How the Psychology of Perseverance Can Help us Understand the Cross

Angela Duckworth of Penn (where I attend law school) has a fascinating look at cultivating perseverance in the face of unpleasant circumstances. It’s a delightful read—really, so RTWT.

I thought of my own aversion to the unpleasantness of it and then Jesus plunging into it, pouring out His divinity to muck around down here so we could kill Him. Duckworth argues that perseverance requires constant choosing—something we might suspect intuitively. But imagine choosing hunger, poverty, the stink of rebellious sinners, every day for decades, when “more than twelve legions of angels” were at His disposal!

Also interesting: the way we consider what economists call “opportunity costs.” The grittiest among us imagine, during unpleasantness, that the alternatives are either more unpleasant or less profitable. We endure unpleasantness assuming that the cost is worth what will come when it passes. As unpleasant as fleshly life in first century Palestine may have been, Jesus knew He was barreling toward the worst possible experience imaginable in this or any world. Literally.

The astonishment comes in that the Trinity deemed, before the foundation of the world, this was the most profitable path. Duckworth closes by distinguishing volition and motivation, suggesting that successful people need both. In the Covenant of Redemption among the Godhead, it is ordained that the Second Person of the Trinity would enter our history and become our sacrifice. Remarkably, the Scriptures tell us that this role, from start to finish, was volitional.

Professor Duckworth’s research stands on its own, and I’m not trying to Jesus-juke it. Certainly the redemption plan was agreed upon in full by the Godhead, which is all the certainty any of us should need. Jesus, though, was fully (if sinlessly) human. Insights into human psychology are relevant to understanding the inner struggle of our Lord, the immense psychological effort required by Jesus in those dark hours of sacrifice to sustain “volitional motivation.”

The more we understand about our own inadequacies, the more heroic Jesus is. There’s nothing hokey about that.

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About S. L. Whitesell

Lee studies law at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his wife Joanna live in Philadelphia.