In the past several months, myriad forces of stress have intruded into the lives of millions of Americans. 

COVID-19, for example, hasn’t only disrupted our sense of safety—it’s also disrupted our plans. Disrupted plans have sparked questions about our future, about when life will regain a sense of normalcy. Further, social distancing has led many Americans to experience loneliness. Research shows loneliness is dangerous to health as it perpetuates symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Indeed, mental distress for millions of Americans has increased (see here, here, and here). COVID-19, coupled with racial injustice and unrest, has perpetuated confusion, hurt, disorientation, and disconnection from God and others.

A common response to increased stress is the reminder to put “faith over fear.” Many Christians have used this mantra, though it is easily misunderstood. Faith over fear isn’t wrong—but we need to understand it more deeply.

Persevering in faith in the midst of fear is closer to Jesus’s response to darkness and suffering.

God-Man’s Anguish

Jesus is the paradigmatic example of what it means to be human, and what it means to live the Christian life. He entered into the full range of the human experience, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He walks with us through the shadow of darkness, even the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4).

Persevering in faith in the midst of fear is closer to Jesus’s response to darkness and suffering.

The garden of Gethsemane is a case study in distress. Anticipating the cross, Jesus was so anguished that “his sweat became like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). He fell to the ground in prayer: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). Jesus wanted to avoid the cross; the thought of being pierced, bruised, and beaten was overwhelming. Yet still he said: “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” He repeated this prayer two more times.

Jesus’s response gives insight into how to steward our current distress.

Our Anguish

Jesus’s response to the brokenness of this world shows us that psychological distress doesn’t indicate a lack of faith. Instead, it confirms that we inhabit a world where we have much to feel distressed about. Helped by the Holy Spirit, Jesus brought his distress to his Father, showcasing deep need and dependent trust. Our response should be the same. 

If the God-man experienced distress, can we expect otherwise? Just as joy is a signpost reminding us that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17), our mental distress reminds us that his world is also cursed. It reminds us that we inhabit the already-but-not-yet tension of his story. And in this tension, we cry out with the rest of creation, waiting for our world to be set right (Rom. 8:22).

Suffering (and Enduring) Like Jesus

Jesus’s holy anguish helps us to understand our present moment, and ourselves. Jesus brings his anguish to the Father, asks for the distress to be taken from him, and prays for God’s will to be done. As we look to the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2), we will yearn for the day God will finally correct all that’s fractured in our world. 

Acknowledging the world’s brokenness may lead to questions of what we can do. How might God want to use me to bring his hope and light to a distressing situation? How might he want to use me, as a vice-regent united to Christ, to preview the day when he will make all things new? Following Jesus’s example helps us to find peace that surpasses understanding and purpose amid the storm.