“To tell you the truth, they believe and disbelieve.” So begins the first line of Czeslaw Milosz’s poem, Dread. While this book of poems is filled to the brim with controversial and often questionable musings, it could be argued that this one evokes from its Christian readers a feeling of dread when considering the idea that a man died for those whom would neither know him nor regard his suffering in any manner that didn’t serve to divert their peers from “think[ing] they are godless (42)”. In the context of Gordon College, this poem may be used to move mountains.
A new rule has been made in chapel this year, asking all present students to put away their textbooks, laptops, cell phones, and whispered conversations in order to fully participate in the ritual of chapel: to hear the message that is being spoken. To actually get something out of the service that all are required to attend. However, how many of these students listen, or care? Even subconsciously, how many of us are attending chapel three times a week simply because we are required to fulfill our 30 life and worship credits? How many of us attend church every week because our parents (and perhaps our consciences) would nag us if we did not? Is this what Christ died for?
Milosz poses two very interesting questions here: did Christ die for nothing; and did he know it might be like this? His poem goes on to say “during the sermon they think of Julia’s tits, of an elephant, of the price of butter, and of New Guinea.” When looking back on all the times that I’ve sat in church, often struggling to keep my eyes open, and thinking that Christ “dared to think they might be like that,” it fills me with dread as well. Dread of meeting my savior because of how ashamed he must be of me. That I bear his name when I regard myself as a “Christian” almost seems a disgrace. How can I call myself a Christian when I know that while he was praying that night at the garden of Gethsemane, when he was being spit on and whipped, when the Roman soldiers forced a crown of thorns onto his head and nailed his arms and legs to the cross, he was predicting the way I would behave? It seems like this is so far separated from us that we prefer to “wash our hands of his blood” as Pilate did.
However, this poem should not serve only as a bitter confrontation, but also as a testament to the love Christ had for us. It is taught in the Bible that the Lord knows everything, he knows us by name before we exist. Being thus, it should be understood that he knew our actions and our attitudes toward his life and death while he knelt in that garden and when he was begging the Father to “take this cup away from him”, but chose to die for us, as undeserving as we are, anyway. To overstate his passion would be impossible.
Perhaps this poem may be read to the students of Gordon College, explained throughout that Christ did not die so that we may take his death for granted. However, he died in full knowledge that it may be that way. He died for us regardless of our apathy. His perfect soul took on the grime of our sins and shed his innocent blood for our guilty and meaningless lives. How can we say that Christ was just an ordinary man, when we look at this poem.
He dared to think they might be like that
That night when he knelt in the Garden of Olives
And felt on His back the cold sweat of dread.
How great the love of a man who suffered knowing that his pain may be for naught!