In the course of twenty-six years of church attendance, I have encountered Eliza R. Snow's great hymn, "Behold the Great Redeemer Die" countless times. I know it almost by heart.
As you may know or might have guessed, the hymn tells the story of the Savior's atonement, death, and resurrection. Pretty heavy stuff. The words paint a picture of suffering and sacrifice that is both haunting and enlightening. But it is the beginning of the fourth verse, the last verse usually sung, that really sticks out to me. Mostly because it has an almost contradictory message to the previous verses. These are the words that pierce my heart:
"'Father, from me remove this cup/But if thou wilt, I'll drink it up.'"
This, of course, is a reference to Luke 22:42. It's the final thing Jesus says before beginning the process of atoning for the sins of all mankind, before He would sweat out His own blood. These are the words He spoke as He prepared to die so that the children of God might rise again.
But I wonder if there is more to these words than that. I wonder if these, like so many of the words of Jesus, are a pattern for how we are to live our lives.
Perhaps it is a motto for us to live by.
I do not believe that God expects us to court suffering. We are not to try to increase our suffering as a way to get closer to God. This is something that has often been misunderstood. God expects us to court holiness, love, and joy. These things are what we should be seeking after. Sorrow, pain, and grief will follow us on our journey, but they are not why we are on the road.
Perhaps this is the true lesson of the Atonement. Or, at least, a crucial part of it.
When Christ, the greatest of all of us, the only one of us who actually did everything right, and the Only Begotten of the Father said "remove this cup," He was teaching us that it is not cowardly or sinful to want as little pain as possible. But when God calls, we answer. When He asks, we do. We may ask questions. We may be confused. But of we are faithful, we will do what we are asked, no matter the cost. If we want holiness, love, and joy, we must be willing to pay the price.
Jesus did not want His stripes. He wasn't anxious to suffer. But when He was asked to drink that cup and suffer an eternity of pain and torment, He did it all without complaint. He did it because even though there were things that He wanted for Himself, He knew that helping us was more important. When He compared the benefit to the cost, He was willing to do what was necessary.
That is how we need to be.
We will not have to suffer the same magnitude of pain that Christ did, but we all have our bitter cups to drink. We all have weaknesses to overcome and burdens to bear. We all have to change. And we're mostly not going to like it.
But if we are true disciples of Jesus Christ, we realize that we want something more than to simply be spared.
If we are true followers of Christ, we realize that we are not here in this Earth to change God. We are here on this Earth so that God could change us. Change is not only uncomfortable; it often hurts. But change is necessary. If we trust God, we will accept that in all things, He knows better.
And when He asks us to give up what we love, and when He asks us to suffer, it is okay for us to get on our knees and tell Him the truth. It is okay for us to tell Him that it is hard, that it will hurt, and that we sincerely do not want to do it. It is even okay for us to asked to be spared.
But then, as Christ did, we are to then tell God that we will do it anyway. And then we must do it, whatever it is.
And I think that as we faithfully follow God, we will be able to find joy if we continue to look for it. If we remind ourselves that joy is our goal. Pain is only the cost, and it will eventually pass. The joy we seek will be with us forever.
And God and Jesus Christ will be there, too.
Regards, best wishes, and as little pain as possible,