross and speaking good liturgical Latin at age 1 week.  Most are ready to assert the baby Jesus was a real human baby who needed to be changed, needed to learn to walk and talk, and whose mind and body required time and nourishment to mature.

But, perhaps to hold a high guard in defense of the claim that he is fully God, many seem to miss the unmistakable testimony of scripture that demands we take very seriously the humanity of Christ.  In accepting that he became "one of us," we must accept that he grew tired, knew hunger, laughed, cried, slept, and maybe even threw stones in a pond to watch the waves ripple outward.

But, in the readings we hear this season, staring us in the face, is Gethsemane.  It is the unambiguous account of Jesus on that night of his arrest that tells anyone reading the passages one thing very clearly: Jesus most definitely did not want to go through with it.  Coming to the edge of the single great reason for which he entered into our world, he begged for a change of plans.  He did not want to die on the cross.  He wanted out.  That much, at least, is plain.

"Not my will, but yours be done."

There must have a difference between his will and that of the Father at this point.  No other way for the prayer to be one of authentic struggle.

In simple terms, he was afraid.  Terrified might come closer.  The description of Gethsemane is not of a placid Savior somberly pontificating pious phrases while knelling gently on a rock with his face glowing from some heavenly light.  It is a man so torn with dread that he lays face down on the ground, sweating and crying aloud repeatedly for God the Father to make it all go away.

The thrice prayed resounding "Not my will, but thine be done!"  Again, this requires  that Christ's will, at this point, is not the same as the will of the Father.  He wants one thing.  The Father, he believes, wants something else.  Something, in fact, that he does not want.

Knowing this challenges a good deal of popular mythology and song lyrics (some of which seem more rooted in St. Hallmark than St. Matthew), Jesus did not think of me above all.  Or you.  Or all of us together.  It was, in the end, simply his unwavering commitment (one that marked the entirety of his life) to obey the will of the Father.  Engulfed in dread, and wanting nothing more in all the world than to bolt for the garden gate and get out of Dodge, Jesus nevertheless submitted to the will of God.

If this realization rattles some images of Christ, I, for one,  have found it tremendously helpful.  A man who wants to die in pain, or who wants to forgive people who strike him in the face, or who wants to put it one more long day of service to disciples who seem pathetically slow to catch on -- this is a man I might admire.  But, such a man has little to do with me.

But, a man who really is tempted like we are, who doesn't always want to do what he knows he should do, but does it anyway.  This is a man whose life, even when that life is without sin, is connected to my life.  He really is one of us.  Just one who, even when sharing our fears and angers and desires, simply chose to obey the Father.  Chose it whether he wanted to choose it or not.

Think about it: Did Jesus really and totally want the Father to forgive those who were torturing him and killing him?  I'd like to think it is at least possible some part of him did not.  I'd like think that human nature we share with him really wanted to strike back, to call down curses from him in prophetic fury.  So that, even if he felt all that human desire for retribution, he still chose to restrain it and not repay violence with violence (this nonviolence was also a desire within him).  Even if he felt the urge to call down curses, he still chose to pray for them to be forgiven.  That is peacemaking rooted in the same realities in which we are called upon to be peacemakers.  We return hatred with love, not because it is easy, but because it is commanded.

These thoughts do not undermine my belief in his unique deity.  They simply reclaim the parallel idea that he is also fully one of us.  He did not just look human, or have a human shell indwelt and run by a divine will.  He was not possessed.  That's not how it worked.  He was both.  Fully both.  The man who is God is also the God who is man.

The whole of the incarnation was brought about out of love.  Never imagine for a moment that Christ did not love us and does not love us.  I would suggest the measure of that love is beyond all ability to measure.  But, in the end, it is still less than his love for the father and less than his unwavering commitment to do the will of the father.

That he was afraid, means he was human.
That he obeyed anyway, means he would not sin.
That he came to earth in the first place so all this could happen, means he was God from God, Light from Light, and True God from True God.
That all of these unfolded in the course of time means that God is love.
And we love because he first loved us, and gave up his son to be the propitiation for our sins.

On the cross, it was flesh and bone that hung and gasped for air and cried out in agony.  It was also eternal Logos.  Agnus dei.  Soter homo.

1 comment:

Lloyd said...

Excellent! Thanks, Tom.