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Alasdair Groves

Jesus and Dread

February 1, 2024


How can understanding Jesus’ emotions help us understand our own? Listen as Alasdair Groves focuses on one particular emotion which Jesus felt, just hours before his crucifixion: dread. How does Jesus’ experience of dread encourage us in our own experience of it?

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This is episode 2 in a miniseries on emotions (listen to episode 1 here). Do you have any questions about emotions? You can email us at, and we’ll spend the last episode of the miniseries answering some of your questions.

Hi, my name is Alasdair Groves and I am the host of Where Life and Scripture Meet, a podcast of CCEF, the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. At CCEF everything we do is about restoring Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church. For more resources and more information, you can always go to

Today's episode is the second episode in a miniseries we're doing on emotions. In particular, we're going to be looking at the emotions of Jesus and thinking about how understanding his emotions can help us understand our own. As we are going through the miniseries, we would love to get your questions. You can email us, because the last episode of the miniseries is going to be responding to a handful of the best questions that we get over the course of this time. So please let us know, reach out with your questions and your thoughts on emotions, and in particular on what we've been talking about over the course of this podcast, talking about the emotions of Jesus.


For the first emotion of Jesus episode, I want to talk about the emotion of dread. Jesus experienced dread at a particular moment in his life, and I think that's probably a bit of a surprise to most of us to hear it put that way. There are a lot of emotion words out there that live under the broad umbrella of fear—anxiety, terror, panic, worry, nervousness, fear, fright. The English language, it's a very rich language in thinking about emotions. There's a ton of different nuances that you get to emotion words in English. What I think is so interesting about the word dread is that dread, more than any other fear word, it actually highlights the idea that you know what is coming. Now that's interesting because most fear emotion words highlight that you don't know what is coming. Your anxieties and fears tend to swirl around what might happen, what could be coming your way in the future, and the fact that if that does happen, it will be bad. We've talked in previous episodes about how there is actually a good and godly, and biblical, faithful way to say, "Hey, if that happens in the future, that's going to be bad."

But dread, interestingly and somewhat uniquely, points to more or less exactly what is coming. And while there may be some uncertainties about exactly what it will be like, you know the nature of the pain and the trial that awaits you. And as we think about Jesus and as we think about him in the Garden of Gethsemane where I would say dread is the best word that we have to capture what he is experiencing, we can watch him knowing what is coming as he feels this anguish. So think about Jesus walking into the garden with his disciples. He goes apart to pray and he is, in the next hours, going to face the falling asleep of his disciples. So they will be the people he is looking to, to watch and to pray with him, to speak on his behalf to his Father, who is calling him to this unbelievably painful road. And he knows that the people closest to him are going to fall asleep and are going to fail to walk with him through this difficulty and through this trial. He knows that he'll be facing false accusation from the leaders of the Jews, his own beloved people. The people specially called to be those who are faithful, and those who worship, those who should have recognized him and exalted him, as they sort of began to on Palm Sunday, right? Here's Jesus facing the full-out rebellion and betrayal of his own people. And the injustice that will come from Pilate who'll say, "Well, I find no guilt with him, but at the end of the day, if it's between keeping people happy and doing justice, I'm going to keep people happy even if it means crucifying this man."

Of course, the physical agony of his beating, his crucifixion, the march to the cross is beyond my comprehension and beyond most of our comprehension of what that would've been like. And then worst of all, and certainly beyond all of our comprehension, you have, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" You have the wrath of God falling upon his beloved son. You have the distance created. You have all the unimaginable aspects of what it means for the Word of God, the second person of the trinity, Jesus, God in human flesh, to be the object of all of God's anger and wrath. It's unfathomable what that would have meant. So Jesus is looking at a kind of suffering we cannot even fathom, although we can get our heads around some of the smaller pieces of it, and he knows what it's going to be like. He knows what is coming. 

So as we think about the dread Jesus experiences in the garden, we can have great awe. We can have some level of sympathy, some level of empathy, but it goes beyond our imagining. And what we need to most take away from this as we think about turning the corner towards “How does this help us with our own experiences of dread?” is that all of his promises, everything he says to us in our dread is spoken as someone who has been there and who has been through it, and that which he dreaded is unimaginably worse than anything you or I will ever dread. How does this touch down in our lives? Where do we encounter dread and how does this help? Let me walk us through a couple of things that jump off the top of my mind, of where we run into dread and how Jesus might meet us in that. And I'll walk from the more common and lighter end of the spectrum towards the more difficult. 

I have kids who are getting older. I remember my own days in high school and in college, and I'm thinking about coming into midterms and finals, the dread of, "Oh man, I'm going to have to sit in that room for hours and just experience the pressure and the anxiety and the dread of ‘I know it's coming and it happens tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM.’" How does Jesus help you if you're dreading midterms and finals or the like? He's the one who says, "I will be with you." And spoiler alert, “I will be with you” is going to be a piece of all that he will say to us in every situation, especially in situations of dread. But thinking about him being with you and helping you to sit there for hours, trying to remember and produce work that is faithful to what you've learned, even under pressure. Helping you to show and to remember what you know. And probably most importantly, to help you to remember that your future and your safety, and your hopes in life and death, do not depend on the outcome of this testing. That examination is an appropriate and right thing to go through to say, "How much of this have I retained?" That's an important thing to know, and yet even if that means I don't end up getting a certain job or I don't get into a certain college, or I don't get the grade I was hoping for, that does not determine the most important things about who you will be or what will happen in your life. You have a safety so much deeper than what's going to come of the result of this test.

