“And [Jesus] said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36 ESV).
For more reasons than this blog can explain, this is a significant passage of Scripture. Here, Jesus is in the final hours before the torture of the cross expressing this significant mindset. He, knowing full-well that the cup he is asking to be removed could not be, willingly accepts God’s will at the cost of his own life. This is a powerful example for us across a spectrum of aspects of the Christian life. But the one I desire to highlight today is the significance of Jesus’ “willing acceptance.”
How did I come to consider this? I was reading a secular article[i] on the Psychology Today website on a related subject. And contained within the article was this equation:
Pain + Resistance = Suffering
Then I read the article. I stared at this for a long time. I evaluated it against my experience with various individuals in counseling relationships. I applied it to couples I had pastorally counseled. I considered it within my own life. And while I did not agree with the humanistic bend of the applications the article derived, the more I stared at and considered it, the more agreement I had with the message this equation was communicating.
Too often, when pain and trials enter our lives, we are quick to resist. We….
I could go on. The point is that each one of these is an area of resistance that does not make the pain or trial better. It makes things worse. Before going much further, I want to note that I recognize the nuance to these responses regarding extraordinary circumstances like significant health issues, traumatic life experiences, and sudden loss. My point is not to wade into every nuance, but in almost a proverbial way (a proverb being a general principle that is true most of the time) make the point that resistance to pain typically results in our compounding the suffering our pain produces.
This is why the statement of Jesus in Mark 14:36 is of such significance. The pain Jesus was to endure was just beginning. Instead of resisting it, he accepted the will of his Father, and endured the pain for the purpose of change on our behalf.
As I prayerfully consider this, in an effort to form a more biblical principle, as well as a solution-oriented equation for my own future usage, this verse and the example Jesus provides is what I was looking for. Jesus chose to not resist the pain, which would have resulted in suffering for himself and all of humankind. He instead chose to accept the will of his Father, accept the pain in front of him as a part of God’s plan, and created change as a result. The change for him was that he became the perfect sacrifice for all the sin of humankind for all eternity. The change for us was a means by which we access eternal life by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Because of Jesus, Christians can consider a new equation for processing the pains of life.
Pain + Acceptance = Change
Pain is inevitable. 1 Peter 4:12-13 reminds us:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial [pain] when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
Christians should expect pain. And in that, we share in the realities Jesus experienced in Mark 14:36. This gives us the opportunity to respond in the same way that Jesus did—through acceptance.
“Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Through acceptance, great change is possible. The first change comes in the form of theological alignment. You are following the example of Jesus, by not resisting pain but accepting that God is doing something uncomfortable in your life. And further accepting that while painful, disheartening, discouraging, and any number of other unpleasant adjectives, God is good, God is in control, and as Jesus himself accepted—God’s will is better than ours. This theological alignment breathes needed perspective and hope in the midst of difficulty and pain.
Acceptance of God’s will also result in the opportunity for we who are experiencing the pain to change. As Peter says above, trial and pain allow us to share in the experience Jesus had, and with an eternal perspective, that is a call for rejoicing. As such, with the right mindset, accepting the pain God allows in our lives has the potential to generate significant sanctification within us; being no more and no less than the process of changing to be more like Jesus. Sanctification, in terms of human “work,” is the height of what it means to be a Christian.
Finally, accepting the will of God in his allowance of pain in our lives gives us the opportunity to model the character of Jesus to other people. Our conduct may be the change-agent God uses to draw other people to him, bring others back to him who have wandered away, or be a significant seed-sowing effort we are entirely unaware of. But this only comes about if we model this change.
This post has been a bit more theologically practical than tangibly practical. But I think, too often, Christians get stuck in the mindset of treating God like a prize machine. We put the quarter of our good works, right attitude, endurance of pain, “godly” control, or gospel-effort into the prize machine, and expect God to roll out a prize for us. But the Christian life described for us by Jesus and Paul does not reflect that mentality.
I would submit to you, dear reader, that we must have the correct theological perspective about the will of God in an effort for true sanctification, and not just behavior modification, to take place. Behavior modification is enduring pain, tolerating pain, controlling pain, avoiding pain, in addition to a host of other things. Sanctification is accepting that God’s will is better than ours, and responding and changing accordingly.
The next time you are in pain, remember the equation…
Pain + Acceptance = Change
And strive to do the following:
This puts us in the greatest position to understand the experience of Jesus in a small way, reflect his character, and be an example to others.
[i] Pamela S. Willsey, “The Powerful Practice of Accepting Reality,” Psychologytoday.com, November 2, 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/packing-success/202011/the-powerful-practice-accepting-reality.