Wednesday, March 27, 2013


What is the one scene in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” you can’t bear to watch? Yes, it’s the beating part, or to be precise, the “scourging” part. That scene - not only because of its gory, barbarous display but also because of its length - is difficult to stay on.

I was watching it again last night with the Young Adults in our church at ANCF. I suddenly remembered, quite too late, this was the scene I had difficulty watching the first time I saw this movie. In the middle of it, I decided to take a leak. Inside the lavatory, which was at the back end of our small sanctuary, I heard the repeating "whisssp!" accompanied by hurtful moanings. I went back in time to catch the remaining part of the scourging.

A Scourge, which in Roman times called “the flagellum” is a whip or a lash, designed to inflict the most painful and severe punishment because of its flesh-tearing effect. It contains three cords - with balls of lead on each of them. In "The Passion of the Christ", the scourge we see contained pointed, sharp edged leads which added more sickly, gut-wrenching effect to the viewers like me.

I eased on my chair in time to see a Roman soldier swung his flagellum so hard, the sharp, edged end of the leads obligingly clawed deep in the right side of the Christ. The soldier mockingly pulled it back with all force, ripping a chunk of flesh out. My insides knotted, twisted, and squirmed. So this is what they say the “visceral effect”?

But there is another, more profound reason why this scourging scene is so hard to watch. The Christ in the movie, Jim Caviezel poignantly says, “People turn their eyes away when they see it, and what they're seeing is their own sin. It is not wanting to deal, at times, with their own sin. It's that hard to look at. But this film forces you to see yourself, not the way you want to see yourself, but as God sees you”[1].

That’s very true. Every whip, every sharp lead clawing onto the flesh of Christ, and every chunk of flesh ripping out of it, is a view into the real nature of our own sins. We see the cold cruelty and barbarous destructiveness of our sins. Every whip of sin rips the heart of God because every sin is a deliberate act of defiance, of rebellion against Him. Sin is a direct and deliberate statement to God saying, “I don’t need you to direct my affairs”.

In the film, and this is true in the actual historical event, we see Jesus Christ suffered immensely for our sins. He bore our sins with every stinging whip of the flagellum. But this is only half the truth. Jesus did not suffer alone. The Father suffered as well. Tim Keller says that while the Son suffered immensely, displayed in words, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” the Father suffered together with Him. Jesus suffered “fatherlessness” while the Father suffered “sonlessness”. In other words, both the Son and the Father suffered during the crucifixion of Christ.

But is His suffering worth it? Yes, because in His suffering, he looked at us and for Him, that made all worth it. Keller says, “In Isaiah we are told, ‘The results of his suffering he shall see, and shall be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11)’. This is a stupendous thought. Jesus suffered infinitely more than any human soul in eternal hell, yet he looks at us and says, ‘it was worth it’. What could make us feel more loved and valued than that?”[2]

Truthfully, it all boils down to God’s love to us. He bore our sins, suffered immensely for it, all because of His love to us. With this, the famous passage is infinitely true, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)[3].

[1] Jim Caviezel who plays Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ” described what he went through during a shot while he was hanged on the cross: “And let me tell you, I was on that cross. Many people who looked up there, I may be playing Christ, but a lot of times I felt like Satan. I had obscenities wanting to come out of me. It was so cold it was like knives coming through me. I had hypothermia. I don't know whether you've dealt with that, but on one day of hypothermia I was so cold I could barely get the lines out. My mouth was shaking uncontrollably. My arms and legs went numb. I was suffocating on that cross. In the mean time, you watch people have coffee and laugh. They were very indifferent about what I was going through.”

[2] Time Keller, THE IMPORTANCE OF HELL,, New York City.

[3] Taken from the New American Standard Bible.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


There is a young girl about 8 years old, with a smile like a grassy field covered with rainbow flowers under the afternoon sun. She is unpretentious, telling things as there are. Her laughter echoes through the school yard when she’s at play. She is, however, just fair with school work. But her friends are varied and many, drawn by the life radiating through her.

            This little girl is “in love”, the kind which people say “puppy love”. A boy, her age and a classmate, the brightest in class, captured her tiny heart. She often tells him she likes him. During the break, while her teacher is lost in the folds of the faculty, she writes his name on the black board, in bold strokes, and with words “I love you”. Everyone in class does not find this embarrassing or annoying, which is queer. Perhaps it’s the innocence of the whole thing or the funny streaks of pink appearing on the boy’s face. Whatever it is, no one cast a sly at this sheer display of affection.

            Wearing a short, shiny dark hair, with all the silky strands combed to one side, the boy is a perfect picture of a catholic school boy. You see, he has a vow -he dreams of becoming a priest. One can immediately see the typical plot of our story. The boy is one of those rare souls who, from birth, feels so certain of his path; knows exactly why his here for - a prospect disconcerting to the many who grope, mess up, and wallow in uncertainties. The boy desires to be a priest. He does not say anything good or bad to the little girl.

            Relentless and unperturbed, the girl calls him at home - telling him what she often writes on the school blackboard: she likes him and she loves him. This takes place every day, in the afternoon around 4:00, a few minutes right after school. This becomes a predictable routine: every day, around 4:00 p.m., a phone call, and words “I love you”. The young boy, true to his saintly core, remains composed. He does not say anything good or bad to the girl.

            Time flies in clear strides, and along with it, the events that are forever stuck in the pages of its wings. The girl is now a young woman – full of life and jest. She’s unpretentious telling things as they are. Her laughter reveals the fine bents on her slim cheeks. Her friends are varied and many. She and the boy, who is now also a young man, go to the same college. She still maintained her vice but this time with a twist: she writes little notes to the young, soon-to-be priest. These notes simply contain a smiley, no words. She never missed a time doing this.

For all the myriad things in her life that changed, one thing remains: she calls him at home, around 4:00 in the afternoon, a few minutes after school, telling him, “I’m here”. The words may be different but not the routine. The young man, being prim and dignified, neither says anything good or bad to her.

            One day, an afternoon, around 4:00, something’s changed. Something is missing. At first, he cannot figure what it is. What has changed? What is missing? Then he senses it. There is none of the usual and familiar sound - the phone does not ring. At this hour, at this place, there should be a phone call. There must be a phone call. This routine, which has become a part in the rhythm of the young man’s life, is suddenly not there. Of course he can care less about that. He is on his way to his dream – the priesthood. But he feels uneasy, distracted, and unable to do his usual chores.

            At school, the following day, he looks at the young woman’s chair - it’s empty. He scans the room. She’s nowhere. The class went on. His mind adrift, streaming through the infinite possible reasons, looking for something sensible, something logical and at the same time craving the familiar. He flips open his leather notebook, took out the several notes with drawn figures of smiley.  Finally, after class, he dares himself to ask someone.

“Oh, didn’t you know? She died yesterday around three.”

The classmate goes on telling the details of her absence - her ordeal, her repeated fainting, but he can’t hear her. His mind is reeling, his senses numb. He could only hear, faintly, as if an echo coming from a long tunnel, the word “cancer”. He stood there, forever fixed, gazing at something, but not really looking at anything.

Just like that, something is missing, a phone call does not arrive and the whole world is gone – like a picture of people with a face that is torn away, the whites on the edges of the tear shows the deliberateness of the tearing. What has gone? What is missing? The routine? The chance to say goodbye? The young man, soon to be priest, remains standing, unmoved, his feet is cemented on the ground. He is gazing at something, but not really looking at anything.

Recent Articles