True faith isn’t always serene

Complete this sentence: “If I really had faith, then I wouldn’t ________.”

How did you fill in the blank? What wouldn’t you do if you were a more faithful person?

Some of you filled in the blank with a troublesome behavior. If you were more faithful, you’d stop doing that thing that you’ve been praying about and that makes you feel guilty.

But I would guess that more of you filled in the blank with a troublesome emotion. You’d stop getting upset. You’d worry less. You’d keep from blowing your top so often…

At this point in the gospel of John, we’re about to move into what is known as the “Farewell Discourse,” Jesus’ last private session of teaching and encouragement with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. Judas has gone out into the night to set his plan in motion; we will see him one last time in Gethsemane before the story is done.

But before we get there, I want to linger a moment on a phrase in John that’s worth pondering but easy to miss. As Jesus announced that he would be betrayed by someone in the room, John describes him as “deeply disturbed” (13:21, CEB).

We’ve seen this in the gospel before. Jesus was troubled when he came to the tomb of Lazarus, so much so that he wept aloud (11:33-35) — even though he knew he was about to bring his friend back from the dead. He was troubled when speaking to the crowds about his impending death, even as he committed himself unwaveringly to doing the Father’s will, for the glory of the Father’s name (12:27-28). And now again, he is troubled as he announces that one of his inner circle will turn traitor.

There can be no question as to Jesus’ faithfulness. There is no doubt that he will do what he was sent to do, despite the shame and agony of it all.

But he’s troubled. “Deeply disturbed,” says the CEB. “Troubled in spirit,” say the NIV and NRSV.  “Jesus became visibly upset,” translates Eugene Peterson.

“Deeply disturbed” is not “mildly perturbed.” Jesus is in the grip of deep, troubling emotion. And why not? He’s about to pass through the darkest valley imaginable, and has a friend to thank for it — someone whose feet he has washed, someone with whom he has broken bread.

Jesus does not float serenely through the gospel narrative, untouched by the messiness of human emotion. He can be upset, deeply so. And that’s despite his unquestionable loyalty to his Father and his mission of love.

My point is simply this. As much as we might like to dispense with some of our less pleasant emotions, they can be appropriate to the situation. Why shouldn’t Jesus be troubled? His faithfulness is not manifested in the absence of such emotions, but in his continued obedience despite them.

So if you filled in the blank by saying, “If I were really faithful, I wouldn’t feel thus and so,” then ask yourself this: given the situation, are such feelings justified or appropriate? If you’re not sure, consult with a trustworthy friend. If they are appropriate, then accept the fact that you feel that way. Betrayal should hurt; injustice should make you angry.

But don’t stop there. Ask yourself, “What can I do to learn to trust God more in this situation?” and “What would a faithful person do next?”

Ironically, in that way you may find more of the serenity you seek.