'The Passion' Revisited

David Limbaugh
Posted: Jul 30, 2003 12:00 AM

A few weeks ago, I defended Mel Gibson's upcoming movie, "The Passion," against unwarranted criticism. After having had the privilege of attending a private screening of the movie, I am even more convinced of its value.

The movie, which depicts the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ, was so deeply moving and profound one cannot do justice to it by attempting to describe it in words.

The closest I can come to a description is to say that viewing it makes you feel almost like a live witness to the historical events (abbreviated from 12 hours to two hours) as they unfolded. It was not like watching a movie from a detached perspective, but being inescapably drawn into the realism of the action.

No punches are pulled here, no emotions are spared, no sensitivities are coddled. It is a depiction of suffering, agony, passion and raw, uncensored violence visited on one man (and God) who volunteered for the indescribable torment out of His sheer love for humankind.

I am sure that Gibson chose stark realism not for the sake of shock and awe or sensationalism, but to recreate as accurate a portrayal of the historical events as humanly possible. The viewer sees the scourging because there was scourging, he sees blood because there was blood, he sees pain because there was pain.

Ironically, many of the attacks on the project are based on its alleged inaccuracy. Some Christian "scholars" are panning the movie, without having seen it and based on a purloined and now obsolete movie script, because of its dubious historicity and theology.

Gibson erred, they say, not by deviating too much from scripture, but by trying to adhere to it too closely. These "experts" believe they know better than the eyewitnesses to the events what did and didn't happen and what Jesus did and didn't say. Manifestly, their quarrel is not with Mel Gibson, but with the Bible.

As "The Passion" makes clear in terms I could never adequately express, the Gospel message is not reserved for Phds and Biblical scholars. It is simple enough for children to understand, but profound enough to rescue the entire human race and all of its wickedness.

Certain Jewish groups are criticizing the movie, saying it is anti-Semitic and will inflame anti-Semitic sentiments among those who view it. While anti-Semitism in the world is real and we've even witnessed a disturbing resurrection of its infernal irrepressibility throughout the world in recent years, this movie is not an example of it. Quite the opposite.

The movie endeavors to show the historical events "as they went down," without any editorial comment or innuendo, and especially without judgmentalism. It is not about blame and finger pointing, but love and redemption. It does not convey a message of selective condemnation, but universal hope. After all, as sinners, we are all culpable in Christ's death, as Gibson points out, careful to confess his own responsibility.

I believe one of Mel Gibson's main purposes is to use the medium he knows best to spread the Gospel message, which is essentially one of love and eternal life. And the way Gibson has decided to share that message is to focus on the price Christ paid to redeem mankind.

We are so removed from Christ's suffering that we could, if not careful, view the Gospel as a mere mathematical equation. The sacrificial death of the sinless, God-incarnate cancels out the past, present and future sins of all those who place their faith in Him. But this is real life, not an abstract exercise.

God didn't just zap out man's sinfulness by divine edict. Being a God of perfect justice and unlimited mercy, He had to deal with sin -- that is, physically and spiritually deal with it. The Son, while still 100 percent God, humbled and demeaned Himself to become man, to suffer all the indignities of human existence, to become separated from the Father with whom He was united in perfect love and harmony, and to suffer His full wrath for the sum of all mankind's sins.

We must understand that for this equation to work, for man's redemption to be possible, Christ's suffering, His anxiety, His despair, His sense of betrayal and His separation from the Father had to actually occur in the flesh. "The Passion" emphasizes the reality of Christ's substitutionary suffering in the flesh. In terms that words alone cannot articulate, "The Passion" homes in on the full value of the ransom Christ paid for all of us in the greatest demonstration and act of love ever exhibited.