Indifference To Christ's Sufferings A Classical Comparison





Failure to appreciate the real humanity of Christ's life results in

comparative indifference to the tragedy of His death. Monophysitism in

undermining belief in the reality of Christ's manhood is weakening

sympathy with His sufferings. Calvary like Bethlehem has lost much of

its appeal. A classical comparison will illustrate this fact. Plato's

account of Socrates' last hour in the prison and of his drinking the

hemlock is, I imagine, to many educated men far more moving than the

story of the Passion and Death of Christ. There is a curious

similarity in the two tragedies that invites attention and comparison.

Both sufferers were heroes and moral reformers, the victims of mistaken

zeal on the part of religious authority. Socrates died in a ripe age

with his life work accomplished. Jesus was cut off in His prime.

Socrates' last hours were tranquil and his passing quick and easy.

Jesus after shame and torture died a lingering death. The dysthanasia

of Jesus should, one would opine, make a stronger appeal to men's

sympathies than does the euthanasia of Socrates. Yet on the whole the

reverse is the case. The difference in the respective styles of the

two narratives does not give the whole explanation. It is true that

the Phaedo is a work of fine art while the gospel story is a plain

statement of fact. The reason, however, for the difference in appeal

goes deeper than literary style. The reader of the Phaedo puts himself

into the place of Socrates and suffers with him. As we read the

Passion of Christ there rises a barrier between us and the divine

sufferer. Unconsciously we say to ourselves, "Christ suffered, of

course, but He did not suffer as we should have suffered in His place.

His were not the real sufferings of a real man."



If the passion of Christ and that of Socrates were weighed in the same

balances, there would be less indifference to-day to the gospel story.

Were Christ the Man realised as such, visualised, as other great men of

history are visualised, among his followers, the hero worship that

inspired the early church would revive. What makes Christians

indifferent to Christ's sufferings is not the lapse of centuries nor

weakness of imagination but a subconscious monophysitism. There is to

most minds a haze of unreality overhanging the accounts of His life and

death. They forget that He shared human experience to the full. They

think of Him as doing things rheidios like the Homeric gods. In

point of fact, His great results were achieved only after long

laborious exertion. His was a life of strenuous human activity,

physical and mental. Even His miracles were accompanied by a physical

throb of sympathy; virtue went out of Him. Redemption made it

necessary. Enthusiastic devotion to a person must be grounded in

community of experience. It is the human touches in the drama of

Christ's life that make the most powerful appeal to mankind. Yet the

human element is obscured, as a rule, in modern presentations of the

gospel. For spiritual minds it is comparatively easy to apprehend a

divine Christ. To apprehend a human Christ makes a larger call on

their imagination and their sympathy. Spiritual men are naturally

monophysite in their thinking. They shrink from the mental effort that

diphysitism demands. Their attention is focussed on Christ's

superiority to human limitations. They scarcely see the miracle of the

human, and thus they miss the import of the divine miracle. In the

atmosphere of monophysitism mysticism thrives, but devotion decays. We

may instance the almost total disappearance of the crusading spirit.

The Christ to whom our thoughts usually turn is an omnipresent ideal

with no historical or local associations. His birth-place and His

country evoke only a lukewarm sentiment. The church's year is

neglected. The historical facts of Christ's life are often regarded as

of only minor importance. Piety used to consist in personal loyalty to

the Founder of a universal religion; it is now considered synonymous

with obedience to the "golden rule."





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