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Pretty Pictures and the Stench of Death

Christ gave Himself for sinful man. He offered His life in our place. His punishment became our peace.

Beautiful thoughts. Simple perfection. Profoundly calming.

The administration of this reconciliation, however, was disturbing, vile, and brutal.

I’ll never forget watching the movie, The Passion of the Christ, and being overcome with emotion at what my Savior had done for me. The veil had been torn, not simply in the temple courts but in the courts of heaven as Jesus, with the most costly death in history, removed the veil of flesh for whoever would believe in Him.

That is the dichotomy of His life. Beauty and brutality lingering side by side. The same dichotomy exists in our own lives and hearts as we choose to abandon ourselves to Him.

Paul recognizes that not everyone sees us the same way.

For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life… –2 Corinthians 2:15-16

When an altar must be made, it’s not time for craftsmanship. This is a place of death–no denying it–but where a different and abiding life is established. When it’s time to deal with sin and apathy and indifference, it’s painful and difficult because we have in some ways repaired the veil that Jesus had rent for us. To deal with it again is a matter not to be taken lightly.

Let us remember: when we talk of the rending of the veil we are speaking in a figure, and the thought of it is poetical, almost pleasant; but in actuality there is nothing pleasant about it. In human experience that veil is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. –A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (chapter 3)

There’s no condemnation in this, but if we’re guilty we can’t stay here. I have nothing against beautiful buildings or decorated crosses as long as we understand the depth of love behind it and don’t settle for a shallow, mental agreement.

When these things present themselves, we sometimes think we can deal with them on our own, and to some degree, we may try to find an easier way back into the Presence. We only deceive ourselves and delay His healing. As Tozer points out,

Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us.

Our freedom began and was authored in Him, and it will always come back to that truth. God does the work that only He can do. He doesn’t relish our pain, but desires our restored fellowship beyond the momentary hurt.

We were meant for that intimacy. We were meant for life beyond the veil.

Do you ever get struck by our poetic perceptions versus the painful reality? What are your thoughts on this?


Welcome to week 6 of our book club discussion of the Pursuit of God (disclosure) by A.W. Tozer. We are taking a sentence, paragraph, or passage that inspires, encourages, or challenges and writing about it, and to fully digest this book, we’re spending two weeks on each chapter. If you have a response on your blog, add it in the link widget below and be sure to check out the other entries. Also head over to my friend and co-facilitator, Sarah Salter’s blog for another great take. Whether you’ve read the selection or not, please share your thoughts! We always appreciate a vibrant conversation.

16 Comments

  1. There is definitely a fine line. The verses you used from 2 Corinthians are a powerful illustration here. How can something so brutal be so sweet and beautiful, and how can something so sweet and beautiful be so brutal? I never want to limit the power in it by taking away a part of its fullness. A lot to chew on here Jason, thanks!
    Philip recently posted..It’s a RaceMy Profile

    • The one lends to the other. The more we understand the cost and sacrifice, the greater our appreciation of the beauty of what He has accomplished for us. I stand amazed now, but in 5 years--10 or 50 years--from now, I anticipate that reverence and awe growing deeper (as it should). Thanks Philip.

  2. We’d be crazy to enjoy suffering. It’s an altogether different thing to recognize that while it is unpleasant, it is needed.

    Jesus recognized the need to suffer and die a brutal death so we may be set free for a “life beyond the veil.”

    Are we willing to step through the veil and our own suffering in order to yield and trust God to remove ‘death’ from our being and replace it with ‘life in Him.’

    The journey is not one that we can complete. It is beyond us. It requires God.
    Dusty Rayburn recently posted..Un-VeilingMy Profile

    • Yeah! It’s His kindness that even leads us to repentance. We come because He draws. It’s an incredibly humbling place to live, but the opportunities are endless. Thank you, Dusty.

