For most of my life, I hated Good Friday.
The name seemed ridiculous to me. The event seemed ridiculous to me. For decades, I thought it should be called Unnecessary Friday.
People way smarter than me used big phrases—like “substitutionary atonement”—and told me it was absolutely necessary. They said Man had sinned against God and now God needed a sacrifice in order to forgive mankind, so he sacrificed his son.
But I never completely bought it.
I mean, what kind of a God is so ticked off he can’t get over himself and his anger without killing one of his children? In the words of Richard Rohr, “Is God that unfree?”
I tried. Believe me, I tried for years to swallow it, but I could never get it down.
And I’m so glad I didn’t.
Because a decade as a psychologist has me wondering.
As a psychologist, you spend every day lowering yourself into the depths of humanity—the depths that exist in your own heart and in the hearts of others. You touch the bottom of existence and you claw your way back to the top and you want to shout to the heavens, “There is something beautiful down there!”
It wrecks you. In a really good way. Because it deconstructs all the beliefs you’ve inherited about how people are basically rotten, depraved, and sinful at their core.
You realize people are, at their core, simply humming with beauty.
You realize grace is not just some benevolent tolerance of a corrupt creation.
You realize grace is the accurate reflection of the beautiful creatures buried within us.
And you realize, on a Good Friday, you have to write about it, because it may be essential to turning this whole bloody planet around…
Why Sin Isn’t the First Problem
In August 2012, during an Icelandic bus tour, a woman was reported missing and a search commenced. It was a false alarm. In all the confusion, the woman reported to be missing was actually a member of the search party.
Unbeknownst to her, she was searching for herself.
I think this is the story of humanity and there are three key elements—shame, sin, and grace—and until we get them straight, Good Friday isn’t good and the world doesn’t make any sense.
Shame is misinformation. Shame is the lie that our worthiness has gone missing. Shame is the belief that what is inside of us—the substance of who we are—is rotten and makes us unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is the belief that we must find something outside of ourselves to make us worthy of love.
Sin is the search. As a result of the lie, we search to find worthiness in perfection and achievement and status and the acquisition of resources and the accumulation of lofty experiences and the accrual of power. Much of religion has called this sin and deemed it the first problem, the main problem. But it’s not. Sin is our reaction to the first problem: our shame.
And grace is the truth. Grace announces our worthiness was never missing to begin with. And it calls off the search. Grace proclaims, “You believed a lie, but the truth is you are beloved, exactly the way you are.” Grace isn’t preoccupied with sin like we are, because it knows sin is the byproduct of shame. It knows when the darkness of our shame succumbs to the light of grace, our sin—our search—dies with it.
But you don’t need to take my word for it. Or the story of an Icelandic tourist. Because this story of shame and sin and grace is an ancient one.
A Delivery Room, a Playground, a Parent, and a Friday Afternoon
There is an ancient poem that begins one of the most popular (and reviled) books in the world. It’s a powerful rendition of the development of humankind. In the Book of Genesis:
The Garden of Eden is like a delivery room—six days of chaotic, violent, majestic labor, concluding with the birth of God’s children. And he looks upon them and concludes they are good.
They are pronounced to be without shame.
But the babies grow up and the Garden becomes like a school playground and this bully comes along and we call this bully the serpent. And the bully hisses his lie: “You are not good enough. You are not like Him. You should be more than you are.”
And in the playground-Garden, we watch the first shaming.
And we watch as these two people—ratified as good by the Parent of all things—believe the not-good-enough lie.
We watch as they experience original shame.
And the bully continues his lie. He tells them there is something outside of themselves that will make them truly worthy, and he points them toward an apple-of-promise. He tells them, “Go do this, and you will be good enough.”
And like deceived children, they do it. They eat the apple,
and we watch the first search—original sin.
And the search plays out through the centuries: brother kills brother out of jealousy, Babel is built and wars are waged and humanity gets torn apart by its attempts to escape the shame-full lie. And what does God do? He just throws up his hands and gives up on the whole damned experiment, right?
This ancient story doesn’t end there.
Because like a parent with a bottomless love, he sees his rebellious teenage child—but he also remembers the good, innocent, infinitely worthy child he first cradled in the delivery room.
And he knows that child is still in there somewhere.
He’s like a parent with a bottomless love, waiting up into the wee hours of the night for the drug-addicted child to arrive home so he can wrap her in a hug and say, “If I could only convince you of your beauty and your goodness then you wouldn’t need to run away from yourself with all these drugs and all this violence.”
And like a parent with a bottomless love, he knows words will never be enough to get the message across. He knows he has to act. Sacrificially. Not as a reward for finally changing—but as an affirmation of the child’s worthiness, even in the midst of all the destruction and the mess.
And so the ancient story continues…
He comes and—in the words of Rachel Held Evans—he “straps on sandals” and he walks our roads with us.
And it’s no mistake he rebukes those who are searching for worthiness by establishing rules and hierarchies of power and judgment.
It’s no mistake he makes his home amongst those who have stopped searching and are keenly aware of their shame and are ready to hear: “You are worthy, just as you are.”
And, it is no mistake that in one afternoon of slow, agonizing, humiliating death, he transforms his culture’s ultimate symbol of shame—a cross—into an antenna, broadcasting the ultimate message of grace: You are worthy of love and you have a place to belong—exactly the way you are.
And the first viral message of humankind echoes across the centuries:
For a God
Reconciliation was never required, except in our own shame-filled minds.
Death and Resurrection
I still don’t like the name “Good Friday.” Because, these days, I think it’s the understatement of all time and history.
And the story continues.
With you. With us.
In the story of Good Friday, we have been given a timeless blueprint of death and resurrection. It requires three simple steps:
We must freely choose to venture into the depths of our shame—into all of the ways we have been deceived into believing our worth and our beauty are conditional upon anything—into all the ways we’ve been lied to by the words and actions of parents and teachers and friends and foes and powerful people of every kind.
We must confess the ways we have searched for worthiness outside of ourselves. We must be honest about the ways we have lived in the dark and the ways we have spread the darkness.
And we must embrace the relentless truth of grace: we are worthy of love and belonging, exactly the way we are—all weak and powerless and broken and raw and grieving and dying and scared and despairing and angry and lost…and beautiful.
It’s. that. simple.
I know, for many, this will seem like a bunch of fluffy-feel-good spiritual nonsense. But let me be clear: venturing to the bottom of our shame is the opposite of “feel good.”
It is to feel torn apart from the inside out.
It feels like death.
But to sink to the bottom of it and to touch the Beauty humming at the core of us?
Well, that is, indeed, a resurrection.
This post is not meant to be the “final world.” It’s meant to be the FIRST word. What do you think about shame, sin, and grace? Share your ideas at the bottom of this post
Loved this book: Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Mark D. Baker and Joel B. Green.
Free eBook: My new eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. You can click here to subscribe, and your subscription confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook. As always, thank you for reading; it’s a gift. Sincerely, Kelly
Preview: My next post will be Wednesday, April 3, and is tentatively entitled, “Why Giving Up is Good,” or “Out with the Good, In with the New.” I can’t decide.
Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.