Before dramas are shown on TV there are often warnings to us tender and delicate viewers about the content, so that as we settle down gleefully to watch the latest mutilation of a gangster, or a terrified woman being chased through a dark forest, or the slow strangulation of a blackmailing villain by some other villain, we can judge whether or not we might be ‘distressed’.
Hmmmm. It’s a joke, surely? When that drama is about to revel in the portrayal of murders, or rapes, assaults, torture, cruelty, dishonesty and betrayal, how cynical is it to broadcast this meaningless warning? When they are about to treat us as if we are hardened psychotics with no tender sensibilities at all, why do they first nudge us coyly, as if we were sweet little old ladies who have never stepped beyond our lacy boudoirs?
‘This programme contains content some viewers may find distressing.’
No kidding? I don’t tune in for these things any more. Unless I can see the purpose and point of a drama, I don’t want to waste my time with it. It’s a bit like books – there are too many of them! It’s a bit like words – there are billions of the damn things (and here I am adding to them. Oops) There’s only a short life to be lived and I’ve already had my fill of crap films and pointless books. I need to know the motive and the moral behind the stuff that I allow to enter my head because I know that what I hear and see influences me, whether I want it to or not.
Even when the motive behind an image or story is clear and worthwhile, and I maybe need to take it on board, the poignancy can be unbearable. It might be a sign of my age that I find even mildly distressing scenes too much to bear – those ads for the donkey charities in the Middle East? Too distressing. The realisation that Wally the Walrus is only three years old and is bewildered and lost, rather than funny and extrovert? Too distressing.
When my husband, a quiet and macho Scot (made in Scotland from girrrders) became a Christian, he turned overnight – literally overnight – into a great big softie. It happened one night as he slept and it took us both by surprise. We used to joke that afterwards he could weep at the puppy on the Andrex advert, but that was a bit of an exaggeration. He certainly wept whenever an athlete stepped up onto a podium to receive a medal, when the news showed a child rescued from a burning building, when a friend was diagnosed with cancer. And he wept to think of the death of Christ. I should add, for the sake of openness, that George was not a silent weeper. It was not a dignified experience for him or those who were with him. He was snorter and a choker, an enthusiastic nose-blower. He wept like the wind section of an orchestra tuning up.
This morning, for the second time in two weeks, as I listened to David Suchet reading the book of Luke, I stopped the recording at chapter 22, verse 53. I hadn’t intended to stop it there again but I couldn’t bear to go on. To read how Jesus was bullied and beaten, spat upon, tortured? After reading about his life, and hearing his voice, wondering at his steadfastness and kindness and his uncompromising truth, after just plain enjoying his company for weeks…. to see again all those terrible scenes? My Lord and my God going through all that? I’ve loved reading Luke so much that I’m about to start it again for the third time in as many weeks, but I didn’t want to go beyond Gethsemane. Coward, eh?
Just a few minutes later, having put my phone away, as I was praying, I found myself saying ‘Thank you that you died for us’ and that brought me up short.
‘Thank you that you died for us.’ What a glib and dutiful thing to say. What a recital. I think that sometimes I need to listen on as the terrible story is told, to think about Jesus walking through that olive grove to meet his brutal death, knowing absolutely what that death would be. I need to think about these things.
But that’s hard. Yep. No one said that Christ following would be easy. The story of Jesus Christ is not a cosy and comfortable one. It’s a stirring, rousing, edge-of-the-seat thriller, a heartbreak and a triumph. We need to embrace all those aspects to understand how great our God is. How precious we are to him. The price he paid for us. Non Christian sceptics and cynics will sometimes call our belief ‘a fairy tale’. Oh! If they only knew! Of all the stories in the world, of all the histories of man, the true story of Jesus Christ is the most heart breaking, the hardest and the most wonderful. And it costs us to embrace it, it costs us to read on. There is a cost to belief. It ain’t no fairy tale.
Step into the pages of the Bible, that wonderful and life-giving miracle, but be warned, it isn’t a story for the faint hearted. Don’t think that it’s going to be easy. It will bring you to tears, but they will be wonderful tears of gratitude and praise and indescribable longing for the God who died for us.
He was oppressed and harshly mistreated;
still he humbly submitted, refusing to defend himself.
He was brought like a gentle lamb to be slaughtered.
Like a silent sheep before his shearers,
he didn’t even open his mouth.
By coercion and with a perversion of justice
he was taken away.
And who could have imagined his future?
He was cut down in the prime of life;
for the rebellion of his own people,
he was struck down in their place.
They gave him a grave among criminals,
but he ended up instead in a rich man’s tomb,
although he had done no violence nor spoken deceitfully.