Last year at this time, I sat in a darkened room at my church during our Good Friday service. That setting helped to play a role in one of my most theologically challenging times of the past few years. I was struggling with church issues and friendship issues, all the while trying to figure out where God was in all of this. I sat in this room, oftentimes alone, just waiting; I was waiting for God to show up.
At the time, I was reading a book called Fire by Night by Pastor Melissa Florer-Bixler. One chapter stuck out to me that night, and it was titled God of Darkness. I know that sounds like a rather ominous title, if not dangerously close to heretical, but let me quote it here to give you an idea of what we’re talking about. She says: “If you have kept awake in the dark, then you know how different the world becomes, how the world at night is both strange and familiar at the same time… God puts out the lights to keep us safe ‘because we are never more in danger of stumbling when we think we know where we are going.’ On when there are no more maps, no more compasses, no more lights to direct the way, are we fully vulnerable before God.”
Good Friday is about darkness. It is when God seems to be farthest away. The scene of Good Friday should startle us and leave us with questions such as “How?” and “Why?” How is it that God died on a cross? How is that even possible? Why did God do that? Martin Luther explains in many of his writings how the cross is such foolishness, that you have to fully embrace the absurdity of it before it can finally make sense.
We can only do that with our eyes closed.
When we think we know the answers, we miss the beauty and the power of the cross. When we think we see everything clearly, we try to explain the cross as rational or the logical conclusion to this system that God created. We turn the cross into a mathematical equation that helps us sleep at night thinking that we have solved the answer to life’s most important question. But that is just the problem: we sleep comfortably at night thinking we have seen the cross clearly, not realizing that the best time to gaze upon it is in darkness.
So this weekend, I urge you to rid yourself of the easy answer. Truly ask yourself why did Jesus die? What makes the cross so important? What is so foolish about it?
As I sat in the darkness of that Good Friday service, I had some horrifying revelations. God is not bound to any system, even the ones God creates. God’s justice doesn’t look a thing like our justice, and so God is not required to be just on our terms. God does not have to answer us when we pray. God does not need to give us what we desire even if we have done everything right. God isn’t limited to just our scope. God can choose to save us if God wants to, just as God can choose to not save us. We know nothing about God that God does not want us to know. God does not owe us anything.
The book of Job highlights all of this real well. Job is not guilty of anything, as declared by God, but he loses everything. He is shamed and ridiculed by his so-called friends as they try to convince him to confess a crime he did not commit. They believe they understand God perfectly and that they have God’s system all figured out, but Job calls into question. The God he sees has been unjust to him. The God he sees will not answer him despite his anguish. The God he sees has taken everything from him for no reason at all. Even when God finally shows up at the end of the book, God answers none of Job’s questions and does not address any of the claims Job makes. As Pastor Florer-Bixler points out, “God does not do well at being God in this story.”
The God we see in the book of Job scares me to death, and I know why: it is a God I can’t control. Florer-Bixler says again: “A God of checks and balances, one who rewards and punishes along predictable lines of ethics – this God is predictable. We can shape ourselves around this God, setting up our disappointments and wins according to schedule. But a God who counts newborn deer, a God who is concerned with eagle nesting patterns, a God who lassos sea monsters [as it says in Job 38-40] – this is a God we cannot regulate.” No matter what I do, God can do whatever God wants. I have no control of where God goes or who God listens to. I could live a sinless life and that would not buy me a second of recognition from the Creator. God does not owe me anything.
And yet, the cross.
God is not bound to any system but God uses a system to help explain to us salvation. God’s justice looks nothing like our justice, which is what makes the injustice of the cross a stamp of righteousness on our accounts. God does answer us when we pray. God does not give us what we desire, God gives us what we need despite any of our efforts to thwart that plan. God puts himself in our scope. God has chosen to save us. We know everything about God that God wants us to know. God does not owe us anything, but God gave us everything.
The cross isn’t ridiculous enough until you realize how unnecessary it was. God did not need to save us. God did not need to become a human being. God did not need to walk the path he did, doing the things he did. God did not need to die.
But God did anyway.
“It is night that offers us the space to set aside the God that we have created and to see what emerges.” So close your eyes, take a breath, and embrace the darkness of Friday and Saturday. The God who rises on Sunday morning just might appear brighter than ever before.