Good Friday: Its Message for Christian Culture Warriors
Today is Good Friday. It is the great day of equalizing — a much-needed message in these days of culture wars.
For everyone on both sides of this cultural conflict is convinced the other side is wrong. Morally wrong. From there it’s all too short a step to thinking they’re morally degenerate, and from there to not quite human. The debates rage so strongly — is there any way to keep hatred out of them?
I have no advice to give my opponents on the progressive left. They can look to “humanism” or “the well-being of humankind” as their motivation to treat their opponents as fully human; that’s their business.
Christians, though, have the Cross of Jesus Christ. Good Friday reminds us that while evil certainly needs conquering, God had to overcome it in us, first of all. We and our opponents are more alike than we think, for God loves us all — even His enemies.
There Is Evil to Be Overcome
Jesus came to rescue us from sin — a word that’s growing archaic, unfortunately. It refers to our self-centeredness, our self-importance, our imagining that we can live independently of God. It shows up in all kinds of evils: hatred, lying, greed, sexual immorality, power-seeking, alienation from God and each other.
God intends to defeat all this. That victory already assured when Jesus (in ways we cannot fully understand) took the world’s evils with Him to the Cross, died, and then rose again, having overcome them all. But victory is not yet final. God will complete it when Christ returns; in the meantime, He calls His people to stand for what is right, good and loving, and against all evil.
When that fight spills out into the public square, we call it a culture war. That’s just today’s word for it, though; it’s been going on for ages.
God Had to Overcome Evil Even In His Own Followers
This problem of evil isn’t some “us versus them” thing, though. It’s us versus us. The Cross tells us we were all enemies of God:
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:6-8, 10)
“Without strength,” in context (especially Romans 3:9-20), means lacking moral strength: unable to overcome our own evil within. That’s all of us. All of us by nature were ungodly; all of us were enemies. As John Zmirak wrote, “I am Barabbas. And so are you.”
So there is a “culture war” inside each person. It precedes every public dispute; in fact one might say it determines which side a person will take in these disputes. But it goes deeper than that. It isn’t just about which side we represent, but which side we’re actually standing on from moment to moment, for it’s possible to preach Christian principles from an evil heart.
One of the most common ways to do that is by preaching with pride, as if we’re better in ourselves than our opponents. Or by treating them as if we were never at risk of the moral degeneracy we think the other side has slid into. Or thinking ourselves more worthy of God’s love — more human, in a way — than they are.
The Good Friday message overturns all that. That’s what makes it such a great equalizer; as the saying goes, “The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.” None of us was good enough to start with; none of us was even any better, in light of God’s perfect standard; and none of us made ourselves good enough by our own efforts. We all needed rescuing, and it took Christ’s work on the Cross to deliver us.
God Loves Us All
But He did that, in love, while we were still His enemies. He created us human, in His own image, to start with. Now Christ’s death on the Cross shows how much He still loves us, still treats each one of us with infinite worth. So even while I’m disputing the evil that I see in another person’s goals, ideas or actions, I dare not forget God loves him as much as He loves me.
This is never easy. I see failures on both sides of the divide. All too often I see failure in myself.
But God showed us how we can love our enemies, see them as fully human, recognize them as fully deserving worth and respect as ourselves and our friends. May we therefore take this Good Friday message as a reminder never to hate, never to degrade another’s worth, never to dehumanize. We may disagree with them, but let’s do it as God did with us, when we were still His enemies: In love.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.