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What is Good Friday?

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I always struggled with the concept of an omniscient, infallible, omnipotent God that demanded penance from His creations for being exactly how He created them to be:

* Being omnipotent, He has the power to create whatever He wants (i.e., sinners, Jesus).
* Being infallible, His creations are exactly as intended (i.e., God evidently wants sinners to exist or He wouldn't create them).
* Being omniscient, He knows in advance how things will turn out. Always.

Thus, the "sacrifice" of Jesus makes no sense, at least beyond sadism.

(And the Book of Job? Methinks that God has serious issues...)

LexHumana in reply to Heimdall

These are excellent points to discuss, and I would posit that a possible pathway to an answer lies in recognizing that part of the creation is the inclusion of true "free will" that is not directed by the Creator (although your choices are already known to the Creator). I would also suggest that there are some incorrect underlying assumptions that should be re-examined. For example, is it accurate to say that the Creator "demands" a "penance" from the created?
Assuming that all creations are initially made "perfect" (in a spiritual sense), then the subsequent degradation of those creations is through their own voluntary choices, and it is this track record of bad choices that is effectively the nature of "sin". Thus, "sin" is not itself a creation of the Creator, but rather an example of something WE create ourselves WITHIN ourselves. It is this "sin" that requires atonement, not necessarily because the Creator demands it, but that it creates a sense of separation and anomie from the Creator that can only be reconciled by a voluntary "I'm sorry" from the created. However, as all of us who have experienced it firsthand with a family member can attest, sometimes an "I'm sorry" is woefully insufficient to make up for the magnitude of the transgression. In such a case, it requires something more -- and in the Christian theology, that "something more" was a voluntary act by a third party (Jesus).
In regard to the "omniscient" aspect of the Creator, the confusion largely stems from the unwritten assumption that the Creator's knowledge must somehow be similar in character to our own way of "knowing" things. We are temporal, linear creatures -- we experience time as a one-way flow, with a past, a present, and a future. When we think of the concept of "knowing the future", we experience that as a form of predestination, but that sense is only because we are experiencing life as a one-way street, with only one possible direction to go.
If the Creator is truly omnipotent and infinite, then in fact the Creator is not constrained by this linear concept of time the way we are -- in fact, ANY concept of time would be a form of constraint, therefore the Creator must be something that is separate from and outside of the concept of time itself. If the Creator is outside of time, then there is no such thing as a past, present, or future -- it all simply becomes a form of "that which is". The Creator is omniscient because everything that (to us) forms a past, present or future, simply IS to the Creator. Everything that will happen has already happened, and everything that has already happened will happen (and in fact, is happening right at that moment, and will continue to happen "forever"). We can only experience this in snippets that occur in a particular order. This is a mind-boggling concept that we, as linear creatures, can't really conceptualize well and are even more difficult to describe in words.
Again, this was the stuff of a lot of great late-night wine drinking back as an undergrad. I really am starting to get nostalgic.

Heimdall in reply to LexHumana

I would argue that any "free will" one might think one possesses is entirely illusory/non-existant, IF such a person was created by an infallible, omnipotent deity that knew a priori what that person would "choose" to do.
To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, "I do know think 'free will' means what you think it means." It doesn't mean that you actually choose anything, it means that you were created to FEEL as if you were actually choosing things, but the real outcome was known in advance all along (i.e., not much of a choice, really).
Similarly, if a creator "knows" things in a way that differs materially than the way humans "know" things, the word "know" becomes materially disconnected from the commonly understood underlying meaning. Once we start redefining words, all bets are off...
Ultimately, it sounds like you're describing: God == Universe. Which I can respect. And Universe/God exists in ways we don't comprehend (e.g., non-linear, "that which is", etc.), which is indeed mind-boggling.
I just wouldn't describe such a "being" as "omniscient", from the perspective that we don't know if God/Universe is even sentient (in the way we would understand "sentient", I guess?)
I mean, we're "created" in a metaphorical sense that we are all "children" of Universe/God in so much as we are composed of the very Substance of God/Universe (i.e., our atoms aggregating on upward through our consciousness). But it's not like some supernatural entity with too much time on its hands set out to intentionally create a creature called Job and then "test" him...
If we can 86 omniscience (implies sentience), infallibility (implies intent, which implies sentience), that leaves omnipotence. Depending on if we define it to mean "can do things that can be done within the Universe/God", it's somewhat tautological, but I'm on board.
Hey, could you pass the bong?

