Living in this present crisis has meant that I wake up every morning with anxiety for the future and for my mortality. It means I live in an almost unbearable burden of angst for the state of the world and for my loved ones who I am separated from. And I am a woman of faith! But I find that, perhaps because of my faith and not despite it, I have moments of wrestling with what God’s plan is for all of this. I have wondered why God needs to accomplish His will through COVID-19. Could He not be brought greater glory through the immediate eradication of this disease than by it lingering in our communities, stealing our elderly, threatening our young, crippling our education systems, shutting down our businesses, and wounding our economies?
And I wrestle with these questions in an increasingly isolated world. One in which I avoid my neighbors physically even as my awareness and concern for them is increasing. I have had to make the difficult decision to protect loved ones by not visiting them though I wish I had their life-giving presences to sustain me. And the salt on my wounds, I am cut off from the comfort of worshipping next to other believers on Sunday morning, of taking the Lord’s Supper, or passing the peace of Christ to brothers and sisters.
Is the worry that I find increasingly difficult to push away or the desire for the Lord to change my circumstances, a sign that I don’t trust the Lord or believe He is good? So today I am grabbing for and holding onto comfort not just in the victory of Christ that I know I will celebrate (in relative isolation) on Sunday but also in Jesus’ darkest moments of isolation.
In my mind’s eye, I see Jesus in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. He warns his disciples to pray against temptation, as he had experienced himself in the wilderness, and I know that we must pray too. Because the drugs of the modern world that help us numb our pain and anxiety are readily available. Too easily may the Church find the familiar comforts of abusing the internet, alcohol, netflix, or one another during this interminable exile from society. Comforts that may numb us to our anxiety and fear but also to our true antidote, prayer and trust.
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26: 39, ESV).
This isn’t the first time in my life I have prayed this prayer with Jesus. For God to change the present. For a different course to miraculously appear. And yet, it is in the second half of this short prayer that I find my will most disciplined. That I grow the most with each subsequent prayer. Not my will. Not my will. Not my will. I can only pray “not my will” if I believe that despite the present, God is good. If I believe that no matter what the outcome, God is good. Unlike me, Jesus knew the outcome. He knew the suffering he would endure; would willingly walk into. And yet he believed—knew—God is good even then.
When Jesus drew away to pray, he said to his friends, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death …” (Matthew 26: 38, ESV). And in that agony, he approached God.
Have I prayed like this? Out of my agony for the state of the world? Not often. I have dulled the pain rather than addressed it in prayer, unwilling to lean into it as Jesus did that night. Oh that I would lay down my will more often and approach the fearful, wonderful foot of the throne with my fears and questions. But to my shame I know that just as Jesus arose from his prayer and stumbled upon his disciples asleep, so he would find me during this present crisis. Asleep, numbing, instead of in prayer. Such are the lessons I learn in the garden.
Today, that ancient doctrine of the dual nature of the Son is like a weighted blanket to my anxious turnings at night. Jesus is my God and so he overcomes all things. Jesus is also my human brother, and so he felt all ranges of human emotion and temptation. In his God-nature, Jesus is perfect. In his human nature, Jesus taught me how to faithfully wrestle with God’s will. He demonstrated the act of bringing questions to the throne. And he illustrated the solace to be found in the act of asking.
Jesus also experienced painful isolation in his human nature. Though the Son and the Father are perfectly united and are one with one another and the Spirit, in his human nature, Jesus experienced not only the absence of the Father, but the full wrath of the Father. In my place, Jesus was cut off from The Source of Life that I might never know that kind of aloneness. Today I am painfully aware of why Jesus needed to come. And so I thank God for that pain. Because it reminds me that this world which I have too often called home is not as it should be. I need a Savior to free me from the stronghold of sin and death. We need a Savior who is powerful enough to rescue a whole world. And, graciously, the Savior that came was one that tasted the weight of sin and the power of death. And yet has overcome it. This will be an Easter we would be wise not to forget; not the joy nor the sorrow, not the yearning nor the comfort. This Easter I hope we remember that we need Jesus. Desperately.
Catherine Cook is on staff with Harvard Undergraduate Fellowship, a ministry of Reformed University Fellowship. She graduated Harvard in the Class of 2012 and holds an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.