The apostle Paul summarized what transpired on the Cross this way:
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. — II Corinthians 5:21 NLT
The crucifix symbol has been glamorized in our culture. Nevertheless, the Cross was a horror in its time. Many have illustrated the gruesome medical details concerning the practice of crucifixion (see: The Horror of Roman Crucifixion). While the Bible does not give us play by play description of the Christ’s execution, in its time, it didn’t need to. The first century Jew or Gentile needed no reminder of the grisly details.
Isaiah prophesied roughly 700 years before Christ about the Suffering Servant:
…his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness (Is. 52:14 NIV).
Some may see this description as gratuitous. Nevertheless, it corroborates much of what we know about Roman crucifixion and the beatings suffered by those at the centurion’s hands. Indeed, it was reported that pre-crucifixion scourging was so brutal that many prisoners never made it to the cross.
In a more poetic stroke, the prophet writes
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Isiah 53:4-5 NIV
This section of Scripture, while laden with redemptive pathos, is loaded with horrific imagery: pain, suffering, punishment, affliction. Those who object to horror lit strictly on the grounds that it is shocking, violent, and scandalous, should consider that The Most Redemptive Story Ever Told contains such imagery.
But perhaps the most horrific element of the crucifixion of Christ is not the physical torment inflicted, but the spiritual reality behind it. “Christ, who never sinned [became] the offering for our sin” (II Cor. 5:21). We take the concept of Man as Sinner for granted. However, Scripture portrays the Fall of Man as the greatest of all horrors. That beings created in the Image of God would turn from Him is more abominable than the entire history of slasher flicks combined. In fact, every atrocity, whether real or imagined, can only be understood in the light of our Fall (in the same way that horror must be defined by the good and beautiful). Adam and Eve being driven from Paradise is perhaps the genesis of all human horrors.
In this way, the atonement of Jesus Christ is horrific — not just because He “became sin” and submitted Himself to public torture, but that He was sinless when He did so. That which is Perfect voluntarily became what is Flawed. The Beloved became the Outcast. The Spotless Lamb became the Scapegoat.
It is the melding of horror and redemption, The Greatest Story Ever Told. And it is, in part, a horror story.