Good Friday: Suffering, Redemption, and Love

This year during the Lenten season, we are working our way through The Day The Revolution Began, the latest from N. T. Wright.  I believe this is especially timely, given where we currently are in America and in American evangelicalism.

If you’re just joining us now, you are coming in on the end of the movie.  For the past several weeks we have been coming around Wright’s big idea that something happened on Good Friday such that by 6 PM that evening, the world was a completely and totally different place than it had been a few hours later.  What happened on Good Friday was nothing short of the start of a revolution, even though it certainly did not look like it until a few days later, and we who are Christians get to be part of this revolution.  I will not stop to catch you up on this in any greater detail; you can go back and read the prior posts for yourself, they will be there for ever and ever or at least as long as there is an internet.

As we bring the plane in for a landing, I wanted to circle back to one idea that we have cruised past but which is crucial to everything we have looked at up to this point.  It is this:  When God acts to redeem his covenant people, he is doing it out of love.

This is missing in a lot of Western Christianity and evangelicalism in particular.  So much of it is about going to heaven when you die, and thus the “works contract” way of looking at things.  (I won’t stop to catch you up on this; you can go back and look at the prior posts.)  As Wright would say, we have Platonized our eschatology by substituting the notion of saved souls going to heaven for the new creation which is what the Bible actually offers, we have moralized our anthropology by substituting the notion of a qualifying moral examination for our actual human vocation as laid out in Scripture, with the result that we have paganized our soteriology by making God out to be an angry deity who kills Jesus to satisfy His wrath.

Of course this runs contrary to the deepest themes of the New Testament.  Not that God is not angered by human rebellion or the rebellion of his chosen people–far from it.  But there is a difference.  Pagan religion says that we have to try to pacify God or the gods ourselves.  Christianity according to the “works contract” way of looking at things says essentially the same thing, with the twist that we can’t do this and so Jesus steps in and takes the wrath of God in our place.  But the truth of the matter is that God himself is acting to redeem his people on his own, for his own sake, for the sake of the covenant he made with his people, and out of the unchanging, unshakeable love which he has for his people.  And not only is this divine love for Israel, it is divine love through Israel for the rest of the world.

Here we note how important the Christian idea of the Trinity is to all of this.  With the Trinity, it means that, as Jesus kept on saying to his closest followers, if you had seen him you had seen the Father.  And with the Trinity, when Jesus dies it is as if part of God dies as well.  This is worthy of pondering.

Thus Jesus and God are inextricably linked, so everything Jesus does to redeem humanity God does as well, through Jesus.  Thus when God acts, he acts on his own.  It is his initiative, his accomplishment.  It is his love.

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