“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Today billions of Christians throughout the world are commemorating the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Christ Jesus, the prophesied Messiah came not as a warrior of politics, but of love. As an atheist, Good Friday was a hard concept for me to understand. As I get older, I grow in its meaning. At first, it seems like a bunch of superstition. Christians worship a man who died on a Cross – big deal, right? What is so important about this?
Many Catholic parishes and other Protestant sects have processions reenacting the Stations of the Cross or “Via Crucis” as it is called in Latin. These are the events that took place as Jesus carried the Cross eventually meeting death at Golgotha. Christians and Popes have described this act as an “act of love.” How is carrying a wooden cross in a humiliating and painful way eventually leading to death be an “act of love?” Why would God use this to redeem the world? Is God crazy or a masochist? Any true atheist or skeptic curious about the Christian faith would ask these and more. Death entered the world due to the sin of Adam and Eve (Romans 5:14). It is via death that Christ brings life and grace to all (Hebrews 2:5-18).
Love Hurts Badly
Love hurts most of the time. How many times have we had a lover who we tried to impress with flowers, chocolates, looks and what not only for it to go sour later on? Love is so good but can be bad, we often think. Love hurts. We give so much to a person and that person may not give as much back; if anything at all. John 3:16 is often quoted and is perhaps the most quoted passage from the Bible. It says to the effect that God loves the world so much that He sent His only son.
A God who Loves Humanity Literally To Death
God sent His son Jesus for all of humanity. This is the greatest love of all (John 15:13). This act makes no sense to those who are limited in reasoning.
For Christ to lay down His life for all of us shows the extent to which God will go through in order to show that He seriously loves each one of us. Jesus is willing to go “through hell,” so to speak, in order to show that we are loved and never abandoned. This spoke volumes to me as an atheist. Other gods or conceptions of gods that man has used to define the one reality of God present these beings as egoistic, limited and unconcerned with the affairs of men. In many instances, people were sacrificed to these conceptual gods. With Jesus, He becomes the sacrifice for man recalling how Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac his son after getting the command from God (Genesis 22). Even philosopher Kierkegaard regarded this command and act as a “suspension of the ethical” in his “Fear and Trembling” writing. Abraham was about to do this act out of love and faith. Naturally, God was not going to allow him to kill his only son. He was merely testing him to show that Abraham was not tainted by the rituals of paganism in his time which called for human sacrifices. This story is also a foreshadowing of God sending His own Son to be the sacrificial lamb. It is a preparation for love personified in the person of Christ giving His life for all of us.
We know Jesus was betrayed by Judas with a kiss. A kiss is most likely the universal symbol for love and affection. We use this physical symbol to show love to our parents, other relatives, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands/wives, and even people we have just met. It is a simple gesture that is quick and sends the message that we are close to the recipient. The kiss of Judas has an interesting context here. It is a kiss of betrayal and hypocrisy. Here we see two kinds of love presented: genuine agape love and selfish love. Jesus is giving His life for all, including Judas. Judas is giving “love” via a kiss but only for his own ulterior motives which are 30 pieces of silver.
In today’s world, we see so many broken relationships. Love is given conditions in order to function in society. Many of us look for looks instead of hearts. Our partners have to look a certain way, act a certain way, or have a certain amount in order for us to consider even meeting or dating. It has gone even more bizarre with the promotion of same-sex unions which completely negates the psychological and biological function of courtship in the natural world. Love is being twisted to serve the self instead of others. This is what I call the “Judas effect.” Today we often love in order to get something in return. Love becomes a stock-bond which we gamble to see what we gain and what losses we cut. Marriages dissolve because of financial reasons or changes in personal desires – again selfish motives. Calls for “marriage equality” are pushed down our throats in the name of love that cannot give of itself via reproduction and that promotes unions only for the sake of seeking rights to a partner’s assets – again selfish motives. It is no wonder why so many couples break up and so many marriages go down the path of divorce and why love and marriage have become a circus for the egotistical. Our society has lost the love Christ preached and presented today on Good Friday over 2,000 years ago.
Christ gave Himself for us without condition. He died for each one of us as we are. Jesus did not care how we looked, what we had, who we associate with or who we are deep down. Jesus died on the Cross because we are part of God’s family and He loves us. He is our brother and God the Father is our Father. Good Friday should remind us of this. We should not go to Good Friday liturgies and just go through the routines of the rites without absorbing their meanings. The events of today have so much wisdom for us to grow as human beings, not only in grace and spiritually, but also psychologically and socially with one another.
Jesus is the “just man” foreshadowed by Plato in his Republic (Book 2, 361e, 362a), “…the just man will have to endure the lash, the rack, chains, the branding-iron in his eyes, and finally, after every extremity of suffering, he will be crucified.” He is the model for all humanity to follow. We all want love and want to love. Jesus is the only one who can show us how through His Word and example. God is indeed love (1 John 4:8). We are all called to carry our own Cross and suffer (Luke 9:23). Today we hear of Christians being martyred by ISIS and other terrorist groups who claim to be followers of God. Just recently, over 140 Christian students were massacred in Kenya. These events sound scary, but these martyrs are now with Christ. Their suffering and deaths were not in vain (1 Peter 5:10). They did not fear those who kill the body, but the one who can destroy the soul (Matthew 10:28). We too may be called to die for Christ. Our life is in Christ and even if we lose our physical lives here on Earth, we gain our true life with God (Philippians 1:21).
Suffering is the ultimate challenge an organism can face. This sensation which is body physical and psychological makes us stronger (Romans 5:3-5). It conditions us to prepare for anything. I am sure as a child you were told not to touch a hot stove but did it anyway. The sensation of pain from the hot stove connected to your memory in such a way that you will never touch a hot stove again. Suffering “wakes us up,” so to speak. By suffering, we realize our role in this world. We are not gods, nor immortal. Suffering reminds us of this. Many times, suffering may cause doubt. We begin to think that God has abandoned or is a cold hearted absentee landlord. This is far from the truth. When we suffer we should rejoice. I know this may sound crazy, especially to atheists, but there is truth to this statement. When God allows us to suffer, this should tell us that God knows we will not break under pressure (James 1:2-4).
God knows that we are able to handle this suffer and will not allow us to suffer anything we cannot handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we suffer, we share in the suffering of Christ on the cross (1 Peter 4:12-19). This is why you probably hear so many times the “Catholic mantra” of “offer it up.” Our suffering may seem like a lot. It may hurt physically, emotionally and psychologically, but it is nothing compared to the great joy we will experience when we are one with God (Romans 8:18). We all have to suffer, there is no way around this (Luke 14:27, 2 Timothy 3:12). This is because Satan and the blinds he has over this world cause hostility between humanity and God, but our war is really against this evil being (Ephesians 6:12). We should not be discouraged. Suffering will come once we begin to follow Christ. This suffering prepares us for God by removing the impurities in our lives so that we can be beautiful pieces of precious metals (1 Peter 1:7, Zechariah 13:9). God will accompany us as we join Jesus carrying the cross (Isaiah 43:2). We cannot reach Easter Sunday or the Resurrection without first going through the Agony in the Garden, and Good Friday.