Imagining Pain

One thing that always surprises me is pain.

Let’s say you’re expecting something painful to happen… though you don’t know the specifics of that pain or how it will feel when you are actually in pain. So your imagination takes hold and you imagine the pain and you fear a particular part of the pain.

But, then, when you’re actually going through the pain, what you thought would be the worst part was not necessarily the worst part. In fact, the worst part about it is something that you didn’t even expect would happen in the first place.

…has this happened to you?

This is happening to me currently. When I found that I was probably going to have a c-section, my mind focused immediately on the physical aspects of taking care of my other children, who are only toddlers right now. How was I to lift them up in their car seats? How about when they needed a diaper change? For some reason, these two things in particular consumed me.

But, now that I am currently recovering from a c-section, though those are definitely issues, they’re not the main issues. Diapers? I can do those… now, anyway. Car seats? My husband can handle groceries and other errands.

No, those aren’t problems, not really.

The main issue? The fact that I can’t pick them up and cuddle and play with them like I would usually would. And, for my 21-month-old, this is a very alarming thing that he is not sure how to handle. And this is the thing that hurts me the most.

So, in the end, while the physical pain is very real, there is a very real emotional pain as well that comes along with the physical pain. And sometimes that can seem worse.

So, it was very interesting for me to see these paintings — one a rough draft displayed in a museum and the other a final product that is currently displayed in a church.

In the rough draft, you can see a very intense picture of the scourging that looks quite painful! You can see the figures surrounding Jesus beating and whipping him, you can see the blood, and you can sort of see their expressions on their face. There’s even a dog at the very bottom! Jesus looks to be grimacing in pain while most of the people, aside from the person with his hand near his face, are simply concentrating on their job. The one exception is the guy with his hand on his face, who seems to be staring at Jesus’s back instead of beating Him.

Flagellation of Christ, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1617. Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
Flagellation of Christ, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1617. Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium.

 

Now! Contrast that with the final draft of this picture:

Flagellation of Christ, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 17th century. Church of St. Paul, Antwerp, Belgium. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
Flagellation of Christ, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 17th century. Church of St. Paul, Antwerp, Belgium.

The major details are the same — though the size of the picture is a bit different, the background is pretty similar, there are still four people surrounding Christ, Christ is still grimacing in pain, and there’s even a dog at the bottom of the painting!

But the details! Instead of mere abstractions of people beating Jesus, their faces are in clear detail and, frankly, grotesque. While the other painting showed them to merely be concentrating, this picture seems to indicate that everyone is taking pleasure in this role of torturing Christ. Even the dog seems to be feeding off the excitement of its owners!

Not only that, but nobody is generic anymore. Everyone seems to have a different reaction to Christ and  a different reason why they are enjoying beating Him. For instance, the guy with his hand to his face seems to be revelling in the humiliation that Christ is enduring while the guy in the helmet seems to enjoy being in control.

Their expressions make this whole picture an eye-opener: yes, it’s terrible to be scourged and there is significant pain involved — so much so that it’s hard to imagine even what that much physical pain might even feel like. But, at the same time, what might be worse for God, in particular, is not the actual pain — even though the pain is significant, especially to Christ’s human body, nor am I trying to downplay the pain that our Lord experienced. Instead, the worst part for God might be the fact that these people surrounding Him seem to enjoy doling out this punishment in the first place.

As Christians, we say all the time: it is our sins that caused Jesus to suffer and die on the cross. Yet, I don’t think we really mean that much of the time — not really. After all, if our sins truly are the cause of Jesus’s suffering, then that means that we approach Jesus’s suffering the same way that we approach our sins. And, if you’re anything like me, sometimes you enjoy sinning.

And this needs to change. As we get to know who God is and what He wants with us through prayer and worship, we also need to recognize that it is our sins that cause us to hurt Him. And, not only does it hurt Him, but it also deforms ourselves and turns us into monsters, just like we can see in these humans who scourge Jesus.

So! As Christians, let us repent from our sinful ways, whatever they may be, and follow Jesus!

 

Questions to Ponder:
  • What do you think each of the five people in this scene are thinking from their facial expression?
  • Which face of the final picture draws you in the most? Why?
  • What facial expressions matches most to your reaction to your preferred sin?

 

Dear Jesus,

Help us truly repent with a contrite heart and turn to you.

Amen.

The second picture is featured in my newest book, The Sorrowful Mysteries, which pairs each prayer of the Rosary with classic artwork! Take a look at it here.

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