LexHumana in reply to Heimdall

"Once we start redefining words, all bets are off."
True enough, although I don't view this as redefining words, as much as recognizing that our human characteristics and the vocabulary we have created to describe those characteristics is simply inapposite and inadequate to describe "God".
I view this much in the same way I view quantum mechanics. Heisenberg described it beautifully, saying "Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think." (Werner Heisenberg, "Across the Frontiers"). In other words, our ability to describe the universe is restricted by the bounded limits of our language and thought process. Put another way "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." (Heisenberg, "Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science").
Similarly, the concept of God is something that humans have struggled to explain and define in the context of a human being's limited bounded abilities. We created the word "omnipotent" to describe something "all powerful" from a human perspective, but since our own power is bounded within physical limits, our notion of "all powerful" tends to start from "us" and we simply keep adding more powers and abilities to what we would view as a super-human, and not as God. Similarly, we created the word "infinite" to describe something... well... INFINITE, which is a concept that we as bounded, temporal creatures cannot really conceptualize except as a long extended line of time stretching forward and backward with no end. But "infinite" and "outside the bounds of time" are not exactly the same thing, and the second concept is even more impossible to adequately comprehend than the idea of "infinite".
In a sense, our striving to describe a God starts from a faulty premise -- that God is somehow constructed in our image (just bigger, stronger, and smarter), instead of the other way around. This is why we struggle adapting the concept to fit within the limits of our own language and comprehension.
In quantum mechanics, the smallest elementary particles are not "real" in the sense we would understand; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts, and are describable not as physical objects in the ordinary sense, but are akin to Platonic forms -- ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language (another quote from Heisenberg).
We should view the concept of God in a similar way. We are attempting to describe something for which our language is inadequate, therefore we must explain it with the equivalent of images and parables.


I personally like the theory that Good Friday was a new form of pesach (Passover or pascal) sacrifice, instituting a new covenant with God, as opposed to the old covenant with Israel. This combines elements of the three ideas mentioned in the article: an atonement sacrifice to be offered that would otherwise be beyond the human race's capabilities, an act of supreme love by the individual (Jesus), and the exclamation point on the creation of a new law in replacement of the old law (the old law attempts to destroy Jesus, but is instead destroyed itself and replaced upon the Resurrection). The events spanning from Holy Thursday (the Last Supper) through Good Friday (the Crucifixion) and into Easter Sunday (the Resurrection) are all separate elements of the same continuous event, and can only be understood in relation to one another. If you try to grasp Good Friday all on its own, it won't make any sense.


Christians should agree with all three approaches. Through sin, mankind has been unable to live life in the perfect way that God (and we should) want us to. As a righteous God, God cannot be loving and still allow the hurt caused by the terrible things people do to go without punishment. Jesus, the Son of God, demonstrates unimaginable love by taking the punishment in our place (idea 2), allowing us to be right with God and therefore set free from sin and God's punishment (idea 1). This provides an example to love each other, since God loved us when deserved punishment (idea 3). Perfect justice and perfect love means that people do not have to suffer if they accept what Christ has done in our place. If one takes only idea 3, the natural question is "why would Jesus have to die"? Ideas 1 and 2 give the answer.


Interestingly Jesus disappeared (ascended to heaven) after the resurrection.
Our sins continue to multiply particularly in Middle East where Jesus
was born and preached. His second coming is eagerly awaited for
another redemption. American evangelists believe he will come
when Palestine will be controlled by the Jews. Mr. Trump can help.
He needs redemption too.


Out with the old paradigm of a world ruled by power, through the fear of death, to a new paradigm of an eternal world, ruled by love. The spirit of Christ survives in his body, the church.


Whether the event actually happened at all is uncertain, and the Gospels give varying accounts of what happened.So we have an event about which we do not know what occurred, and a whole slew of different interpretations of what this supposed event means.
As people in the Western Wold get better educated, so their interest in such mythic events is declining quite rapidly.I believe about 2% of people in the U.K will be going to church over Easter,and that probably sums up best the relevance of the whole story in today's world.

llora in reply to nickcox

The world is much bigger than UK. UK is declining in everything - they abandoned their empire, their colonies, world influence, EU, their economy is declining, they are declining in Champions League, ... Are people still getting better educated in UK? Is it a developing country? Which other countries are still retaining the myths of kings and queens? Russia can even come there and kill anybody they want.


For St Paul the heart of the matter was original sin. No human could re-enter paradise until this sin was forgiven. Only a human could atone for the sin, but no mortal human was capable of making the necessary sacrifice.


