When I was a teenager, my life changed. I’d been a born again Christian since about age 10, but when I was 16, I rededicated my life, and in many ways, my faith became my own rather than the result of my upbringing and environment. Like many young Christians who are impatient for the spiritual maturity that only years of experience can bring, I began absorbing everything about Christianity and the Bible I could find. I was soon swept into Calvinism and Puritan doctrine that would hinder my spiritual life and growth for years to come.
– I was taught that salvation was the transformation of the fallen and depraved human mind and will into the Mind and Will of God.
– I was taught that the truly righteous Christian must be 100% ‘in-tune’ with God.
– I was taught that the prayer of a truly righteous Christian avails much.
– I was taught that if the Christian delights himself in God that He would give him the desires of his heart because his desires and those of God are one in the same.
– I was taught that the truly righteous Christian could not and would not resist the Will of God.
Then I read this:
And [Jesus] withdrew from [the disciples] about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. – St Luke 22.41-42, ESV
That immediately struck me as odd. If Jesus was God, how could He possibly have drawn such a clear distinction between His and the Father’s Wills in the same prayer? In the same sentence? How could He ask for something that not only was not the Father’s Will but that had been prophesied numerous times to be absolutely necessary for the redemption of man and was the sole purpose for His incarnation? How could He fear? How could He resist? How could He, the Christ, ask something of God the Father and be denied?
Teachers and preachers I asked could only give me patchwork answers, answers that were basically cop-outs. ’Since Jesus was God Incarnate, His relationship with the Father is inconceivable to the minds of men.’ ‘Jesus was perfect and sinless, so He was capable of doing things that are not allowed to fallen men because He could do them without sin.’ Even in my young years, I was able to see though the rhetoric and recognize their fundamental answers. ‘I don’t have a sound answer.’
And so I kept these things in the back of my mind, thinking that continued growth and enlightenment would yield an answer. It never did, at least not enlightenment from these doctrines.
Twenty-five years later, I still find myself musing on this passage, trying to fully understand its meaning and implications. Of course, my non-Christian friends (especially Muslims and Judaists) quickly pounce on this as evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was not the Christ or the Messiah. Due to my understanding of the larger context, I’m not inclined to dismiss His divinity so easily. No, I believe He was, and is, the Son of God, the Christ. And from His obedience in this instance, it’s clear that ultimately yielding and submitting to the Will of God is righteousness. Yet this anomaly of the independent will persists. As a scientist, I’ve learned that it’s usually the anomalies that reveal new truths and discoveries, anomalies that don’t fit into established theory. Perhaps that’s why I dwell on this so much – because it’s contradictory to so much well-established doctrine yet was obviously recorded in Scripture to reveal some truth.
So then I must ask, if He is the Son of God, and if His words and actions in this passage contradict established doctrine, mustn’t it be the doctrine that’s in error? As a notorious lone wolf Christian and rebel against man-made doctrine, I’m inclined to believe that’s exactly the case.
– Where doctrine declares that having a difference of opinion from the Father is a result of sin and depravity, Christ showed otherwise.
– Where doctrine declares that praying a prayer that is not in the Will of the Father is at best vain and at worst sin, Christ showed otherwise.
– Where doctrine declares that ‘being in-tune with God’ is a measure of righteousness, Christ showed otherwise.
– Where doctrine declares that receiving a ‘No’ in answer to prayer must mean that the Christian is out-of-sorts with God’s Will, Christ showed otherwise.
I am still far from a final answer to this mystery, but I’ve learned enough from it to see grave errors in much of today’s doctrine. I’ve watched as beloved Christians have lived defeated lives for years because they fail to attain this level of ‘harmony’ with God, thus assuming they must be living out of His Will. It concerns me greatly, but when I try to point out these errors to my friends, even some of my family, I’m always dismissed as a doubter, a non-believer, or a non-elect, and my words as the ravings of a depraved Foole. But as God has given me this enlightenment, I have the responsibility – and the commission – to speak it.
Perhaps I am in error. But I don’t see how anyone could read this passage and deny the fact that, at least in this instance on the Mount of Olives on the night before the Crucifixion, Christ Jesus had a difference of will with God the Father, and He prayed a petition that was denied. And if I must choose between the example of Christ and the doctrines of men, I will choose Christ.