  3. I remember finding the Passion of the Christ revolting. I felt (key word) that the gore was over the top and it couldn’t have really been that bad. And I definately couldn’t believe that the Roman soldiers took pleasure in unleashing such brutality. But then I let reality set in. It was this unpleasant. It was this disgusting. And the soldiers were that hateful. And Jesus put up with it all for me. The truth was, I didn’t want to believe it.
    Frank recently posted..An Altar to MeMy Profile

    • I went through those same emotions while watching it (as I’m sure many did). We have a hard time accepting that sort of cruelty and evil or even sacrifice. He bore it all so we could be free. How do we not fall to our knees constantly, wishing for a thousand lives to spend on Him? Lord, I give my one life for everything You are…

      Thanks Frank.

  4. I think this can be traced back to watered down messages. People got tired of hearing fire and brimstone messages so many people behind the pulpits began giving the people what they wanted- feel good messages that take the sting out of the cross.

    But the cost of discipleship is costly. It cost God His Son and it should cost us something to follow Him.
    Not all of us will be required to give up everything, but we each have a cross that we daily must take up. Daily we must die to our selves and embrace the cross God has crafted for each individual person.

    While that involves pain, it also involves beauty. God loves us enough to give us both. How can anyone truly enjoy beauty unless they have seen its opposite? How can one truly know joy unless they have experienced pain? And how can one surrender to the cross unless they embrace ALL of it and not just the parts that are pleasing?

    • Yes, the pendulum swings, doesn’t it? Fire and separation are part, but fellowship and love are part. We need to understand both (as much as is possible). We need the fuller picture and that comes from people who have been hungry and experienced something real in God. It may not be easy, but it’s worth it. Thank you TC.

  5. I can’t remember exactly what I commented on last week… In general, I thought Tozer was blasting the Christians for trying to do the work and be the heart of God through the flesh.

    A couple of the lines that stuck out to me; “Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.” That is a dangerous line to walk I think… I also think that those type of actions are what the commandment, “Thou shalt not take the Lord they God’s name in vain.”

    One other toward the very end of the chapter he drives his point home on the subject with this, “To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible conference than in a tavern….”

    I agree with him. When I see good church goers doing acts of legalism with zero heart, I wonder who is closer to God; them or the ones who might be living like hell, but contemplating it…

    • Totally. Those things hit home because you see it so prevalent. We want to say we’re the good guys because we hold to the right views, but that’s not the completion. There are people who do good things in the world. Some of them act better in general than a lot of Christians! But that isn’t the test: it’s whether we know Him, His heart, experience His life, express real faith. All those things demonstrate a relationship and intimate knowledge. Legalism is easier by far (as long as you don’t mind a lot of condemnation and self-righteousness). Paul said he counted everything as garbage that he might KNOW CHRIST. That’s the top. Good word, Floyd! Thank you.

  6. I always seem to focus on the painful reality of the cross, rather than the poetic. There is something to be gathered by both, but if I loose myself in the poetic, then I am not aware of the reality, and it does tend to slapme across the face when I least expect it. Awesome post Jason!
    Ed recently posted..WORSE THAN UNBELIEVERS!My Profile

    • I understand. It’s both and there’s power in both! Thanks so much, Ed.

  7. One verse comes to mind when I think about the seriousness of My Saviors sacrifice for me…
    That his face was unrecongnizable. it was without form. They had beaten him to an inch of his life!!!…
    and thats when i have to sing…
    O precious is the flow! That makes me white as snow! No other fount I know! NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD OF JESUS!
    Arny recently posted..Jesus VS Mr. CleanMy Profile

    • Amen, Arny! How do we forget? How do we get complacent about such a love? I’ll sing with you, brother! Thank you.

  8. I vividly remember watching “The Passion of the Christ” and the tears running down my face. The tears were a result of being overwhelmed by the incredible love that God has for me. He love is so incredible that He went to the greatest of lengths of express it.
    Kevin Martineau recently posted..Who are you influencing?My Profile

    • I know. Most movies I try to cover up a little when I get emotional, but I was just a mess by the time it was over! Everyone in the theater just sat there with me, stunned and contemplating the whole thing. What He did for us! It cannot be undone and cannot be compared to! Thanks Kevin.