Neither a Doctor’s or an Actor’s Look at Calvary Does it Justice

I’ve read the 1963 work A Doctor Looks at Calvary; you’ve probably watched Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie The Passion and while a medical doctor in my congregation says that the book is accurate and those who have watched the movie say the same, I don’t think either do it justice.

The problem with the book and movie is the same as observed by a combat vet of World War I. “….’horror, truthfully described, weakens to the merely clinical’” (The Great War and Modern Memory, 174). (I can’t reconcile this statement, which I regard as true, with Gerhard’s History of the Suffering and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ which I have found edifying all three times I read it.)

The fact that the truly horrible truthfully described becomes clinical is why combat vets are hesitant to talk about it to those who have not experienced combat. Likewise, mothers don’t go into graphic detail about their labor experience. Non-mothers can’t understand that any more than non-combatants can combat. And when either try to explain to you what they went through, they can see that you just don’t get it. So, they try more and more detail and they can feel it getting clinical and that is an injustice to what they went through.

Moms and vets talk to each other about their shared experience, and it’s even permissible among them (never you) to make jokes about it. That’s part of the way they deal with it particularly if they know they will be facing the trauma again.

So, don’t go to a doctor’s or an actor’s look at Calvary or maternity. What they show you in movies and on TV about labor doesn’t compare. No matter how much they show you, you’re outside the event. In fact, in real life only the laboring mother is really all-in. Likewise, with the combat movies or stories of vets, they can’t get you inside the event. Even if they put you in a 3-D simulator, you would not get to where they have been.

So, with Calvary. You don’t get there by analyzing every detail of crucifixion for millions were crucified yet no one as God the Son was. You won’t get there by making yourself feel bad for Jesus. A Baptist told me that as a kid at summer camp, they would be given nails to press into their palms to relate to what Jesus experienced. Apparently, while Jesus doesn’t want our weeping, He will take our sympathizing. No, Calvary is something that only one Man ever went through, and much like vets and moms, He did it, so you wouldn’t have to and to give life to others.

You do Calvary justice, mom’s justice, and vets justice not by trying to relive what they did in the past but by receiving with gratitude what they went through for you in the present.

About Rev. Paul R. Harris

Ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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