When God’s answer to his own son was no

Curtis Shelburne

The answer was No. At least, it surely seems to walk like a No, talk like a No. I think it was a No.

Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, was facing a terrible death and a struggle that would pit him against all the forces of Hell. Praying earnestly in an inner agony louder than the silence of the seemingly peaceful Garden of Gethsemane, the Son begged the Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me!”

And the answer was No.

Does that bother you? It does me, both when I forget it and when I remember it.

You see, my faith struggles may once have centered around such questions as “Does God exist? Was Jesus Christ truly the very Son of God, fully human and fully divine?” Those are very big, very important questions, and it really is not a bad thing to revisit them occasionally.

But the longer I walk on my own faith journey, the more “faith struggles” for me seem to be centered around prayer.

I pray, and others pray, and we pray earnestly in a time of deep need for someone that we love deeply. Maybe our anguish doesn’t rival Christ’s in the Garden, but anguish is still at times none too strong a word for the fear, uncertainty, and helplessness we feel in the face of some very severe struggles.

Sometimes, thank God indeed, we get the very answer to our prayers that we most wanted and would have paid any amount of money to receive. The answer comes. Freely. As a gift. A beautiful gift. And the difficulty is removed.

But, too often, from our perspective, the answer is No. It may well be that God is saying, I’ll help you through this, not around it. That can still feel to us very much like a stone-cold, rock-hard No.

Sometimes we forget about the answer Christ received to his own prayer in the Garden. Maybe we’ve been listening too much to some TV preachers and their makeup-caked wives who seem to indicate that nobody who has real faith ever fails to receive the answers they want, and that if you “do prayer right,” you’ll get the “right” answer (meaning, the very answer you most desire). That sounds to me a lot more like an “eye of newt, tongue of frog” sort of magical potion-type approach to prayer than real faith.

But then we remember the prayer in the Garden. Then we remember the answer. Then we remember that the Savior who taught us to pray about all of our needs and make any request of the Father prayed at the hour of his own deepest need, and Christ himself received what certainly seems to us to be a resounding No. And then, pray tell, where does that leave us? With any confidence at all left in prayer?

Maybe it leaves us with some very expensively bought but priceless wisdom. Maybe it leaves us with fewer easy answers but with the incomparable Christ.

We should pray more, not less, and ask for more with more confidence in our Father, not less. But we should also realize that our Lord’s confidence was not really in prayer itself; it was in the deep and abiding love of the Father to whom he prayed.