Someone died for me today.
Because it is “Good Friday,” the day Christians remember the crucifixion of Christ, I know some of you may jump to the conclusion that I am talking about the idea that Jesus came to die because an angry “Father God” demanded the suffering of his ”only Son,” as some kind of weird blood sacrifice, otherwise God would throw the whole lot of us humans into a burning eternal hell – instead of only some of us.
I don’t believe that.
I’m talking about something a little different.
It has to do with the nature of the world and the force of evolving creation, and with mystery and connection in that cosmos. I think a kind of Love is at the essence of this, working itself out in things as a moving force in what we call history. This Love has a kind of presence and transcendent power that we all experience at times – or yearn for. It is this thing that I and people like me mean when they say, “God.”
“God” is not a puppet master
This force not a big old (angry) Man god in the sky, nor does it have some kind of magic wand of power. The creative energy that pushes and pulls forth the cosmos isn’t All Powerful and Instantaneous in the way we have been taught to think. It doesn’t have that kind of power. It doesn’t work in that kind of way, and its not that kind of God. Creation takes time, struggle, and risk. The force that animates it doesn’t just snap its fingers and make things so. It’s more messy than that – a lot more messy.
It means that, while God is present in Love, not everything that happens in our daily lives is “God’s plan.” Some of it is the necessary struggle of on-going creation. Some of it is “our plan” and not Love’s will. Lots of it seems to be what the powers-that-be like to call “collateral damage.”
It’s a Contradiction.
On the one hand:
In this life we sense things that seem simply too wonderful to be meaningless. Sometimes we are simply and suddenly caught up by the fact that we are alive and that something exists instead of nothing.
The sky is too beautiful. The baby is too amazing. There is something about the way the ocean moves, and the translucent color in the tip of a wave as it breaks. There is that first moment between a couple, or that moment after many years, when the only appropriate response is still, “Oh God!” There are sometimes the solitary moments of deep peace.
And especially, and always there are the faint tracings of the trails left by those who walked in Love long ago.
In all of these things and more we are overcome by awe and fearful wonder. This is a feeling that a Biblical writer once described as “the beginning of wisdom.”
On the other hand:
We experience suffering and loss, intense bondage and injustice, brokenness and death of every kind. We experience horror and anger and guilt. It often seems so frustrating and futile – like change can never come and like we are a people without any power or hope at all.
What is going on here? What kind of a world is this?
We should not be too surprised at these contradictions, except that a lot of our most popular theologies and philosophies, have left us unprepared put it into words. We need to listen to our own experience.
Our lives tell us that creation and love seem to require pain and profound risk. Ask the mother in labor if creative power is without pain. Ask the artist. Ask the animal dying as food for another.
The world is not a puppet show. Not every plan or event or accident is scripted. (Nor is that, on balance, what the ancient scriptures seem to teach). Even the best ideas about life and Love are more like the needle of a compass that points the way to a distant horizon, instead of a map telling you exactly how to get around that flooding river or the mountain beyond. Things could go badly.
On-going creation is a struggle to which we are invited
The battle against oppression and injustice is real. The struggle of life and creation is a working out of things. This is the story we are caught up in. And it happens in both a spaces too big and spaces too small for us to see or even to imagine. It happens in, and is affected by, our time, right now. But it also happens in a cosmic time beyond time. Dr. King called it a kind of direction or bend toward justice in the “arc of the universe.”
It is beyond full understanding, yet we can sense its direction. We hunger for it . We can hear a note or two of its music.
It is a painful, wonderful, risky and fearful process, especially because the God-force is not working by itself. It invites us into the process. It is working through us, and through all life and forms.
We are invited to become conscious participants in this work of Love. But, we can also abandon it, delay its work and sabotage it. We can live for the personal buzz only. We can join the forces of injustice and cold death themselves. We can turn our backs on universal Love and choose to serve only our tribe, our nation, or even our species as if it represented all that was good in life and was unconnected to anything else.
The future of Love’s process in some way depends on what we decide to do, and how we decide to live. Well then, “What does the Lord require?” The prophet Micah writes, “Do justice,” he writes, “Love mercy. Walk in humility – with “God.”
Is this even possible? How can we possibly be so empowered by Love that we can break free of our chains and participate in the process of creation in a positive way?
That’s what I ask myself. And, just when I’m about to despair, something like Good Friday and Easter rolls around again.
I remember that I, myself, have been loved.
We are not without hope and Love is not without its power. Someone has died for us.
If we believe nothing about Jesus except what his opponents wrote of him in multiple historical sources, then we know this: He was a Jew living under the crushing bondage of an empire, which ruled by greed, war, and the actions of various puppet kings and councils. We also know Jesus had followers and that he as found and arrested in Jerusalem during his tribe’s Passover celebration as they remember their deliverance from a previous oppressor. We also know he was arrested, tortured and executed in a way reserved for revolutionaries who challenged imperial rule, (like tens of thousands of others).
And we know this from the testimony of his followers and later history: He was warned that the authorities were intent on arresting him if he showed up in the city. He went anyway. He and his followers engaged in street and temple actions calling for liberation. During the Passover meal itself he sensed that one or more of the followers would betray him. He still stayed to teach and train and be with them anyway.
After his death, instead of being crushed as the empire expected, his followers actually grew and spread his words and actions throughout the empire. They spoke brutally of death, but also of a kind of resurrection powered by Love. In those first years they often seemed to lose every sense of class bondage and they shared what they had. Many followers suffered similar fates as he, but they kept on as if something was burning now that could not be extinguished by swords or crosses or personal affliction. And, as foolish as it sounded, they testified, and acted like they were still experiencing this Jesus as a living presence; as if they knew that history could change and that nothing could separate humankind from this kind of Love.
It was as if they had seen, in the vulnerability of God, a kind of God who was with us in the pain of creation, in the contradiction of life, as a kind of answer that involved human action in the direction of the universal Love that creation had loosed.
But as for me, I lose it a lot. I forget. I stumble. I sometimes feel helpless even with the help of family and friends.
But on a day like today, I remember.
I wonder of him as he faced arrest. I wonder of him in the last moments of his consciousness hanging on that crossed instrument of terror as he destroyed its power. Was he in some tiny way he thinking of someone in the future like me; like us, being given the strength to love in these dark times?
In a season like this, and against all reason, it sometimes feels that way.
Like what he did, (along with others), gives us power to do what we need to do. Like we’ve been given a gift. Like we’ve been given grace to start over again.
Like the light that shown in the darkness has never been completely snuffed.
Like someone loves us that much.
It feels personal.
Someone died for me today and it changes everything.
[Originally posted here, reprinted with permission]