Good Friday – what’s good about it?

10 April 2009

Over-to-you  BBC Radio Humberside  10th April 2009

zurbaran-crucifixionI suspect like many children and probably quite a few adults I was always confused about Good Friday – what was ‘good’ about it?  It is the day in the year when we mark the story of Jesus who, having been betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested, tried before the ruling powers and condemned to death by the Roman governor, is nailed a cross an left to die in agony.  How can this possible be called ‘good’?

Well, the explanation for why it is called ‘good’ is either that it became known as ‘God’s Friday’ which through usage ended up as ‘Good Friday’, rather like our phrase ‘Goodbye’ has its origin in the phrase ‘God be with you’, or the alternative explanation that it was called ‘Good Friday’ because it is the day on which we remember the powers of Goodness triumphing over the powers of evil.  Either way, the significance of the day is to remember the suffering and death of a young man who offered a new and fresh way of knowing and understanding God.  In churches around the world there will be services to mark the event of Jesus’ death and its meaning.

That battle between good and evil was understood as a very real and spiritual battle in the time of Jesus.  Down the ages and still today for many that spiritual battle rages on – to Christians the victory in that battle was won by Jesus through his death and resurrection, but we are still engaged in ‘mopping up’ operations as units of evil refuse to accept their ultimate defeat.

In our modern world such imagery has less and less hold on our culture.  But we are still very alive to evil and will quickly adopt the phrase to describe those whose acts and behaviour we find unacceptable or which we cannot understand.

Trying to understand evil has been the subject of much philosophy, theology and psychology, but in the end it is a difficult concept to capture.  At its simplest,  evil is the consequence of excluding God – in which case there is a lot of potential for evil around.  Whilst in a more complex analysis, the term evil is adopted to justify the punishment of wrong doers and I think that’s why it is quickly adopted as a term by the tabloid press to describe criminals, even young children, as though the use of this word can capture the complexity of those who resort to violence and perversion.

The reality of evil is however all around us, as we encounter the ways in which human flourishing is undermined by violence, abuse and poverty. Whilst we may use all the force of the law to curb evil, Good Friday reminds us that the only way to overcome evil is for goodness to prevail.  In the face of evil we all need to become do-gooders, lest we become part of the problem ourselves.