Today is what is known as “Good Friday,” where a Jewish rabbi named Jesus from a backwater town died an ignominious death on a cross—an instrument of torture devised by the Romans—a death reserved only for criminals.
Why on earth would we call such a thing good?
If Jesus were merely one of the countless others who were executed by crucifixion by the Romans, we would call it sad or disproportionate or maybe some would call it justice. But not “good.” But he was not a criminal and this was in the plan of God “before the foundation of the world.” Jesus, the only person to have walked this earth who had literally done nothing wrong—ever—was executed to pay for the crimes we committed against God. The just dying for the unjust. The King dying for his subjects. The Faithful One dying for the faithless.
To many, this sounds terrible and unjust. You may be repulsed by the idea that an innocent man would die for the guilty. Or, you may reject the idea that you have broken God’s law at all and owe him anything. On that, I think we need only to scratch the surface to see that no one, in their heart of hearts, truly believes that. How can I make such a bold statement? Because we cannot deny our desperate thirst for justice. We don’t even try.
In this world, where injustice galls us on a daily basis, we relish any semblance of justice we see or experience. This is inescapable to humans. Furthermore, we feel guilt when we do something wrong (or unjust). All of us do. Why do we thirst for justice and also struggle with guilt? The only reasonable explanation, given our common experience of reality, is because there is a true standard of justice. And we have broken it.
If there is an objective standard of justice then, by definition, it is outside of and applies to all of us inside it. The universe cannot be the cause because the universe is not conscious and has no morality one way or another. Furthermore, if there is no uncaused First Cause (i.e., God), then there can be no “good” or “evil” at all, because there would be no standard on which to base it. Anything we would want to call “good” or “evil” would boil down to mere personal preferences. But we cannot tolerate such an idea. We know that there is real evil and injustice—and we want justice!
But what about you and me? Where does that leave us? Are we capable of living up to a standard of perfect justice? Have you ever lied? Stolen something? Betrayed someone? Was greedy and wanted someone else’s stuff? The standard of God is 100% perfection 100% of the time—in thought, word, and deed. Every time you violate this standard of God’s you rack up a larger and larger and larger debt. And you can never repay it, because if you think doing good can erase it, well, you should’ve done the good in the first place, so all that does is not accrue further debt. But even if you choose to reject God's standards and adopt your own, just remember, you can't even live up to those.
But why? Couldn’t God simply “forgive” the debt we all owe? Not if he is Just. Any just Judge gives appropriate sentences for crimes. God is perfectly Just because crimes do not go unpunished—but he is perfectly merciful because he gives us the mercy we don’t deserve after paying the price we could never pay.
We see the problem of evil and suffering in the world on a daily basis. We cannot escape it. It breaks our hearts and enrages us. Christianity is the only worldview that not only does not sweep this truth under the rug, but deals with it front and center from beginning to end.
If you ever read the Bible, you will see that that is inescapably woven throughout the entire text. The Bible begins with evil entering the world with man’s desire to be God and it ends with God eradicating all evil and living forever with those who love him.
Furthermore, God addresses the issue of suffering we all experience. With the ubiquity of evil, suffering is the result. Whether it is “natural evil,” such as earthquakes or tsunamis or “moral evil” caused by others, we all suffer.
What is God’s response to this? He joins us. And by joining us, he overcomes it. And by overcoming it, he has the ultimate triumph over evil by bringing good out of it. While suffering causes us untold pain, the reality that a positive good can come out of it is breathtaking to behold when one really thinks about it. Most of us are swallowed up in the midst of our suffering and are incapable of seeing outside of it—I know that has been my experience. But, while this won’t take away our pain in the midst of suffering, if we remind ourselves of this truth and make the effort to see the larger picture—that this is not the end of the story—it will help.
But what of the suffering—the passion—of Jesus of Nazareth just outside of Jerusalem on that Friday 2,000 years ago? Yes, he did it to pay the price we couldn’t pay. But what else? The Bible says that Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Joy.
And what happens next? We, who all our lives have felt less-than, guilty, even imposters, hoping no one would find out our true selves but desperately hoping they would—if only someone would love us! As it turns out, the one who knows us better than we know ourselves—the one who knows our motives are false even when we’ve deceived ourselves into thinking them true—the one who knows every terrible thing we’ve ever done or thought—He loves us. He rescued us. He accepts you. When we know this deep down, we can let go of our desperate need to make it all about us, attempting to manipulate or fool people into loving us. We are accepted and welcomed and loved for who we are, no longer rebels.
“We are warned that it may happen to anyone of us to appear at last before the face of God and hear only the appalling words, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me.’ We can be left utterly and absolutely outside – repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored.
“On the other hand, we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged. We walk every day on the razor edge between these two incredible possibilities. Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”
He acknowledges what we all feel and cannot hide from: our longing for love and acceptance and our feeling of desperation that that longing will never be fulfilled. He goes on to point out that “all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”