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
ock 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."