Let me confess: I’m a worrier. Some things bug me more than they should. And because of this extra sensitivity to the possibility of things going occasionally sideways, I often imagine how anxious friends would react to the final part of his Jesus’ famous sermon on the Mount. I can see him standing confidently, shoulders-squared at the top of the hill exuding confidence, indifferent to trouble and unswayed by coming adversity. He proclaims to the huddled crowd, their faces twisted with the a mix of strong emotion and their hearts burdened by complicated lives:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:25–27 ESV)
We may think this offers a simple life lesson: “Chill out, God is in control of your future.” But worry isn’t actually my main concern here. While there is surely more to be gleaned from the passage, what concerns me is the assumption that Jesus went about his days demonstrating his confidence in God with stoic indifference. This sort of assumption demonstrates, I think, a grave mistake about who Jesus was. You see, Jesus inhabited his body in just the way we do, and it was a normal human body, capable of pain, and knowing emotion in response to his experiences.
In another situation, later in his life, Jesus contemplated the horrible situation that he faced, an execution at the hands of the Roman government. As he paces around in a local garden, he experienced a whole panoply of emotion: deep anguished sorrow, resignation, and then frustration at his friends inability to support him. After he is carried away and is in his last moments, Matthew records his cry of dereliction: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV). Here is a full expression, not of despair, but certainly of fear.
I take great encouragement in the fact that Jesus experienced anguish, pain, sorrow, and frustration. His experience of these emotions was never considered to be at odds with his confidence that God is able to deliver us from anything. The imitation of Christ does not involve a way of self-negation when we are worried or afraid, a careless dismissal of our emotions, but rather to cling to the word of promise in the midst of what we are experiencing, whether it be challenging or trivial.