This is a photo of Shiite Muslims in New Delhi, India flagellating themselves in honor of the grandson of Mohammad. As I study this image, I experience a mixture of feelings and convictions.
Resonance — I understand deep in my bones the essence of this impulse. The inclination to self-abasement as justification is embedded in each one of us. These men have the courage to indulge it, to take it seriously enough to harm themselves as some form of propitiation. They know a gap between themselves and holiness must be bridged.
Fear — Because of the resonance, I am fearful. For them and of myself. It is not really humility that drives self-justification but pride, and pride is not something to be indulged, even if on the surface it appears to be assaulted.
Pity — I feel sorry for them for not knowing the gospel, or for having rejected it. I pity them for believing the bridge can be built by their own blood. I pity them for thinking they must beat themselves up to be righteous.
Gratitude — I am so very thankful for Christ and his gospel. Christ is my righteousness because he — the sinless Man — took the stripes I deserve. Which means I don’t have to take them any more. I don’t have to beat myself up to honor him. By self-flagellation, literal or metaphorical, will no man be justified. I am thankful that Christ bore my sins to kill them and leave them dead, and therefore the burden he holds out is easy, the yoke he fits to my neck is light. He bids me come and rest because the bloody work of justification is finished.