There is an ache in his gut, a whirring in his head. The hollowness of this place – a dead, empty desert – feels like the hollow inside of him. Sharp rocks and grit. Shivering, then sweat. Hunger and loneliness.
He sinks onto a rock, head spinning, the merciless sun chewing into his back. So, this is how it feels, the beginning of death. The ache and the choosing. Always, the choosing.
He is not quite alone. It comes to him sometimes, this suave and haunting spirit – a voice of reason with answers for every ache.
Why be hungry, the spirit says, when you could snap your fingers to make bread? Why be overlooked when there is an easy way to be feared? These aches are foolish, it says, and your choosing too stark. Be smart. A little compromise, a slight bend in the plan, and all shall be well.
The man on the rock hears all this, shakes his head, feels a still deeper terror approaching that the spirit does not yet see. He shudders, pinches his eyes closed, moans a prayer.
Always, the choosing. Yes, that is where aches begin. But beautiful things, too. Love. Everything glad and tender and free.
The man finishes his long fast, knowing what lies ahead, leaves the desert to begin his work.
On a cool spring evening, three years later, the terror closes in, snaking up the hill behind him. He feels it come. He is alone again, abandoned by his friends. His prayers are frightened and ragged. One last chance, the spirit says. Just one small compromise, and the pain will go away.
The man hears all this and trembles, but he sees something the spirit does not understand. A great joy stands near, like a sun before morning, and even now, flashes of its golden light flicker through the blackness that surrounds him. It swells, straining to rise, but cannot. Only his agony could set it free.
He shudders, moans a desperate prayer. Always, the choosing, and he chose long ago. It was for this hour that he had come.
At LIFE International, we honor Jesus, who chose our joy at the price of his own terrible suffering. During this season of Lent, many people remember Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert – a final preparation for his three years of public ministry and, ultimately, for his crucifixion.
Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came. -John 12:27
And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. -Luke 22:44
For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:2
Painting: Ivan Kramskoy – Christ in the Desert. 1872