The pain of passivity

This is a guest blog for Good Friday by Dr. Sarah Dunlop.

Jesus was a man of action. Throughout the Gospels we see him calling people to follow him. In order for the disciples to leave everything behind there must have been something about the energy and force of Jesus’ personality that compelled them to follow him.

The verbs that describe his activities are active – he heals, preaches, prays and goes here and there. If ever there was a man with a mission, it is Jesus.

But then the account of the passion begins and everything changes. The verbs are passive. Instead of being the initiator of the events around him, everything happens to him. He is arrested, led away, chained, flogged, interrogated, executed.

What was it like for someone of action to find themselves in such a passive role? Submitting to these outside forces must have been humiliating and painful.

My husband and I find ourselves in a situation characterised by forced passivity. Our second child is due in about a week’s time. But over the last few days I’ve had contractions that start small and then grow in frequency and intensity. It sends us into a state of nervous anticipation. “Is the baby coming now? Should we make plans to go to the hospital?” But then the contractions fade and life progresses as normal.  This situation leaves us feeling we have no control over our daily lives. Should we even make plans? We are left at the mercy of my body and the baby inside – just waiting until it is the right time for true labour contractions to start. Until then, we wait.

In the midst of this uncertainty, I draw comfort from knowing that God is control. He designed the human body this way and he is watching over us. I trust that he will bring this baby into this world at precisely the right time. Until then, I submit myself to his timing. And soon, when we enter the hospital, I imagine I will be subjected to the delights of forced passivity at the hand of the midwives and doctors. “Wait here. Lay here. We’re taking your blood. Giving you a jab.”

Why will I submit myself to this? Because of new life. The new baby will join our family soon – once we were three, now we will be four. Astounding!

And far more profoundly, this is why Jesus subjected himself to the indignity of a trial, beatings and execution. He too submitted his will to the Father and accepted what came to him. All this so that he could defeat death and bring new life – his own resurrected life and new life for all of humanity who turn to him.

Sarah Dunlop is visiting Research Associate at Kings College London, and a visiting tutor at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. Her ground breaking qualitative research uses the visual to unearth spiritual beliefs and has resulted in exhibitions at the Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Boniface, Plymouth, King’s College, London, and Greenbelt Festival in 2011. She is the author of one book, Visualising Hope, published in 2008.


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