Is Good Friday morbid?
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
"The crucified Christ is a terrible sight, and I cannot help associating it with the sadistic impulse of a physically affected brain" * Such are the honest words of D T Suzuki, a Buddhist writer expressing his revulsion at the Christian "symbol of crucifixion".
No one could reasonably disagree with the first part of that sentence. If we in the West don't experience any particular emotional reaction to the sight of a crucifix, it is only because we've grown overfamiliar with it. I wish we hadn't. But what about the second part? Isn't there something pathological about celebrating a man's brutal, torturous execution? Don't Christians have an unhealthy fascination with blood and gore? Well, perhaps some do. But before you conclude that that's all there is to it, consider the story behind Good Friday. It is natural to ask why God, assuming he exists, doesn't just come down and sort everything out -- put an end to all suffering, violence, injustice and so on. The Christian answer to this question is radical, and not altogether flattering: God did come down. God came down in human form and met us where we were. And when he did, we murdered him. The Good Friday narrative has at times, with tragic consequences, been interpreted as indicting a specific group of people. This is a profound misunderstanding, as should be obvious to anyone who reads the story without an agenda. The particular society that puts Christ to death is an archetype of all human societies, and each of its main parts is held responsible. The State knowingly executes an innocent, on grounds of expediency. The clergy lies and schemes in order to condemn a man who threatens its authority. And the common folk, the 'average joes', bay for the blood of the one they'd worshiped just a week before. Even his closest friends abandon him, betraying him for money or denying that they ever knew him. The universality is inescapable, the verdict unambiguous: there is something rotten, not just in the state of Denmark, but in the state of humanity. To stare at the cross is to look into a mirror of the soul -- small wonder that we do not like what we see. It makes a mockery of our endless litany of excuses and protestations: 'But I'm not that bad! Not like them! I'm nice to others! I'm devout! I'm tolerant! I'm a victim, not a perpetrator!' And it has no patience for Suzuki's more sophisticated response: "There is from the beginning no self to crucify." There can be no sin without a sinner, or any self to sin against. A comforting thought, no doubt. But a false hope, if the message of Good Friday is to be believed. The point of celebrating Good Friday, then, is not to obsess over the details of a particularly violent episode in human history, least of all to derive any sadistic pleasure from it. It is not meant to be pleasurable. It is about being painfully aware that, no God cannot just come down and eliminate all evil, because that would mean eliminating you and I. That isn't how the story ends, of course. But the joy of Easter Sunday is meaningless without the bitter pill of Good Friday. *From Mysticism Christian and Buddhist, DT Suzuki, 1957