FOCUS – An indictment of indifference
I find myself frequently annoyed at artists’ depictions of Christ on the cross. Of course, a painting of Christ as he really appeared then would be too disturbing to hang on church walls, but many renditions of the crucifixion are ridiculously mild. Christ is often painted with a just tiny trickle of blood flowing from underneath his thorny crown. A gash or two across his chest are intended to represent his thirty-nine lashes. The viewer is left feeling, well, indifferent.
Indifference toward Christ, though rampant, is incomprehensible, once we understand who he is. Christ embodies the extreme. He is “mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.” (Is. 9:6) But he was also “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Is. 53:3) These are descriptions that invoke a response from sincere people, not a shrug.
I once was speaking with a young man about his relationship with Christ, which was, from my point of view, non-existent. “Me and God are buds,” he told me–as in buddies, pals, compadres. How he came to that conclusion was a mystery to me. He confessed that he neither talked to God on a regular basis nor read his Word. He was convinced that because he maintained this special status with God, there was no need for him to attend church. He did whatever he wanted to do, and God understood. In truth, this man was completely indifferent toward God, though he would not admit it. But God was not indifferent toward him. In fact, Christ suffered and died for him.
Isaiah 52: 13-15a reads: “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him.”
I am certain that the young man had absolutely no concept of the exaltation of Christ or the suffering of Christ in the verses above. For how could anyone be indifferent toward the one who will leave all earthly kings dumfounded by his atonement? How could one be so cavalier toward the Creator of humanity, who would allow himself to be mangled to the point that his own human form was no longer recognizable? It must have been the case that the man with whom I spoke did not understand who Christ is, how he suffered, and for whom he suffered. Quite possibly, his picture of Christ came from a painting. It certainly didn’t come from Isaiah.
I surmise that we only submit to Christ to the extent we comprehend his majesty and his suffering. When Isaiah experienced God’s holiness (chapter 6), he immediately felt shame concerning his own sin. In the light of the perfection of God, one sees sin’s hideousness. The more one basks in the radiance of God’s attributes, the less one desires to sin. But when one stumbles around in half-light, one is incapable of seeing how truly repulsive sin is. To commit a sin becomes less distasteful.
What if one could see Christ’s “form marred beyond human likeness”? Knowing that such a sacrifice was made for him, could that one leave the place of the cross and go sin against God? Surely it would be like hammering the nails through his hands all over again. Surely it would be unthinkable, having seen his visage distorted, having witnessed his body contorted.
Now, reader, put yourself there, at the foot of the cross. Envision your sovereign Lord upon that tree, not with a trickle and a gash, but as it really was. Allow yourself to see it. Concentrate, friend, and see his eyes turn to your face. Let his gaze penetrate. Hear him say, “This is for you.” Will that vision affect the way you live this hour? Can it impact the way you live this entire day?
The young man I once met was apathetic toward all of this. Or perhaps, as I have suggested, he was uninformed. Most likely he was too apathetic to seek to be informed.
We Christians are by no means immune. We may have heard the Good Friday/Resurrection Day story so many times that we become numb. If so, we have forgotten the splendor of God and the magnanimity of the offering of Christ. Perhaps we would do well to turn to Isaiah restore our vision, for once we catch a glimpse of him afresh, we find we automatically fall to our knees, where we belong.