The basic, central tenet of Christianity, it can be argued, is that God was incarnated as a living human being in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ, that He could live amongst us, be one of us, experience life as one of us – and ultimately die as one of us, for us. It’s something one learns fairly early on in life as a Christian. And at this time of year, upon Good Friday, it is something very much at the forefront of Christians’ minds.
Yet how much do we really think about how He died? Yes, we know that He was crucified, and we nod and agree that crucifixion was a horrible, ghastly way to die.
But how much do we know that purely on an intellectual level?
One of my favourite hymns, There Is A Green Hill Far Away (written by Cecil F. Alexander in 1847), says “We may not know, we cannot tell / what pains He had to bear”, and it is true. Here in the west, we live in safety, free – in the main – from persecution and torture. It is very hard to imagine the sheer agony He must have endured during those dark hours before death.
The other evening, following my last post in which I mentioned Delirious?’s “Miracle Maker”, I watched a different video for the same song; this time, set to scenes from Mel Gibson’s controversial film, The Passion of the Christ. You can watch it here (be warned; it’s very graphic in its depiction of violence, and definitely not for children). I watched it in a kind of fascinated horror and revulsion; I will admit to having been nauseated by it. To see that level of sadistic torture inflicted upon a human being… it’s disturbing, on a deep and fundamental level.
And yet… I think I came to a further understanding of what He did for us. He endured that agony, that torment, for all of us – those who went before, those that live now, those that are yet to come. He couldn’t have known the pain He was to suffer and endure – though from His prayers in the garden at Gethsemane, He could guess and imagine what it would be like, and He was capable of feeling fear in anticipation – yet He did not turn aside, and even at the end His thoughts and words were for others.
It would be wrong to dwell only on the manner of His death rather than on His Words and the teachings of scripture; but it would also be wrong to overly sanitize His death and sufferings to a bloodless artistic image that doesn’t touch the heart. Modern media – images on the news, modern films glamorising violence, computer games – have all served to inure us to the sufferings of others; let empathy be awakened in us once more as we consider the events of almost two millenia ago, when He sacrificed His life for us all. Let us remember the hundreds of thousands of people who yet still suffer day to day; those who are persecuted in the name of faith, in the name of race, in the name of sexuality, in the name of humanity.
For there, but for the grace of God….