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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The silence of God | Love as obedience

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

Matthew 26:36–42



To speak of the death of Jesus risks collapsing the process into the event. His death happened on Friday at 3pm – but the dying began before.

It started, perhaps, when he set his face like flint and travelled to Jerusalem, knowing the Pharisees would kill him. Or perhaps it was earlier still – the moment of his first miracle, the first words about a kingdom in which the blind would see and the deaf would hear, or when, as a boy, he’d chosen to put his heavenly Father’s expectations above those of his parents in the temple.

Whenever it was, the dying started when Jesus accepted the Father’s will for his life. It started there, but it reached a highpoint in a garden called Gethsemane (meaning the oil press). There he was pressed and crushed, until the purest of oils ran out: a will surrendered to his Father in love.

This was the preparation for the cross. This was where the battle was fundamentally won. This was where, as the Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). His soul was overwhelmed to the point of death, but he prayed ‘yet not as I will, but as you will.’

And, in doing so, he agreed freely to drain the cup. He agreed not because the Father’s will was a joyous thing to him, although there was joy set before Jesus at the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Nor because he relished the cup’s bitterness. He agreed because the cross was his Father’s will, and because he desired nothing more than to offer the loving obedience of sonship.

This formation of the will towards love is the third aspect of the dark night presented by John of the Cross, which we’ve been considering in recent weeks. Whereas we, like Jesus, may pray that suffering’s cup be taken from us, we do not often pray those final words: ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ For we, unlike Jesus, have not yet learned the obedience-through-suffering that characterises sons and daughters of God.

Lent can be a time for learning this obedience through suffering. Whether our daily dying – at work or home – comes as chosen self-denials or as unwanted losses, darknesses, or silences, we can welcome it. For suffering prepares us to live well on our frontlines and, eventually, to die well, too, as we pursue ever-greater loving obedience to a Father who loves us.

Many of us spend much of our early years of faith never thinking at all of our future with Jesus. We focus on the joys and possibilities of the now; age and infirmity have not yet done their work of stirring us to long for a better country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16). If ever we think of heaven’s joys, we imagine perhaps the most fanciful of possibilities – earthly dreams fulfilled.

Biblical hope, though, is grounded in realities that human minds cannot conceive. That for which we may hope is, Paul asserts, revealed to us by the Spirit. Thus, our hope is not grounded in the limited possibilities that we can imagine but, instead, in God’s revelation of these deep things of God.

John of the Cross recognised this, too. He described how God disabuses us of our fanciful notions, emptying our memory or imagination of those images by which we constructed our visions of heaven. This, too, is part of dark night’s transformation, a painful process that strips us of our inadequate bases for hope – whether for promotion at work, friends’ approval, or financial success – just as, in Matthew 20:20–28, the disciples were stripped of their hope for status in the kingdom. When our old images of God and of heaven falter and fail, false hope can give way to Spirit-revelation of what God truly has prepared for us.

In the midst of our everyday lives and on our frontlines, what new or truer hopes might the Spirit want to reveal?

Dr Chloe Lynch
Lecturer in Practical Theology, London School of Theology

What’s one area in your frontline context where God has asked you to obey him, even though that obedience will be costly? How will you respond? 


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