Today is Good Friday, outwardly the most counterintuitively-named holy day of the year but ultimately the most appropriately so. There is in fact no more aptly denominated day in the Gregorian calendar; nothing comes close to the rightness of this day, neither practically nor emblematically. We are apt to forget how odd this day’s observance must have seemed within the society in which it first arose: a bunch of weird zealots marking the brutal execution of a convicted criminal, Who they claim rose from the dead and who they insisted—absurdity piled on top of outrage—was God Himself and deserving of supreme worship. Enough time has passed, of course, that many of us are more or less used to it, falling victim to the siren song of anodyne familiarity. But we must not let it become not weird—we should not neuter the Sacrifice of Calvary to become just another Friday—we must not forget the inestimable goodness of what Christ accomplished. “If what Christians say about Good Friday is true,” wrote Fr. Neuhaus, “then it is quite simply the truth about everything.”
For nonbelievers I want to make note of Fr. Neuhaus’s point by drawing your attention to what is often called Lewis’s Trilemma. We live in a squirmy and equivocal age, one in which fundamental truth is eschewed in favor of bland and homogenized squish rhetoric, and nowhere is this more clear than in a pervasive and persistent treatment of Christianity, one that has been around for centuries but has never been more prominent than it is today. This approach to Christian doctrine—practiced de facto even by some self-professed Christians—holds that Christ Himself was not actually Christ Himself, so to speak: that instead of being the Son of God and the Second Person of the Trinity, He was instead simply a “great moral teacher,” one Who was post mortem deified by His followers but Who never Himself claimed any deified status and who never in fact sought that status for Himself to begin with. This strain of thought asserts that, rather than claim to be God, Christ only claimed to be good, like a friendly fellow on a street corner, and He should thus be understood, interpreted and followed in precisely that manner.
Not so, says Lewis: there are really only three options, and Jesus the Hallmark Card isn’t one of them. Either Christ was God, as He claimed to be, or else He was a liar (claiming to be God when He knew He really wasn’t) or else He was a lunatic (claiming to be God as a manifestation of mental illness). There is no fourth option, certainly no Nice Guy Christ option, unless of course we’re assuming a priori that the divinized Christ of the Gospels is a corruption of some earlier undeified friendly rabbi—but this would render the Gospels themselves wholly unreliable testimonies to the life of Jesus, in which case the Great Moral Teacher argument itself collapses for lack of evidence, making the Gospels a queer kind of artifact, an historical document that apparently came from nowhere and means nothing at all.
We must, as a result, be prepared to call Jesus what He really is, whatever that may be: “I AM,” in His own words, or a fraud who died an ignominious fraud’s death, or a crazy man who perished under a delusion. We must also be prepared to call his followers what they are: either disciples of God, or snookered idiots of a huckster peasant, or else disciples of an insane first-century Jewish criminal.
The Moral Teacher argument seeks to subvert all three of these conclusions, so far as I can tell for three principle reasons: out of sensitivity (people do not want to insult or hurt the followers of Christ by calling them dupes), cowardice (people do not want to risk embarrassing themselves by having to defend the indefensible latter two prongs of the trilemma), and a third reason that is somehow more insidious: opportunism. For surely there are a great many people who yearn to weaponize the Christian religion as a partisan political tool, overwhelmingly in the direction of progressive policy concerns. It would do liberalism a great service to see the great mass of Christians stop worshiping Christ as Lord (which puts Him above all earthly powers and concerns) and instead start following Him as a state-level Democratic PR flak (which would put Him beneath even Nancy Pelosi).
I, for one, believe that Christ was and is Who He said He was and is—the evidence for this is too compelling, and the evidence against it is too shaky and unsubstantiated, to believe otherwise. Thus I celebrate Good Friday as genuinely good, as a good thing accomplished singularly by the One who is Good. Do not trouble yourself with the apparent contradiction between the somber, fearful tenor of Good Friday and the earthquake majesty and blessed salvation it begets; consider instead these words, again from Fr. Neuhaus: “Today, here at the cross, our eyes are fixed on the dying derelict who is the Lord of life. We look at the one who is everything that we are and everything that we are not, the one who is true man and true God. In him we, God and man, are perfectly one. At-one-ment. Here, through the cross, we have come home. Home to the truth about ourselves. Home to the truth about what God has done about what we have done. And now we know, or begin to know, why this awful, awe-filled Friday is called good.”