Gethsemane and God's Will

God’s distinctive self-revelation manifests God’s free gift of forgiving love as shown by the life and death of Jesus (see Romans 5:8). Since God's love announces forgiveness, it also pronounces judgment on us. Our being offered forgiveness presumes that we are in the wrong and thus in need of forgiveness. This means that my will is in the wrong and in need of correction by God’s will. The proper reception of God’s forgiving love requires that I subject my faulty, selfish will to God’s perfect, loving will. This reception is an ongoing struggle, and not just an intellectual commitment. It requires that I seek help from the power of God's Spirit, and it cuts to the core of my intentions and desires, the attitudes that motivate me. It is thus a power struggle between God and me, and in the end I will not defeat God. I am thus well advised to fold now. Only then will I find lasting life.

Our receiving God's love requires a new life-direction, motivated by the obedient resolve shown by Jesus in Gethsemane toward his Father: “Not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36; cf. Matt. 26:39, Luke 22:42). This life-direction begins with acknowledgment of our inadequacy before God relative to God’s perfectly loving character. In this respect, we come under divine love’s judgment, owing to our failure to meet the expectations and commands of the perfectly loving God. We must struggle to welcome this merciful judgment of love and to submit our wills to the loving will of the One eager to forgive us.

The extent to which we know God as our loving Father depends on the extent to which we are gratefully willing to acknowledge God’s noncoercive authority for us and, as a result, to participate in God's life of redemptive love. It thus becomes obvious why we humans (not just atheists and agnostics) have difficulty in knowing God as our loving Father. The difficulty comes from our resisting God’s authority for us. The heart of this resistance is our resisting God’s desired agape transformation of us: that is, our change in the direction of God’s morally perfect character. We contradict Gethsemane in saying or in acting as if we are saying: “Not what You will, God, but what I will.” We thus supplant God’s will, and thereby steal the place of God. We do this, in effect, whenever we yield to selfishness. We thereby rob our lives of needed joy and peace. We are then at odds with the only One who can give us lasting joy and peace.

The needed Gethsemane struggle is against our own selfishness that opposes divine love. This is a fight against the enemy within, the enemy of God's self-giving love. Given such resistance of ours to an perfectly loving God, it is arrogant for us humans to approach the question whether God exists as if we were automatically in an appropriate moral and cognitive position to handle it reliably. God is, after all, a very special kind of agent with distinctive purposes, and not a household object or laboratory specimen. God is, in being perfectly loving, significantly different from us and even foreign to us. We do not readily line up with God’s perfectly loving character and purposes. Our habitual selfishness shows this beyond any doubt. We are thus in no position to presume our acceptability before God on our terms. We do well, instead, to welcome God’s merciful corrective judgment upon us.

Our knowing God as loving Father, requires our welcoming and embracing a child-parent, or filial, relationship to God. It includes filial trust in God as one’s rescuer from all that is bad, including moral failure and death. Its heart of obedience emerges in Gethsemane, in Jesus's obedient prayer to his Father: “Not what I will, but what You will.” Such filial knowledge rarely, if ever, emerges in philosophy of religion or even in Jewish-Christian approaches to knowledge of God. The result is widespread misunderstanding of suitable knowledge of the living God.

Consider Jesus. His awareness of being God's beloved son was no matter of mere intellectual assent. It was a profound experiential relationship calling for talk of God as Father (or, Abba), in keeping with the Hebrew scriptures (see Isaiah 63:16). Jesus was embraced, even overwhelmed, by his Father's merciful love and its morally transforming effects. His whole life was occupied with a fitting response to his Father's love. In John's Gospel, Jesus sums up his life as follows: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish his work" (Jn. 4:34). In response to his Father's love, Jesus lives by every word that comes from the will of his Father.

Jesus's experience of being God’s beloved Son is clearly expressed in his prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer and the decisive prayer in Gethsemane. Indeed, Jesus seems to have regarded filial prayer toward God, in response to God’s amazing love, as an ideal avenue to filial knowledge of God. Such prayer is primarily a matter of asking and hearing what God as our loving Father wants from us rather than what we want from God. This kind of humble prayer figures importantly in the issue of what kind of available evidence of God we should expect and pursue. It should figure also in how we relate to God in faithful obedience. When it does, we will be able to receive the divine power of love that renders idols pointless and even repulsive. We will then enter in to the friendship with God that alone gives us a lasting life of joy and peace.

Another Way

This will of mine is killing me.
It drags me through the world.
I never tire of wanting more
when all I want is empty.
I need a place to rest,
to let this will of mine be still.

You lead me to a quiet place
where nothing can be hidden.
I tell You all I want and fear.
I plead in fitful bursts.
I want this life to be my way.
I want my will be done.

You listen very carefully.
You know my plight, my pain.
You too have struggled in this place,
with anguish sweating through.
Yet willingly and faithfully,
so beautifully
You showed
just what it is to live and love:
You let Your will be His.

So now here in this quiet place,
Your stillness bears its fruit.
This will of mine is killing me.
I can't deny this truth.
Your witness stops me in my tracks.
You show another way.
I won't begin to live until
I say:
Your will be done.