The Hidden Face of God, pages 151-153
"The Lonely God of the Garden"
September 4th, 2019
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34
The overwhelmed soul of Jesus...unimaginable!
All along the final journey to Jerusalem, Luke paints a picture of a Jesus who is becoming more and more isolated and alone (Luke 9:51-19:28). Through the course of his narrative, John uses a literary device, the motif of misunderstanding, to slowly separate Jesus, the Wisdom of God, from the foolish misunderstanding of men. Every time he says something deeply spiritual, the response of the hearers reveals the fact that they simply cannot comprehend this increasingly lonely man (John 2:20; 3:4; 4:11; 6:28; 7:35; 8:19; 11:24; 12:28-31; 13:36; 14:5; 16:17). Mark, who records the testimony of Simon Peter, portrays the close personal friendship between Jesus and Simon rapidly eroding once they reach Jerusalem for the final week. Once they come to the garden, hours before the courtyard at Caiaphas' house, Peter has already begun to think to himself, I don't know this man.
By the time the Eleven reach the gate to the estate of Gethsemane after the final supper, they are all exhausted and confused by the troubling pronouncements of Jesus during the past few hours. On their long walk from Jerusalem out of the Mount of Olives, Jesus had told them they would all desert Him that evening (Mark 14:27). Jesus posts the eight at the entrance. He moves farther into the darkness of the olive grove with the three. "Stay here and keep watch," He charges Peter, James, and John; but they prove to be supremely incompetent lookouts. Jesus wanders off alone into the shadows of Gethsemane, the "Place of Crushing." Just after they left the eight, Jesus confided in Peter, James, and John that His soul was becoming so mournful that He felt He was about to die.
The word the Gospels use for "soul" is pseuche. It can be variously translated, life, breath, or soul. Another way to render the verse might be, "My life is so overwhelmed by lament that I am about to die." Jesus had promised that, as the Good Shepherd, He would lay down His pseuche for his sheep (John 10:11). In Matthew 20:28 He promised to give His pseuche as a ransom for many. Earlier, in 10:39, Jesus promised His disciples that if they would only lose their pseuche they would find it. If what He said about losing in order to find and dying in order to live was really true after all, Jesus was about to find His pseuche.
Peter remembered Him falling on His face there in the garden under the weight of His overwhelmed soul. Three times Jesus stumbles off into the shadows to pray by Himself. Each time His prayers seem to grow in intensity until, during the final painful session, the sweat on Jesus' face becomes drops of blood. During this final, most intense period of prayer, Luke says an angel appeared to comfort Jesus (22:43). But apparently even the presence of an angel had no effect of comforting Him. What Jesus needed most is what, at that moment, seemed farthest away (Psalm 69:3).
It is a real human being who leads His disciples into the lonely garden. He isn't walking six inches off the ground. His feet feel every sharp stone. His pain is real, perhaps the most untainted pain that was ever experienced. His struggle is genuine. If you do not understand that in the garden Jesus was thoroughly tempted to say "no" for the first time to the Father, you do not understand what happened in Gethsemane. In essence Jesus is saying, "If there is any way out of this, I want out." That is the intention of the words, "Let this cup pass."
Once you begin to understand the scope of the struggle, you will start to appreciate the scale of Jesus' suffering. The earth must have rumbled as He whispered, out of breath, "Not what I want, but what You want." These were the costliest words that were ever spoken by the lips of any man. The costliest and the most precious, for they made possible the purchase of the salvation of the world.
But where is the response of God? None of the Gospels record a single word. The answer to the most impassioned plea the Son of God was the silence of God.
God spoke audibly at least three times in the life of Jesus: at the baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), at the "coming of the Greeks" (John 12:28), and at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). In both instances in Matthew God says, "This is my Son." The words are addressed to the witnesses, not directly to Jesus. (Luke and Mark agree with Matthew on the wording at the Transfiguration but not at the baptism.). In John, at the coming of the Greeks, in response to Jesus' prayer "Father, glorify your name," God says, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." But Jesus' explanation of the Father's words to the crowd hint that perhaps, even here, God was not talking to Him. "This voice was for you, not for my sake," Jesus says.
These incidents hint at something that is both extremely sad and also wonderfully encouraging at the same time. Perhaps Jesus, even Jesus, lived His life, as we all do, within the context of the silence of God.
We usually imagine Jesus' prayer sessions as times of "sweet communion." But perhaps more often they were like the time of bloody sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps this garden prayer was more representative of His entire prayer life. I must say that this thought brings a certain sadness, to think that still another part of Jesus' suffering for me was that in His Incarnation, He chose to be silently cut off from God in the same way that you and I are cut off. And yet at the same time, it fills me with a hope that is beyond words, that Jesus, even Jesus, in experiencing every part of humanity (except for sin) know what it was like to call out to the Father and hear only the silence of God in response!
If this is true, you and I are not - and cannot be - alone in this frustrating experience ever again. It means that every time we suffer the silence of God, it is an occasion to be brought closer to Jesus. It means that He has chosen to join us in that silence and fill it with His understanding Presence.