Why ‘Good’? The simple answer is that the crucifixion of Jesus reveals the truth about the world – and the truth sets us free. I believe that what is Good about Good Friday is that on this day above all God is revealed as a God of love, that with this God there is no place for fear of punishment. There are lots of theories that Christians debate about how we are to understand this (it’s technically called ‘the Atonement’) but I think CS Lewis put it best when he said: “We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself… ”
Good Friday is really the culmination of something that I have been trying to describe through my last half-dozen articles – it is the climax and inevitable conclusion of living in a Fallen world. That is, it is because of our sin and brokenness that someone who was innocent ends up getting lynched. What makes Jesus remarkable is that he recognises what is going on and doesn’t fight back. He recognises that what keeps the fallen system ticking over is the process of praise and blame, judgement and condemnation. As an innocent man Jesus had every right to retaliate against those who were accusing him, those who were beating him and flogging him. But he didn’t. Instead he forgave them. In other words, what Jesus was doing was breaking the cycle of violence and pointing out that we didn’t have to keep trudging around that path.
Righteous violence, after all, is what put him on the cross. It was the certainty of being righteous that gave each group of accusers their justification for putting Jesus to death. Whether that be the Romans, the religious authorities, the crowd or even the friend who betrayed him, there was always some more or less expedient rationale that could be deployed to make sense of doing something wrong. That is still the world that we live in. In effect, what happens on the cross is that judgement itself is judged, condemnation itself is condemned. The cross is the declaration that God is not on the side of those doing the denouncing, rather God is the one who is being denounced, the one who has offended the political authorities and the religious authorities and disappointed the expectations of the crowd and his friends.
When Christians talk about the cross – which is so central to our faith – this is what we are conscious of. Our own failures and brokenness, all the ways in which we have fallen short of God’s intentions for us. Yet the thing is – it is level ground at the foot of cross. That is, we are all in the same boat; as St Paul puts it, ‘We are none of us righteous, no, not one’. To come to the foot of the cross is, for the Christian, simply to recognise our own fallen nature, to see the consequences of that fallen nature, but also to recognise that God has taken those consequences onto himself, and that if we acknowledge this truth and let go of the compulsions and fears that lead us to judge and condemn each other – then we need have no fear of condemnation and judgement ourselves. This is the secret at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’. We just stand at the foot of the cross, not asserting our own goodness, but recognising the fate of goodness in our Fallen world.
Of course, if this was the end of the story, it would mean that the fallen world was all that there is – and that really wouldn’t be Good. But I don’t want to spoil the end of the story for those who don’t know it… I’ll say something about that in my next article.