As Easter approaches, we’re reminded again that the events we celebrate represent conflict. Easter recounts the ultimate battle between life and death, and it occurs to me that there’s something about us humans that finds conflict strangely appealing. For instance, I’ve always liked it when good guys win and bad guys get what’s comin’ to them. It was apparent even in my earlier years.
Gettin’ to the Good Parts ~
Watching one of my cowboy heroes face off with another evil villain on those rare occasions when I got to go to the Saturday matinee at the local theater was a major treat, but it did come with some frustrations. The worst part was having to suffer through all the boring stuff before getting to the good parts. The good parts began, of course, when the soft-spoken, hard working, never upset, ex-gunslinging cowboy finally got irritated. It was mostly a boring waste of $.75 until then. But I loved it when he took his gun out of the cedar chest and decided it was time to get it on with the lyin’, larcenous bully and his minions. I didn’t think about it at the time, but apparently I had a budding taste for physical violence.
Of course, the violence we were subjected to back then wasn’t the kind of graphic, mind-numbing cruelty that people are exposed to in some of today’s inner cities, or simply when they happen to turn on the evening news. The violence I was subjected to back then was obviously staged and mostly confined to the good guy delivering a “lights out” right hook to the bad guy’s jaw. But mild as it seems now, that was what we were all waiting for. When the conniving, loudmouth bully in the black hat finally got what he deserved, we all applauded.
Ahh, sweet victory. The bad guy ended up in jail with a busted lip, the town was saved, the cowboy got the girl, and all was well again because a handsome, clean-cut, morally upright, culturally sensitive, community-minded, church going, all-American cowboy solved a problem by applying some good old fashioned physical ‘violence’.
A Conflicting Response ~
But wait a minute… Isn’t hitting other people, or hurting them in other ways, on the list of things we try to teach our kids not to do? It seems like we represent a conflicting paradox when it comes to violence. We hesitate to say that we’re in favor of it, but if so many of us are against it, how, then, do we account for our quiet acceptance of violence? How do we explain the multitude of ways we support it, promote it, defend it, practice it, and glorify those who engage in it? Why do we seek violence in entertainment and sometimes employ it as a means of expressing our opinions? If we recoil in shock at the human carnage littering our blood-soaked passage through history, why do we continue to purposely orchestrate situations that facilitate it and vote for policies that are guaranteed to recreate it?
Most of us may prefer to leave those hard questions to philosophers and sociologists, but we’re preparing to celebrate Easter, and we cannot honestly contemplate what Resurrection Sunday morning means to us and ignore the brutality that Jesus suffered prior to it. One thing is abundantly clear. For Jesus, preparing for Easter meant preparing for cruelty that is hard to imagine. The prophet, Isaiah, envisioned it long before Jesus was ever born and his words indicate that His abusers left Him so disfigured that He was hardly recognizable as a human.
Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men (Isaiah 52:14 NKJV)
Some researchers attribute the capacity for heartless violence to mental deficiencies, sociological maladjustment or cultural indoctrination. Unfortunately, history contradicts most of their simplistic approaches and reveals that under certain circumstances, ordinary people are capable of purposely, thoughtfully, and intentionally inflicting horrible pain and suffering on others who have done them no personal wrong. What happened to Jesus is a prime example of that.
Confusing Conduct ~
Not all those people involved in crying out for Jesus to be crucified were demented sociopaths. Most were probably average people who didn’t normally engage in acts of cruelty, yet at His trial, the beatings and awful scourging were not enough to satisfy them. When they could have set Him free, they demanded more torture. They weren’t satisfied until He was condemned to be nailed to a cross where the agony would continue until He eventually died. How did they bring themselves to approve of such horrendous behavior, and what does it say about us? Oddly enough, the movie I saw so long ago might shed some light on the question if we suggest a different concluding scenario.
Suppose that when the hero finally had the villain cornered, instead of knocking him out, he said something like this: “Look, Dude, you’re in a no win situation, here. The sheriff’s on his way, Belle knows you’re a lying jerk, your gun is empty, and your horse just ran off. Why don’t we just sit down and negotiate a reasonable settlement for the damage you caused, draw up a plea bargain for the felony charges, and agree to a behavioral contract and some counseling to keep you on the straight and narrow from now on?” Then the scene closes with the two shaking hands and expressing mutual regrets for the unnecessary inconveniences.
No Appeal in Non-Violence ~
A nice, non-violent ending like that would have made me want my $.75 back. The satisfaction I got from my cowboy hero’s assault wasn’t just about the violence, it was based on the premise that the recipient was a “bad guy” . . . and he deserved it. He was guilty of doing things to others that set him apart from regular folks and made him a target for retribution. Because he was considered a threat, any violent repercussions became acceptable because they were a means of applying “justice.” Violent acts that are normally condemned can easily be deemed acceptable, even desirable, when done under the guise of justice.
A disturbing principle — that acts of violence can easily be validated and encouraged — is being illustrated again and again in our current culture. All that’s necessary is for powerful agencies, groups, or individuals to invent an arbitrary set of standards, demand compliance, and declare that transgressors are a threat — and then issue a cry for justice. If pain and suffering are involved, so be it. Violence done in the name of justice becomes acceptable. More than that, it can be satisfying, and a thing to be applauded.
Justice Perverted ~
What happened to Jesus is a testimony of how twisted and perverted our concept of justice can become. Those who abused Him thought they were doing a good thing. He hadn’t complied with the standards set by the ruling class, thus He became a threat that needed to be removed. What they didn’t understand was that justice was indeed done that day, only it wasn’t the phony justice demanded by the arbitrary, self-serving standards designed to cater to their lust for power and control. Peter addressed the issue with profound simplicity:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18 NKJV)
As we prepare for Easter and think about what Jesus endured, let’s acknowledge who the bad guys really are. “We” perpetrated those cruel acts of violence. “We” are the ones who denied Him decency and robbed Him of His dignity. The hellish torture He suffered was not for any wrong He had done. It was all on behalf of the ones who really deserved it. The justice that was finally and forever applied was not to Him, but by Him, not for Him, but through Him. Justice was accomplished in Him, but it was for us . . . and now, all who believe and put their trust in the resurrected Christ can be justified and set free. Isaiah said it plainly:
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:6 NKJV)
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “All that’s necessary to encourage violence is for powerful agencies, groups or individuals to invent an arbitrary set of standards, demand compliance, and declare that transgressors are a threat — and then issue a cry for ‘justice’. ” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “What happened to Jesus is a testimony of how twisted & perverted our concept of justice can become. Those who abused Him thought they were doing a good thing by removing Him. He hadn’t complied with the standards set by the ruling class.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “As we prepare for Easter and think about what Jesus endured, let’s acknowledge who the bad guys really are. “We” perpetrated those cruel acts of violence. “We” are the ones who denied Him decency and robbed Him of His dignity.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The hellish torture Jesus suffered was not for any wrong He had done. It was all on behalf of the ones who really deserved it. The justice that was finally and forever applied was accomplished in Him, but it was for us.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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