Let's take it even a little further. You have a hard conversation coming up. A meeting that you know, it's on the schedule, it's on the calendar, and you're going to have to say some really difficult things. You're going to have to be honest about something that is painful or awkward. You're going to disappoint someone. You're going to confess something that you really are ashamed of. You're going to be giving them feedback that you know will be profoundly discouraging to them. You're going to have to figure something out that may lead to change that one or both of you, or all of you really, really are disappointed by. What is the comfort of Christ in such a moment as you dread that conversation coming?

Well, first and foremost, he can say—and he has the experience to back it up— that the call to love and to be honest and to be courageous is worth it. That loving someone in the midst of a hard conversation, loving someone enough to have a hard conversation is never wasted. He can assure you, he has set the example for you to see that being brave, being kind, being compassionately focused on what is good or important or necessary, that that is right and good. And that he will give you strength to follow where he leads. That if he says, "This is what's good in life, this is what is right for this meeting. This is you actually acting in obedience to my calling to love your neighbor as yourself through honesty, through courage," then he is going to supply a sufficient amount of strength for you to walk through that. Probably not to breeze through that, almost certainly not to go through without a single mistake or flaw, but to do what is necessary. He will be there in the power of his Spirit, in your heart.

Okay, walking a little further. What if you have just broken off a serious relationship, perhaps even an engagement, perhaps even you've just gotten divorced? In all these situations you're facing the coming days, the coming months, perhaps even the coming years of being alone in a situation where you really thought you were going to be together. Well, again, Jesus speaks into the dread of that aloneness, the dread of that coming emptiness and time, and how will it be, being without someone to whom I had given so much of my hopes and my dreams, and my life? Again he says, "I will be with you." This particular relationship may have ended or at the very least be profoundly and dismayingly different than you had planned on. He says, "I will be with you." He says, "I know what it is like to be left alone in one of my worst moments, and to be left alone by those who were there, who had committed to caring for me, to walking with me." And he says, "My promise is that I will never walk away from you." No matter what happens in other relationships, whether someone has walked away from you and you did everything you could to stop it; whether you have realized, “You know what? I need to actually break this off before we go further. I need to end this because that is what faithfulness to the Lord and to this other person actually looks like, and it would not be wise to continue down this path.” Regardless of how the walking away happens, it is unbelievably different with Jesus who has said, "I will never walk away. There will never be a situation, it'll never be the call to walk away from my children. So you can speak to me in the loneliness of this, in the heartache of this, just as I spoke to my Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. You have that access to me. You have that access to my Father. The Spirit in your heart is a living invitation to come and to actually know more deeply a relationship with me that cannot end, and won't end even after death itself."

Speaking of death, what about when a loved one is given a terminal diagnosis and you dread that day? You know what is coming. You pray for healing. You pray that the Lord would have mercy and would spare their life, and yet you know unless he intervenes with a miracle, that this will be the end. And even if he does intervene with a miracle, the end will still come someday, some years from now, and it will never feel right and good. What does it mean to dread the loss of a loved one? Well first, certainly, in addition to “I'll be with you,” Jesus is the one who says that it is right to grieve. There is a rightness to lament. We see in the Psalms, that he authored through the power of his Spirit, endless examples of what it is to lament and to grieve. He's the one who says that you rightly get to hope in a God who has conquered death. Jesus in Gethsemane was hours away from giving an answer to death. How does that shape our grieving when we grieve for someone whose faith is strong and we see, versus someone whose faith we're unsure of or someone we're very confident has rejected faith and walked away? It looks different in different situations, but in each of those cases, as we dread the loss of this loved one, we do so, knowing that Jesus going to the cross was not a waste. It was not a failure. His ability to do what is right and good, his ability to answer the awfulness of death itself, has no limit. And he will walk with you one day at a time, providing the grace in your grief, one day at a time, that you will need.

Let me wrap us up by just saying this: we learn from Jesus that we can face things we dread by clinging desperately to God in the midst of our dread. We run to him just as Jesus ran to his Father in the garden. We have an example and we have a hope of promises that we can cling to. And man, dread will force you to press into those promises like nothing else. But in some ways, we're reminded actually even more so that it's not about how hard we cling, how desperately we believe the promises and come to God in prayer and in sweating drops like blood as Jesus did. It's more so about the fact that he went through the unimaginableness. That what he dreaded came true to a depth we will never, ever begin to understand. And he did that in order to make those promises a reality. He is the God who gave his own son, who gave his own life. How will he not graciously, along with that, give us everything that we need, give us what is good? So take heart. Whatever comes your way, Jesus knows it. He is alive, he is active, and he will not let your dreads overcome you.

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Alasdair Groves

Executive Director

Alasdair is the Executive Director of CCEF, as well as a faculty member and counselor. He has served at CCEF since 2009. He holds a master of divinity with an emphasis in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Alasdair cofounded CCEF New England, where he served as director for ten years. He also served as the director of CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling for three years. He is the host of CCEF’s podcast, Where Life & Scripture Meet, and is the coauthor of Untangling Emotions (Crossway, 2019).

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