Chaos is such as short, clean word for the harrowing and unnerving reality it depicts. We step over the rim of what is familiar and at least nominally understood, and into a space of struggle, disintegration, and dizzying confusion (or feel like we were drug over that rim kicking and screaming). Whether it comes about through a loss of a job, a rupturing of a cherished relationship, an unforeseen health issue, or any other number of “surprises” of life, chaos can quickly descend upon a life, separating it from our familiar moorings and casting us into a primordial sea of waves and storms. It leaves us feeling helpless and passive. However, how can we respond with courage?
THE CHAOS OF GOOD FRIDAY
Today, Good Friday, commemorates the most epic encounter of a man with chaos in the history of the world. Jesus experienced the cumulative ire of humanity on a path that He believed was His to walk, and it took him on the road of abandonment, alienation, and a humiliating death on the cross. The friends, habits, and life he had known dissolved in a matter of hours. One of the many stunning facets of the accounts of Jesus’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion is his utter passivity. Especially compared to the rest of the Gospels, where Jesus is establishing the pace and rhythm of things, Jesus appears to be little more than an object being passed around.
This resignation of Christ began in his struggle in the garden of Gethsemane. As his closest friends fall asleep, Jesus writhes under the weight of what He is about to embark on. Jesus encountered the bared teeth of chaos and it’s surround shroud of darkness in that Garden in a unique way to him, and it takes him to his own edge.
In the midst of the unfathomable sorrow and angst, he prays these faithful words: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” While it’s at this point that Jesus’s passivity begins, Jesus also exemplifies two ways for us to respond when we encounter a sense of passivity and impotence in the face of chaos in our own lives.
THE COURAGE OF CHRIST
Jesus responds to this chaos with courage and trust. One doesn’t need to look any further than Jesus’ prayer in the garden to see his full humanity on display. Even though he was deeply convicted in the road he must walk, he still asks his Father to remove it if possible. As I read that passage of Jesus’s prayer in the garden, I get the feeling that it is at this point in which He becomes committed to going to the cross in a deeper way than ever before. It’s like in order to go skydiving for the first time; it requires a particular level of courage to sign up for the jump, and another level to get on to the plane, but a completely different level of courage to actually jumping out of the plane. To me, that is the garden; it represents the point in which Jesus jumps.
This sets the tone for the rest of the saga, not just in respect to Jesus’ passivity. It also sets the tone for the strength of Jesus. For even though Jesus is yielding on his way to the cross, he also seems deeply powerful. He is unflappable in the face of the harassment of the crowds, or the manipulation of Pilate or Herod, or even the physical pain of torture and crucifixion.
This courage is grounded in Jesus’s immense and ruthless trust in his Father. It’s a kind of trust that is impervious to the flighty ups and downs of daily life. It is a deep existential grounding in a foundational understanding of how the world is. Jesus had a profound faith in the provision and care of his father, a faith that could bear the dread and weight of his approaching death. It allowed him to face this fate with dignity and courage. It has helped countless others like the church father Polycarp. When told to denounce his faith in Jesus, or else he would be executed, he responded, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
So how do we face the chaos in our own lives? It is easy and natural to take the posture of passive victimhood, since we have been continually forced to encounter the benign yet sharp edges of life. The sense of the unnerving banality and absurdity of life can be palpable at these points. In these moments, we can hopefully draw inspiration from Jesus’ manifestation of courage and trust in the face of victimhood. While we may find ourselves in a situation that may feel totally helpless, we need not collapse under the weight of it. As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”
In his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson challenges us to take the posture of standing tall with our shoulders back. Peterson compellingly explains that we impact how we view our lives through the physical postures that we choose to embody through hormones and neural transmitters. In the face of chaos, we should do all that we can to not fearfully curl up and take the posture of a victim, because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, to physically stand up with your shoulders back is to encourage that same posture in the face of the chaos of existence. “Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of being . . . you respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for a catastrophe”. This gives a good picture of Jesus’s response after the garden; he responded to a challenge instead of bracing for a catastrophe.
We too can face the swirling chaos with this courage and trust of Jesus, who was a radical realist regarding the forces he encountered on his way to the cross, and yet could stand with a poignant strength and eloquent grace in the most harrowing of human circumstances. So when we encounter situations in our own lives where we feel stuck, abandoned, and cursed – our own version of Good Friday – may we stand tall with our shoulders back, choosing to face the storm with gallantry and trust that what you’re experiencing is not the last word, and that there can be new life even in the face of certain death.