Columns and Editorials

The Agony in the Garden By: JD Bentley

JD Bently

A persistent theme in my writing is the inevitability of our suffering and our pursuit (or rejection) of the Logos—the divine ordering of the cosmos. Most of that which we are called to do and which we should do is painful and repulsive. It is uncomfortable and intimidating.

Yet the underlying theme of all existence is dependent on doing precisely these things. It is through “toil” (as Genesis says) that we ultimately work out our salvation. For our salvation, we are called to imitate Christ and that means imitating His Passion. We carry our own crosses, which is our suffering, but we don’t carry those crosses merely for the sake of carrying them. Christ had a destination, and so do we. We carry our cross to Golgotha and we die to ourselves as Christ died for us.

Herein lies the key to meaning in life. Life is inherently suffering, but suffering is not inherently valuable. We will suffer if we move this way or if we move that way, if we step forward or if we step back, if we climb or if we fall, and especially if we stand still. We are always carrying our crosses in some sense. But meaning is found in making that suffering worthwhile, in putting it to work, so that the outcome of our suffering exceeds the pain suffered. We are called to make our suffering holy.

Had Christ carried His Cross and done nothing else, we wouldn’t remember the story. No one would have cared to remember and certainly no one would have allowed themselves to be martyred for it. The carrying of the Cross was suffering, and we’re already guaranteed suffering.

The carrying of our crosses must be followed by a crucifixion.

It is through His Crucifixion that Christ’s suffering became His sacrifice, that His suffering would be offered up and made holy, that the fruit born of His suffering would exceed the pain of the suffering itself.

It is this that we’re called to do, to transform suffering into sacrifice, or else we wallow and rot in that suffering.

This is a difficult thing to do, but much less so for us than for Christ. He had a far heavier burden to bear. He was as much man as we are. He was not fearless in the face of His burden. A fearless man can do dangerous things with ease, not having any sense to deter him, or else not valuing his life.

Christ was not fearless. His fear followed him into the Garden of Gethsemane, as we see in Matthew 26:

“And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and heavy. Then saith he unto them, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.’

And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’”

In Luke we are told “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” His fear forced Him to the absolute edge of human sorrow and His body was tortured, stricken by its own revulsion and resistance to His purpose.

And in the face of that He says, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” And not only once, but three times in the face of absolute agony.

Jesus Christ was not a fearless man. He was something better.

He was rightly ordered.

He was a courageous man.

He trembled and bled at the enormity of the suffering required of Him to make His sacrifice, to fulfill His calling.

And then He pursued that calling anyway.

He knew what needed to be done and He did it in spite of His own revulsion, dread, horror. As it’s often said, the courageous man is not the fearless man, but the man who has mastered his fear and triumphs over it.

That’s what Christ did. He recognized, venerated, died for the will of the Father, for the divine order. He knew what was demanded of Him and He accomplished it. And His suffering became the sacrifice by which all other sacrifice is made efficacious.

It is this we are called to imitate.