Life is scary. It feels unpredictable and cruel. It feels senseless and random. Faith is exhausting. The journey often feels like finding yourself tied up, alone in an unmanned and oarless row boat being mercilessly tossed about in the waves of an angry ocean.
There seems to be a vague unease in some Christian circles when I’ve expressed these sensations. I’m left embarrassed for asking questions. I’ve felt shamed for admitting my fears that this ship often feels like it’s capsizing. “Where’s your faith?” or, “You should try being more joyful!” have on numerous occasions been said in reply. Unfortunately, entire church cultures have been built upon avoiding such vulnerability; cultures that shun emotional honesty. Perhaps if we ignore the storm we won’t feel so weak. If we can successfully ignore our weakness, perhaps we won’t have to admit how fragile our faith really is.
Emotional honesty oftentimes is conflated with a lack of faith. I may feel utterly and desperately abandoned, but, I dare not name it. I may feel violently tossed around in the confusion of a maddened sea, but, the mere mention of it might mean I am faithless. So, I opt out of prayer in these moments. Best to not annoy the sleeping God-man. After all, maybe I can muscle it out a tad bit longer. Maybe I can repress, stifle, and ignore my intensifying inner dance with chaos. Yet all the while, I’m subconsciously convincing myself that God is no help in my time of need. There’s a profound loneliness and isolation in these moments. I’m haunted by the impression that God is likely embarrassed by my human frailty.
“Ecce homo” is Latin for ‘Behold the man’. This phrase is uttered by Pilate in the Gospel of John when presenting Jesus to the angry masses prior to his crucifixion. There’s a simple banality about Jesus’ humanity. If Jesus is the anticipated Messiah, why is he so underwhelming? Pilate’s expression almost feels more of a question than a statement. “This is the man? This guy?” This person, our salvation, Immanuel, seems too simple, too human, too tangible to be the hope that we’ve needed. All hope rests in this fragile sleeping man. Salvation himself is vulnerably snoozing in the middle of a fatal maelstrom. This man is not redeeming humans from their frail humanity. He is redeeming humans by his frail humanity to their fullest humanity. Perhaps the most faith filled prayer for the occasion was the simple shrieking gasp of a cry, “Lord, we are dying!”
Joel Richard Briggs is a fine arts painter based in San Diego, California. He works predominantly in contemporary figurative representational oil painting. His work currently explores the intersection of traditional religious symbolism with the present-day embodied experiences of shame and sexuality. His influences range from Byzantine iconography, contemplative Christian practices, Jewish history and mysticism, shame psychology, linguistics, and Romantic and Neo-Romantic art movements. His work can be found on Instagram @joelbriggspaints