Ah, Good Friday. The torture porn will be trotted out for our edification, again. We’ll hear detailed doctor’s accounts, with minute-by-minute descriptions of Jesus’ physical sufferings. Lots of re-runs of “The Passion of the Christ,” which, in sickeningly graphic display, recounts every whiplash of the forty He received. I detest that movie. I have dubbed it ‘The Gospel According to Mel the Sadomasochist” and I wish I had never seen it. The Scriptures veil the crucifixion from our fallen nature’s interest in lurid detail. Some, like Mark 15:24, treat it the way Mel does the Resurrection, with barely a passing glance to it: “And having crucified him, they were dividing his garments, casting a lot upon them, what each may take.” That is Young’s Literal translation, and a more literally translated passage would read, “the having-crucified-him-ones, divided…”
The Spirit, inspiring the story, always shielded the god-forsaken Son from our too prurient interest.
This kind of rubbernecking which insists upon prying into the Scripture’s silence concerning the physical sufferings of the Son of Man, is troubling to me about Good Friday. And “The Passion of the Christ”, like no other retelling of Christ’s final hours, fixates on those gory details. I was sickened, watching that grotesquerie masquerading as the gospel. I listened to the Christian pundits who declared it good, who lauded ‘The Passion’s’ potential to evangelize, but I cowered in my seat and hid my eyes and felt completely angry and ripped off when the messy, bloody thing finally rolled its credits.
As ripped off as I felt when I recognized there were grace-filled, Biblical methods of child discipline that would not result in angry, rebellious teenagers, or little children who obey on the surface but burn inwardly with bitterness. The kind of proper Biblical parenting, as Pastor Matthew Raley notes, that “starts with recognizing that the child’s soul and conscience are able to relate to God directly, apart from our control (Luke 1.39-45; Matthew 18.1-4; Mark 10.13-16). Further, a wise parent does not frame behavioral issues in terms of giving a satisfactory performance, but in terms of the new life Christ gives (Colossians 3.1-17)”. Apprehending the Resurrection is everything in the Christian life, including parental choices about discipline.
And just as the Resurrection gets barely a mention in Mel’s gruesome saga, as it focus’ our interest only on the stripes of the lash, as if they were all that accomplished atonement for us, so too the weirdness of Michael Pearls fixation on the Rod as an atoning tool: “Properly applied, with instruction, it will absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid.”
And just as the Pearl’s methods of operant conditioning of children is incomprehensibly barbaric to those outside the church, so too, “The Passion of the Christ”, was brutish gibberish to unbelievers. One critic gave it a rave review as a serious Zombie film. It was not just that it was in Aramaic. It communicated no coherent Gospel message and the Resurrection was given minuscule shrift. Jesus rises, as Slate magazine reviewer David Edelstein observes, rather menacingly, and
his expression is hard, and, as he moves toward the entrance to his tomb, the camera lingers on a round hole in his hand that goes all the way through. Gibson’s Jesus reminded me of the Terminator—he could be the Christianator—heading out into the world to spread the bloody news. Next stop: the Crusades.”
Mel’s Christianator Jesus is a victim no more, and rises to dominate the world. He springs from the same false theology as the macho figure of Pearl’s parent, who wears the plastic plumbing line around his neck as a kind of Psych-Ops in the war to subdue the child; and has the same take-no-prisoners strategy: Until the child submits. This is a man writing here, with man language. No sissy attachment stuff. That’s stuff promoted by lesbians and “demonic damsels.” Here’s Michael Pearl’s manly handling of a standoff with your child:
“…then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.”
So we have the Pearls Parent here, rising up in holy indignation, to complete his dominion: No more being tyrannized by a whiny child, and an unsubmissive wife. ‘We are going to get this household under control here! Then we’ll subdue the world for Jesus.”
Get on board, son, or you’re a wuss for sure.
But just as physical punishment seldom wins a heart, but merely focuses on outward behavior, so too the fixation on the physical sufferings of Christ is ineffective therapy for what sickens my soul. I have never been moved to change my behavior by looking at all His blood spilled for me, because it was not the physical suffering that did the atoning work. It was the Blood alone that finished the work. It was that terrible moment when the Father had to turn His face away, that God-forsaken part of the Cross that pained Jesus the most. This should capture all our interest as well.
But we cannot understand this. It is too high, too wonderful for us, this grandeur of relationship. We turn our face away, and busy ourselves with what we can understand– we pass that basket of spikes around, and say to ourselves, ‘We did this to Him’. It has a manageability about it, and that is a comfort to us. A soul gets barely an inkling that the Son of Man was never a powerless victim, but fully in control of every event: ” I lay My life down and take it up again”, and that it cost Him everything to do it. That He sweat great drops of blood to even contemplate it. We cannot even imagine the scope of such a bond of love, that it would provoke such a response from the Son at the mere thought of severance from it.
It is the cry “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” as the weight of the worlds sin fell on Him, that moves me the most, and motivates heart change. I want to know this love, not just in my head, but its activation in my heart, to know this love which provoked the deprived Son of Man’s anguished cry, to know it for myself. And only having this love can change my dark heart from within.
And can even our littlest children really apprehend this love, and the resurrection life of Christ themselves, and rely on this Gospel truth for obedience, as we do? They can, they do. Lou Priolo, whose book “The Heart of Anger” was pivotal in enabling me to change my punitive paradigms, tells a beautiful story of his two year old daughter Sophia, who was beginning a temper tantrum. Instead of a spanking she was scooped up and sent to the “Think Room.”
“Only a couple of minutes later, our little daughter who has always been very verbal for her age, came to my wife and said, “Mommy, I feel better now, I prayed to Jesus.” Kim was quite pleasantly surprised, she had not thought to ask her to pray, but Sophia had taken the initiative to do so. Kim asked her what she had prayed to Jesus about. Sophia replied, “I ask Jesus to help me lie down and not be selfish.” Children are sometimes capable of understanding and doing more than we give them credit for.”
Is it because we do not see them as creatures made in the image of God, just as we are, that we give them no credit? And we engage with our little children the way we train our dogs? If an elder of a church was accused of beating a brother with a rod when he transgressed, he would be immediately disqualified — so why do we tolerate such inhumane treatment of very young children in our midst?
I think it is because we unthinkingly embrace the ancient traditions of men, inculcated over centuries of profoundly un-Christian teachings about the atoning value of physical suffering for the healing of the soul. In particular the Church of Rome’s unfortunate blessing upon the purgative of the Rod. View this troubling mindset in all its misery, in these Passion of the Christ excerpts from a Youtube video. Contrast it with Fernando Ortega’s simple rendering of the hymn arranged by Bach for his “St. Matthew’s Passion.” I am genuinely moved when I hear the lyrics, but when I watch the movie I become distracted by its gore from my purpose, like a rubbernecker spying a wreck on the highway. And this is one of the more tasteful edits of Mels bloodfest.
Let us determine this Good Friday, to have no more of suffering little children with the Pearls toxic teachings. Let us not stumble them any more. Let them come to Him. Only the Son of Man need suffer for sins. Contrary to Pearl’s teachings, that say
“The rod in the hands of a righteous authority will supply the child’s soul with that moment of judgment that he feels he so deserves. Properly applied, with instruction, it will absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid.”
That is heresy, Mr. Pearl. The work of Atonement was completed when He cried out “Tetelestai!” at last.
O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!
What thou, my Lord, has suffered
was all for sinners’ gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
vouchsafe to me thy grace.
What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.