“God doesn’t play dice with the universe”
In this morning’s contemplative prayer, I was invited to be with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was only forty minutes, but time grew so heavy it seemed to stand still, just like when I sat near my dying mother’s bedside.
But today I was keeping a dying Jesus company, not with words but merely my presence. In the shared solitude, I would find my mind wandering to far away places; but when I came to my senses, I simply turned around and retraced my steps back to that dark garden.
I imagine Jesus was retracing some of his own steps that night in Gethsemane. Irreverent as it may sound, the thought of an old Bob Seger song—Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man—came to mind when I thought about Jesus’ ministry, more for its title than its lyrics. Jesus spent three years rambling around King Herod’s kingdom gambling his very life that people would be ready to hear some good news. Many were, but not the powers-that-be who were calling the shots.
Perhaps I’m preoccupied with gambling, having just witnessed first hand the devil-may-care spirit of Las Vegas gamblers. I cannot see Jesus as recklessly unaware of his odds, especially with a long trail of dead prophets preceding him. But I also do not believe Jesus began his ministry thinking death a foregone conclusion. Death became inevitable only as his miracles and assertions about his own identity grew more bold and threatening to the earthly kingdoms built and ruled by Jewish leaders.
Some gamblers act like they don’t mind losing. They keep their bets manageable or when they don’t, they rationalize their losses as the cost of entertainment or by spending no more than a preset limit. But the more words they use, the less I believe them. Too many words reveal a weak hand.
By contrast, Jesus was very disturbed by his gambling losses and didn’t care who knew it. The Gospels report of his blood-sweating agony in the garden, as he prayed over life and death. He began his prayers that night with a hopeful ‘no’ to death. By the end of his second and third prayers, after he had laid all his cards on the table, he responded to God with a shaky ‘yes’, whispering, “Thy will be done.” On the brink of apparent defeat, Jesus didn’t waste words rationalizing. He simply let his ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and his ‘no’ be ‘no’. Then turned it all over to God.
Turning ‘it’ all over to God should sound like a safe bet. But it’s done so rarely, I think God is regarded as the biggest gamble of them all. It seems to be a bit easier to turn ‘it’ over when we’ve run out of all other options, when there’s nothing left for us to lose. But for Jesus, during this night of prayer in the garden, it clearly wasn’t easy. And this tells me he folded by choice.