I’ll admit it. I have a problem with evil.
It’s not just that I don’t want it to exist. I’m literally not sure what to do with it. This is what I’ve realized in these first few weeks of Lent as I try to engage my heart and mind (once again) in what exactly my theology of atonement is. At the church, we’re reading one of my favorite books from seminary, Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us. It wasn’t required reading in seminary but everyone seemed to be reading it. It asked the question that I have always struggled with. It asks what we do with the end of Jesus’ life. At the time, even though I felt a strong call to ministry within the United Church of Christ, I wasn’t really sure I could be a Christian. Yes, that’s right. I wasn’t sure that I could really swallow the narrative that we tell around Jesus’ death. This book redeemed the faith for me. In reading these words, even though the stories enclosed were vastly different from my own, I was able to claim a feminist faith. I was able to say that I don’t believe Jesus died for my sins — but instead, Jesus died as a result of the way that he chose to live. It didn’t have to happen but Jesus believed so intensely in the power of justice that he scared the crap out of the Romans. So, he died.
Every time I read this story, I come near to tears. My voice catches in worship when I read these texts because I really wish that it didn’t end this way. I really wish that people were not so cruel. I really wish that we could figure out a way to live in love, but we still can’t seem to do that. This is what I’m thinking about today as I try to imagine what worship might look like on Good Friday. We’ve been brave this year as pastors. We’re admitting that we don’t believe this old idea that Jesus substituted for all of your past and future wrongs with his death on the cross. Nope. We don’t believe it, but it requires some careful thinking about what we do with Good Friday.
This is where I have a problem with evil because I’m not really quite sure how to name it or describe it. Atonement is all about how God comes into the world to confront evil. If it doesn’t happen on the cross, then where does it happen? How does it happen? I am firmly planted in the camp that no one is really evil. Every single person is a child of God created in the divine image. Others seem comfortable explaining that those same images of God can do bad things. They have evil intentions like Eve in the Garden of Eden or Pilate in the Temple or Antonia Vargas in Immokalee. I’m just not comfortable labeling those individuals as evil. So, what then? Is it the system? Is it the inability to seek justice? What is it that God comes to confront?
I don’t know. I only know that what moves me about Good Friday is the real, tangible space to grieve. It’s the one day in the Christian calendar that we are permitted to feel awful about anything and everything. We get to cry because we’ve lost our mothers. We get to mourn for the lives lost in war. We get to weep for the systems that fail us. We get to admit that this world needs God — even if we don’t really know how God comes into the world to confront or bless or encounter. God comes. That’s the point. I’m not totally convinced I need to understand how. I just need to know that simple fact: God comes.
Still, I’m not sure how to hold that tension on Good Friday. How do you make space for God’s people to recognize the violence and destruction that still occurs in our world? How might God’s people be invited to see themselves as confronting that would-be evil? Or do we just need a space to weep and gnash our teeth? What do you think?