I won’t be making it to a Good Friday service this year, but I’m thinking a lot about what this day means. It’s a weird day if you’re a Jesus follower who doesn’t believe in what theologians call “penal substitutionary atonement.” In more normal terms, that’s the belief that the reason Jesus died on the cross is because God was angry at us for being sinners, and someone had to die for it, but instead of killing us and killing us forever, or damning us all to hell, God sent Jesus, God’s only Son, to die in our place as a sort of proxy stand-in recipient of God’s wrath, so that we could be forgiven and live forever with God. I don’t believe in this, because, to paraphrase Brian MacLaren, I believe in reading all of the Bible and in fact approaching God Himself, through the lens of Jesus. And in Jesus I do not come to know an angry God who demanded blood to satisfy his rage.
Instead, in Jesus, I find God in all of God’s glory, humbled and serving, loving and kind. This Jesus was all Goodness, all Love. This Jesus came to show us how to live a God-oriented kind of life, one characterized by caring for and loving others, by participating in wholeness and healing, by working to make everything work in the loving, whole way God designed the universe to work. And our sin, the part of us that resists this Love and this plan, made us respond by killing God Himself. Basically, our sin made us so full of violence and hatred, we were willing to kill God Himself, and in order to demonstrate the true nature of Love, God let us. In Jesus’ willing death on the cross, we see the true, self-giving, self-sacrificing, anti-violent, anti-hatred depth of Love. And God is Love. It is the power of this Love that conquers sin and violence and death. It is this love that forgives and redeems. It is this love that is now and forever making all things new.
So no, I don’t believe in a common narrative of what makes this Friday Good. I don’t believe it was God who needed blood that day or any other. It was us. And still God took that sin and used it for Good, to show us what Love is like, and that Love is stronger than everything else.
A friend shared this quote on twitter a while back, and I just have to share it because reading it made me say YES, THIS.
“Jesus did not die because God had an anger problem and needed to be appeased. God does not change; as He is about reconciliation now, so He always has been about reconciliation. No, Jesus died to take on the effects of our malice, rivalry and self-centredness and reflect them back at us in all their undisguised ugliness. He died because it was the only way to expose the inescapable fact that the wages of sin is death.
In short, God did not have an anger problem; we had a violence problem.” –Rob Grayson, The Powers Exposed
That is why this Friday is Good. Because God is Good. God can even take our most violent, bloody ways and use them to show us just how much we are loved, just how much God would sacrifice for us: everything.
*Image above, The Granite Cross, by Tobias Lindman, via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.