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Every other spring I make college students view two films: 2001: A Space Odyssey and Interstellar. They tend to dislike the first and enjoy the second. This past Tuesday we discussed the two films, comparing and contrasting, reading from Nietzsche, and referencing Moltmann. It was a wonderfully exhausting discussion that modeled how popular culture becomes what Barth calls “secular parables”.

“When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land…” Mark 15:33.

What prompted Cooper to detach his ship and slip into the black hole? Was it the mission? Or was it his love for Murph, and the hope that he might save his family? Regardless, he faced the darkness. Unable to see what was on the other side, he let go and slipped into the black nothingness. If you’ve seen the film you have the whole picture, which makes facing the darkness less daunting because we know what’s on the other side of the event horizon. Not knowing, however, evokes different emotions. Is he sacrificing himself for the greater good? Is he driven by love or madness?

Our tendency is to approach Good Friday from the vantage point of Easter Sunday. We know what’s on the other side of crucifixion, so when we hear the gospel account of Christ’s death, when we sing “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” or “What Wondrous Love is This”, we do so with the assurance that in three days Jesus will rise from the dead. What if we couldn’t see the other side? What if we faced Good Friday without the knowledge of Easter Sunday? Do we have the strength and courage to face the darkness of Good Friday?

Doing so means taking the suffering of this world seriously; it means facing the God-forsaken-ness of senseless violence and oppression, the ravaging of disease, and the horror of domestic and sexual abuse. Maybe Easter Sunday causes us to skim the surface of Good Friday, meaning we don’t have to wrestle with the impact of our own sin. Maybe it means we never have to take responsibility for our own hateful and painful actions.

On Good Friday we hear the cry from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” and we are forced to look upon the tortured, dying, Christ as he takes upon himself the sins of the world. More than that, we are called to step into the darkness. We are called by Jesus to take up our cross, to enter the event horizon. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) We don’t get to skip to Easter, we must go through Good Friday. We must die, we must have our identities, our hope and dreams, our entire lives, deconstructed. We are called to enter into the dark suffering of this world because this is where Jesus goes, and if we want to be his disciples, we must let go and cross over into the darkness as well. This is what it means to follow Jesus.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

2 Comments

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Jason, for your good Friday article. Of course, the Good Friday message is the cross and death of Jesus Christ. If the account of Jesus ended at his death, no one would be surprised. It’s the resurrection that catches people off guard. As much as Christian writers and commentators try to verify the resurrection, it still catches most as highly unlikely. This simply does not happen. I know of no one or have heard of anyone coming to life after having completely died. Sure we have heard reports of someone coming to life after having died for ten minutes or even a half hour, but not after being dead for three days. This is not just unusual or just unlikely, but as the Bible would have us to believe, it is impossible. And of course Jesus’ whole life was an impossibility. That the second person of God came to earth as a baby (fully human and fully God), that he lived a sinless life, that he performed a whole bunch of miracles (like feeding thousands from a little boy’s lunch), these all tell of an impossible tale. That’s what makes Jesus’ life, death and resurrection so unbelievable. Not only is the story of Jesus bazar and impossible, it is unlikely. It’s more bazar and unlikely than the unbelievable stories of other religions.

    Falling from a second story balcony and surviving is very possible and even likely. But falling from the 80th floor balcony and surviving is next to impossible. What the Bible claims about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection are impossible, not just unlikely. How is anyone expected to believe such a story apart from being irrational or foolish? When considering the claimed events of Jesus’ life, who is more reasonable, those who believe those events to be true or those who don’t. Which makes more sense – to feel pity for those who believe or for those who don’t.

    One more thing, Jason. You suggest that we view Good Friday from the vantage point of Easter, knowing that Christ rose from the dead and that as those who are in Christ, we will too. How do you know that? If anything, Jesus’ supposed ascension into heaven would verify his resurrection. Of course, the claim is that he rose to God’s throne in heaven where he rules over the earth and the church. But there is no evidence that Jesus’ ascension has made any difference to our world. Life has gone on as it always has. To think he is in heaven in power and authority is no more than wishful thinking.

    I would gather from your article that we not pass by Good Friday too quickly, but to recognize that we too are to take up our cross and follow Jesus. But we follow Jesus knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel. Is there any evidence for such light?

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