Remembering the day all the sorrows of the world (and then some) were in some incomprehensible way taken on by the only one who (as fully both divine and human) could effectively bear them—albeit with unimaginable suffering.
I trust it is in keeping with the holiness of the day, and not in any way disrespectful or unmindful of its significance, to consider that as we, in the West at least, pay less and less attention to the significance of Good Friday, we find ourselves taking all the sorrows of the world on ourselves—and being crushed by them.
Consider the lives of our ancestors throughout almost all of history: Most of them were born, died, and lived their entire lives in the same small community. Even when they migrated, were taken captive, were exiled, or went to war, for all but a handful, their circle of experience remained small and local.
Our ancestors suffered greatly. The unbearable sorrow of losing a child was not uncommon. There was no easy divorce to sever marriages and blend families—but death played the same role. The lack of sanitation, antibiotics, immunizations, and even a simple aspirin tablet made for disease, pain, and death on a scale most of us can’t imagine. Starvation was often only a bad harvest away. Slavery and slave-like conditions were taken for granted for most of history. I’m not here to minimize the sufferings of the past.
But there is a very important however to their story. Their pain was on a scale that was local and human. They suffered, their families suffered, and their neighbors suffered. Travellers might bring back tales of tragedy far away, but that was a secondary, filtered experience.
And today? The suffering in our close, personal circles may indeed be less. But our vicarious suffering is off the charts. Whether it’s a murder across town, a kidnapping across the country, or a natural disaster halfway around the world, we hear about it. In graphic, gory detail. Over and over we hear the wailing and see the shattered bodies. Full color, high definition, surround sound.
If that were not enough, our television shows and movies flood us daily, repeatedly, with simulated violence and horror, deliberately fashioned to be more realistic than life, so that, for example, we become less the observers of a murder than the victim—or the murderer himself. (Not to let books off the hook, especially the more graphic and horrific ones, but their effect is somewhat limited by the imagination of the reader.)
No one imagines that the death of a stranger half a world away, much less in a scene we know is fictional, is as traumatic as a death "close and personal." But a few hundred years of such vicarious suffering is not enough to reprogram the primitive parts of our brains not to kick into high gear with horror, anguish, and above all, fear. Our bodies are flooded with stress hormones, and our minds tricked into believing danger and disaster are much more common than they are. We repeatedly make bad personal and national decisions based on events, such as school shootings and kidnappings by strangers, that are statistically so rare that the perpetrators cannot be profiled. We hear a mother wailing for her lost child, and our soul imagines it is our own child who has died. We watch film footage of an earthquake and shudder when a tractor-trailer rolls by. Did anyone see Hitchcock’s Psycho and enter the shower the next morning without a second thought?
Worse still, for these sorrows and dangers we can’t even have the satisfaction of a physical response. We can’t fight, we can’t fly, we can’t hug a grieving widow; no matter how loudly we shout, Janet Leigh doesn’t hear us when we warn her not to step into the shower. Writing a check to a relief organization may be a good thing, but it doesn’t fool brain systems that have been around a whole lot longer than checks. Or relief organizations.
I don’t have a solution to what seems to be an intractable problem, although a good deal less media exposure would be a great place to start.
The human body, mind, and spirit are not capable of bearing all the griefs that now assault us. We are not God.