This was originally written for LRBC on April 16 2017.
This week, I watched the film The Passion of the Christ with my young adults group. It seems that it was a popular film for Easter given it was unavailable at my local video store, and the two copies at someone else’s local store were out as well. In the end we just hired it online through YouTube – so much for supporting local businesses! If you’ve watched the film, you’ll know that some features are more Roman Catholic than New Testament, and some parts are just plain weird and somewhat obscure. Before long, the film becomes something of a gore-fest and probably overdoes the physical suffering of Christ.
Whether or not it is overdone, the film certainly does emphasise Jesus’ physical suffering. I wonder if this emphasis leads the viewer to overlook the ‘spiritual’ suffering that Jesus bore on the cross. When we consider things like the anguished praying in Gethsemane, the cry of abandonment at his death and the tearing of the inner temple curtain, we should recognise something more than physical suffering was going on at the cross (Luke 22:41-44; Mark 15:34; Matt. 27:51).
On the cross, Jesus substituted his people. He stood in their place for the penalty of their sin. Sin’s ultimate punishment is not physical suffering, but separation from God – an awful prospect made more or less frightening depending on one’s spiritual health and sensitivity (hence Jesus’ terror in the garden). Physical suffering can help point toward the greater horror of what the wrath of God is really all about, and so perhaps the gruesome picture given in The Passion of the Christ can help us in that way. The events of ‘Good Friday’ should prompt us to gratitude – Jesus suffered the unimaginable so that his people would not.