Your catalog of interpretations of Good Friday missed an ancient and powerful one: that we are redeemed by God's great act of total solidarity with the human race, that our God joined our human family. Simple, really: God became one of us. Scandalous, unimaginable, impossible really to explain. But really becoming man, as opposed to just playing at it means not just being born and living a human life, but also suffering what all humans must suffer: death. An unjust and brutal death is also living out solidarity with all who suffer injustice and brutality. St. Athanasius, the great Theologian of this assumptionist soteriology argued that Christ had to be totally human, because any part of humanity "left out" would not have been saved: "What [of humanity] is not assumed [into Christ's divinity] is not saved." Good Friday's meaning is that our God took up, experienced, and lived out as a human being despair, alienation from God, and death, and thereby saved even the darkest parts of being human. As G.K Chesterton provocatively said about Good Friday, "For a moment, God seemed to become an atheist." How's that for God really joining the human race?

H. Ventis

In a world where death inevitably reigns, the Incarnation of God would have been quite incomplete without God sharing the human predicament to its ultimate consequences, which is emotional & physical pain and ultimately, death. With his incarnation, God proved capable and willing to forfeit power in order to meet humankind on our own, feeble level. With his subsequent resurrection from death, he proved to be not just man but God, i.e. capable of overcoming the deadly physical laws to which he subjected himself when he became human. thereby leading the way for the eventual resurrection of those who believe in him.


Their savior died but Christians call it Good Friday. Shouldn't it be called Sad Friday? What's the deal with that?

There is no early first century physical evidence or documentary evidence to prove that Jesus even existed. The Gospels weren't written until the late first century and early second century.

So how then did Christianity start? A book entitled "The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God?" provides an excellent analysis of the similarities between early Christianity and religions such as Osiris-Dionysus and Mithraism. The parallels include the virgin birth, dying and rising again in three days, and even the ritual meal of bread and wine. The book asserts that Christianity was a Judaized version of the pagan mystery religions started by Hellenized Jews. Early Christians, such as Justin Martyr were aware of these parallels. They claimed that the other religions were "diabolical mimicry", and were started centuries earlier by Satan to distract Christian believers in the future.

llora in reply to BeamMeUp

So have you seen physical evidence or documentary evidence of Osiris-Dionysus and Mithraism? You read one book and you are ready to cast aside 2000 years of history. Have you even read the works of the Fathers of the church? You really need beaming up dude!


Isn't Good Friday the 2nd day of the baseball season?
Can a good Catholic eat a hot dog while watching a game today?
This is usually where I put the link to Peanuts & Crackerjacks, the Federal Reserve's game where one answers economic questions to earn singles, doubles, triples, and home runs.
Or an out if the answer is wrong.
I searched but it is no longer online.


A great piece.
"Penal substitution" is an incredibly backwards and dangerous conception of justice. It is truly unfortunate that it is held by such a politically influential religious minority in the USA. Taken outside of the specific context of Christ, it holds that the overwhelming need of all crimes to be punished can even be satisfied by punishing the innocent. It is no coincidence that the USA's evangelical community is eager to apologize for the USA's exceptionally high incarceration rate and for police shootings.
The Christus Victor theory of atonement is not only less toxic to society, it is also far more interesting. I'd like Mel Gibson to make a sequel to the "Passion of Christ" in which Christ faces off against Satan in Hell and liberates the souls of the damned.

WT Economist

Penal substitution is what you hear as a Catholic, but it is hard to square with the story.
Jesus is killed as a result of a host of human weaknesses: self-interested politics (the Sanhedrin and Pilate), the desire to fit in with the crowd (those who hailed him and then shouted "crucify him" a few days later), the desire to be important - or get a little money (Judas), the desire to save one's own skin (Peter).
And Jesus is part God in nature on the earth. So the worst of human nature causes them to, in effect, try to kill God. How can that make God say, OK, humans aren't so bad, I forgive them?
I would say that the crucifixion is God's way of forcing people to see and admit their dark side, with no excuses. In the Palm Sunday retelling of the story, different people read different parts. It is the parishioners in the pews who shout "crucify him!"


Thank you very very much, B.C., for this piece. It almost reads like a labor of love. It is very very nice indeed.
The cynical me (cynical about the hypocrisy of many self-claimed "Christians" and self-anointed "spokespersons" for all 3 parts in the Holy Trinity - Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost) simply see Good Friday as the one day in the year when this sort of "Christians" make the most fuss about their holy status as the "best" of all humans, the remaining 364 days (365 in a leap year) don't count. But of course not all Christians are like that. American Evangelists seem to represent a disproportionately big portion of them - gay-hating, foreigners-hating, poor-hating, elite-hating (they call anyone who think and feel like a normal person an abominable "elite"), anyone-different-hating.... though gun-loving, lying-loving, adultery-loving... Very strange folks by my way of thinking. I think Jesus suffered in vain.
And of course this is also the one day in the year when a leg of lamb goes on sale, reduced from $9.99/lb to $7.99/lb. Mint jelly 20% off.