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Good Friday                 . . .      Why the sorrow?

March 2005

Better to toss the sackcloth and ashes, and rejoice on Good Friday.
This week we celebrate "Good Friday", the ultimate day of mourning on the Christian calendar.  Most religions have a day of mourning on their ecclesiastical calendar.  As in the Christian case, they usually memorialize a struggle or death by the religion's hero-figure, and at the same time give an opportunity for the followers to commiserate over their own sins, and to express what miserable and unworthy worms they are, compared to the glory of their saint.

Good Friday is just such a day for Christians. It memorializes the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the putative Son of God, around the year 30 CE.  On this day Catholics go to church to hear solemn chants and recitations by priests who, on this day, may only wear black.  Protestants, who are only slightly less exercised about Good Friday, also sing somber hymns about blood and death.  On this day, Christians all around the world suffer with the suffering Jesus, wailing about the love of God that offered His only begotten Son to be sacrificed for our sins and unworthiness.

This must not have been an easy decision for God. (This is a good spot to clarify that by "God" we mean "Jehovah" or "Yahweh", the Israelitic tribal god of the Jewish Bible – the "Old Testament" – who is barely recognizable today as the Christians' "God the Father".) Since the days of Abraham, God's policy had been to require regular expiation of sin from his people.  If they had sinned, or were planning to sin, this would be made right by offering God blood.  Usually not their own blood, a (sinless) goat kid or lamb or calf would normally do.  But God let them know that it had to be blood.  He wanted to see blood.  We recall that Abraham was not particularly surprised when God told him to kill his son Isaac for Him.  But then it turned out He was only kidding and He stopped Abraham in mid-stab, a second before the killing.  The effort counted as the sacrifice, and presumably cleansed both Abraham and his kin of their recent sins.

One may wonder – and here original documentation would be helpful – about the debate in Heaven that led to the decision to require God's people to kill animals in order to please Him.  Of course our wondering is fruitless, but it seems not unlikely that someone, perhaps the Son or an archangel, may have expressed doubts about the nexus between killing animals, justifying sins, and mollifying the angry Jehovah.  It may also seem a bit odd that Jehovah – the true God – should choose the same mollification procedure as all the other tribal gods (the false gods) had chosen: the offering of animal blood; but ours is not to question that. God the Father works on a whole different level of wisdom, and many things that make little sense to lesser beings like mortal man, are beautifully and necessarily connected in His mind.

But after several thousand years of such bloody gifts, God apparently decided to change His method.  Perhaps He thought, in His inimitable way:  "Enough of this quadruped blood. Now let's just have one giant final bloody sacrifice to please Me, and I'll use that to forgive everybody from now on."  And here the divine reasoning gets a little fuzzy for us mortals:  He wants a rrreally big sacrifice, so an animal wouldn't do.  Even a human being wouldn't do.  One can imagine He then thought of sacrificing an angel, but even that was inadequately fine blood (it has actually not yet been theologically determined whether angels have blood).  There was then only one possibility left for the ultimate blood sacrifice, namely a part of God Himself (though it has been determined that God is bloodless in His natural state).  At this point it was convenient that God comes apart into three apparitions (this is where He becomes the Christian trinitarian God), because it meant that one apparition could be sent to Earth, posing as a man with actual blood, to be sacrificed to Himself, while the Others took care of business in Heaven.

Again we don't have a first-hand account, but we can imagine that some heavenly being with a lesser level of understanding might have puzzled aloud over the meaning of God sacrificing a part of Himself to Himself.  The traditional sacrifices of goats and lambs were after all offers of property that the sinner owned:  When he sacrificed a goat it was a real sacrifice;  he no longer had the goat.  But sacrificing a part of God ...?  Who is sacrificing what to whom here?  We can't know how such a heavenly gadfly might have been instructed in his/her/its error, but we can be pretty sure correction was forthcoming.  In any case, the mystery of God sacrificing Himself to Himself, and thereby rescuing His own creatures from His own wrath and sentence of eternal damnation, is perfectly understood by God but is naturally hidden from mere mortals.

But here we are on Good Friday.  And we're mourning.  But should we be?  Wasn't the crucifixion God's very act of redemption?  Wasn't the salvation of millennia of believers assured at that moment?  Isn't "Good" Friday actually a good and joyful day?  It must be, if we understand the basics of God's plan:  He got a part of Himself killed to satisfy His own demand for a blood sacrifice to expiate all of mankind's sins against Him and assuage His infinite anger.  And therefore He doesn't have to torture us by burning in everlasting hellfire.  That's the message of Good Friday, and it's a message of joy and gladness.

© 2005 H. Paul Lillebo

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