“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” – John 12:27-28a
As Jesus begins an extended discourse on his death to offer understanding and comfort to his followers, he readily admits that this is not easy. “Now is my soul troubled.” This expression is surprising in that throughout the Gospel, Jesus serves as the ideal of a non-anxious presence. Nothing seems to trouble his soul… until now. It seems that John wants us to understand that like all other humans, Jesus found death to be troubling, frightening perhaps. It seems that we are simply wired to oppose death and to fight it off, and Jesus was no different.
This expression may cause us to wonder how Jesus could have been fully God and still been troubled by death. Such thoughts gave rise in ancient days to Docetism. The term comes from the Greek word dokesis, which means “to seem.” This belief, declared a heresy by the church, held that Jesus was not fully human, that he just seemed to be human; therefore, he did not really suffer and die at all. John’s Gospel stands against such a view as it offers great detail about the suffering and death of Jesus and about his anxiety concerning his death. Jesus was fully divine in that he shared the divine nature (as opposed to human nature). He lived in perfect relationship with the Father and in perfect relationship with others.
Then Jesus asked the fundamental question of the Gospel – perhaps the fundamental question of life, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.” Just as Jesus’ natural instinct might have been to flee, to escape, to run from the hour of trial, everything in his being acknowledged that this was his hour, this was his destiny, this was his purpose. Instead of fleeing, he placed the moment in God’s care and keeping and asked for God to be glorified through it all, “Father, glorify thy name.”
I don’t know of any better way to approach suffering and pain and death than that which is modeled by our Lord. We naturally seek to escape, to flee from it, and it is good to express honestly our fear, heartbreak, pain, and anger. But that was not Jesus’ last word on the matter, and it is good when that is not our last word either. Christ’s way was to embrace suffering as his destiny and to ask God to be glorified in his brokenness and pain. As we follow that example, we, like our Lord, cease to be a pitiful victim and become by God’s grace a gallant victor. We find that God showers grace upon grace so that even our deepest sorrow and suffering may serve a purpose and may reveal God’s care and keeping.
Lord Jesus, you approached suffering and death with a troubled soul, and so do we. Give us your grace and strength to do as you did and invite our heavenly Father into our hour of trial, so that even our pain and loss might be redeemed in a way that brings you glory. Amen.
A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston