Today is Good Friday. Many Christians, perhaps most Christians, lose sight of the very obvious misnomer of the day. To people who are not Christians and are unfamiliar with the Christian story, it seems very confusing to call a day “good” that centers around the torturous execution of a good man. You may not have many friends in your life anymore who are not Christians (which isn’t a goal to shoot for, really), but if you are a parent, you can pick up on this from the little pagans that live in your home. Several times, I’ve had to look at my children’s confused faces as I explained that, yes, Jesus is good, and yes, it is sad that he dies, and yes, we’re still calling this Good Friday.
The Cross is the centrally beautiful thing about Christianity and remains a bit shocking, if you take the time to stare at it. It is also a moment of faith as we try to understand all we believe about what’s happening there but ultimately cannot fully comprehend. The Cross is not merely a place for your intellect, but your heart.
Perhaps one of the more difficult things to understand about the Cross is how Christians have so often surrounded it with the language of “wrath,” and yet still come away with ideas of God and His goodness. It is increasingly common, even amongst Christians, to scoff at this “wrath” idea and pretend like some nasty old theologians introduced this idea a few minutes ago because they were generally just miserable people who needed everyone else, including God, to be a bit miserable as well.
But of course, the idea that the Cross is where we find God’s wrath and love joined together has been around for a long, long time and seems quite apparent in the Scriptures as well. Paul’s question about how God must be “both just and justifier” (in Romans 3) is tied up in this idea. Of course, we take the language of wrath today and make it about a hissy fit in which God needs to kick something or is like some demon-monster that needs to be appeased by blood.
Neither of these, I’d suggest, is what we’re talking about on Good Friday. We are, in fact, talking about a Good Father on Good Friday. And a wrathful Father is precisely what we’re hungering for these days.
Cast your mind back on the #MarchForOurLives demonstrators. They are working for a better world, longing for peace, which is commendable even if you don’t want anyone touching the 2nd Amendment. The kids who are so forceful in this movement (and please remember that, as much as you may think of them as puppets of adults that you disagree with, they are in fact children), were launched into action by the violent loss of their classmates. They are dealing with a world torn apart by what we Christians call “sin,” this horrible, destructive force that tears people apart within and without. What they are hungering for is a justice that will make right the death of so many innocents. And yet even if all the guns were melted down and all the jail sentences were rightly administered, something in them would still be hungry. Violence was done and life has been extinguished. All the pushing and changing in the world will not fill their appetite for justice. Infinite justice.
A justice only found in a just God.
Wrath is not God losing control. Wrath is the love of God set in angry opposition to the destruction of the world, the people that he made. If God was not wrathful towards this terrible, destructive evil in the world, we would rightly wonder if he loved us at all.
His anger tells us that he does.
The Cross is the intersection of his anger and his mercy. God wants to obliterate the thing that ravages his children and yet he does not want us, conspirators with that darkness, to also be obliterated. So the Cross is the place where he can be infinitely just in a way that we long for and infinitely merciful in a way that we need if we’re ever going to survive into a world that is as beautiful as we crave.
When Jesus spreads his arms on the cross, he embraces the forces of darkness that assail us from without and from within and he collapses into the grave with them held tightly to his chest. On the Cross, the Father and the Son and the Spirit fulfilled their eternal plan to undo what unmade the world.
I am not afraid to say that it was wrath that raised the Cross. It does not mean that God is twisted or mean or bloodthirsty. It is the wrath of a Father who hates what is killing his child, the desperate violence of a mother bear who must protect her cubs. That wrath is the mark of a love stronger than death that cannot stand the sight of the Beloved Ones choosing to die.
When God let his enemies extend their swords into his side, he disarmed them, taking their weapons forever. He crushed what ever only oppressed.
Somehow, miraculously, mysteriously, at the Cross, something happened that was what I always feared and what I’ve always craved. Somehow, at that place of violent execution, what happened to one man, 2000 years ago, has something very much to do with me. Something violent and terrible and wrathful and dark and bloody. A loss, a defeat, a conquest.
And yet, on Friday, somehow what happened was Good. So deeply and purely and brilliantly good.
All our fears resolved. All our hopes surpassed.
It was and will be forever Good Friday.
“God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8