How could God, whose “thoughts are not like our thoughts and ways are not like our ways, possibly understand what it is like to be human? The short answer is that God could not understand from experience what it is like to be human. However, the incarnation allows God the Son to experience humanity just as we do. Some have denied that Jesus had a human soul/human mind or intellect. “As Augustine says (De Heres.), it was first of all the opinion of Arius and then of Apollinaris that the Son of God assumed only flesh, without a soul, holding that the Word took the place of a soul to the body. And consequently it followed that there were not two natures in Christ, but only one; for from a soul and body one human nature is constituted” (Aquinas STh., III q.5 a.3 resp.).
Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane revealed his humanity as well as any other event in the Gospel narratives. Jesus’ soul “was very sorrowful” (Matt 26:38). He prayed that the Father’s will would be done instead of his human will (Matt 26:39). He indicated the submission of his human will to the Father’s will (Matt 26:42). Jesus’ humanity was highlighted here. The divine mind does not change and, therefore, does not waver (Mal 3:6; Num 23:19). It is important to note that the incarnation included the assumption of the human mind by the Logos as well as the human body. “The Word of God, then, was united to flesh through the medium of mind which is intermediate between the purity of God and the grossness of flesh” (John of Damascus, De Fide Orthodox 3.6). The Damascene continued to emphasize the importance of Jesus’ human mind when he asked, “How indeed could Christ be called perfect God and perfect man, and be said to be of like essence with the Father and with us, if only part of the divine nature is joined in Him to part of the human nature?”
This beautiful scene in Gethsemane would have been impossible if not for the incarnation. Only after the Son of God became the Son of Mary could he have experienced life as a human (Heb 2). The Son of Man endured the sufferings of life and the sufferings uniquely placed upon him on behalf of God’s people and for God’s glory. The incarnation of the Logos remains “a most mysterious thing, incomprehensible by men, and not to be accounted for upon the principles of natural reason; and is only to be believed and embraced upon the credit of divine revelation, to which it solely belongs” (Gill, Body of Divinity). Still, despite being incomprehensible, the incarnation is a reason to praise God and a source of comfort to God’s people since God has entered the human plight.
The human soul of Christ suffered the weakness and pains common to humanity. John Gill noted the presence and importance of the human will.
He had a human will, distinct from the divine will, though not opposite, but in subjection to it, John 6:38, Luke 22:42. And he had human affections, as love, Mark 10:21, John 13:23. And joy, Luke 10:21. Yea even those infirmities, though sinless passions, prove the truth of his human soul; as sorrow, grief, anger, amazement, and consternation, Matt. 26:38, Mark 3:5. Besides, if he had not had a human soul, he could not have been tempted in all points like as we are, Heb. 4:15; since the temptations of Satan chiefly respect the soul, the mind, and the thoughts of it, and affect and distress that: nor could he have borne the wrath of God… Matt. 26:38. Nor could he have been a perfect sacrifice for their sins; which required his soul as well as his body, Isa. 53:10, Heb. 10:10.(Gill, Complete Body of Divinity)
Here, Gill has pointed out the necessity of Christ’s human mind and also highlights the presence of all these emotions and struggles present at Gethsemane. John of Damascus summarized this great truth when he wrote,
For God the Word omitted none of the things which He implanted in our nature when He formed us in the beginning, but took them all upon Himself, body and soul both intelligent and rational, and all their properties. For the creature that is devoid of one of these is not man. But He in His fulness took upon Himself me in my fulness, and was united whole to whole that He might in His grace bestow salvation on the whole man. For what has not been taken cannot be healed”De Fide Orthodox, 3.6.
The reality of the incarnation is a mystery which could not be understood, a doctrine upon which we depend, a comfort for us as we suffer, and a reality for which we praise our God.
Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours.Gregory of Nazianzus, “On Easter and His Reluctance” Oration 1.5