(…continued) Jesus was obedient unto death, fulfilling God’s circumstantial will, and then he rose from the dead, victorious over sin and death; and that fulfilled God’s ultimate will; and that restored what God had intended from the beginning in his intentional will. And that is all very good; so, it is a Good Friday. God’s will is done, but not in a simple sort of way. In similar ways, God works with and responds to our needs, and so it is also helpful to think about our own lives in the context of these three wills of God.
Because God created the world in the way he did, the bad things that happen to us might come from any one of several sources. We have a free will so our own choices might get us into trouble, or we may be hurt the choices that others make; and, we may hurt others. The devil is another one of the free creatures that God created— a fallen angel, and he is also on the loose causing us trouble and woe. And God himself, says the Bible, might send suffering in order to teach us or discipline us or get us back on the right path. And because of sin, the world itself is out of whack and not always a safe place, so disease or storms might attack us randomly. The world is still under God’s ultimate control. But under the circumstances of our sinful use of the free will he has given us, God allows a variety of bad things to happen for a variety of reasons. And it is never made clear to us in any specific situation what he is doing or allowing and why.
The Bible does not go into precise explanations of all the reasons for and causes of trouble, and a good deal of mystery remains about it. And, not everyone agrees on how all this works. This is what I find to be most helpful and most Biblical. So while God’s Word does not spell out the specifics of all this, what the Bible does do spend a lot of time describing how we should respond to suffering.
The Good Friday story itself teaches much about responding to suffering. For example, we are better able to endure suffering if we can see some higher purpose in it. Jesus had said earlier in his ministry that he was determined to go to Jerusalem, knowing that he would have to suffer and die there, but also having in mind the great work that God had for him to accomplish by his death. For another example, an often recurring theme in the Bible is that suffering produces strength and endurance. The disciples also suffered greatly in that last week of Jesus life– grieving the loss of Jesus, fearing for their own safety, being distressed at their own failures and loss of faith, and seeing all their hopes crushed when Jesus died. But then, after those painful trials and after the resurrection, they were all much better men, strengthened by what they endured, and far more ready for the great work that Jesus had for them to do.
And the greatest lesson of Good Friday is how God can take even the very worst evil and turn it into the greatest good. There are many examples of this in the Old and New Testaments, but none is greater than the great turn-around in the death and then the resurrection of Jesus. The despair of that first Good Friday for the disciples could not have been greater. And then, the miraculous turn of events on Easter Sunday could not have been more wonderful.
Good Friday speaks to one of the deepest questions of life– the question of suffering. The questions are asked in many different ways, but are asked by everyone: Why do the good suffer?; How can a good God allow such suffering?; How can people be so wicked and cruel to each other?; and so on. All the aspects of those questions are in the Good Friday events. It is the innocent one that suffers. Jesus was declared innocent several times by Pilate, and even by Judas, his betrayer. We see on Good Friday the height of man’s cruelty to his fellowman; and Jesus endures it all, the mocking and insults and beatings and ridicule and torture and death. And as for the question of how God can allow it, we see on Good Friday God subjecting Himself to the world’s evil at its worst. God Himself enters into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, and he faces and endures all the same anguish, pain, rejection, grief, and even death. Again, these are insights, and not a complete explanations and a final solution. We don’t get that.
But we do know now something the disciples did not know on that first Good Friday. We know about Easter Sunday. Baptist preacher Tony Campolo has a great line that he uses often, and it is a line worth remembering, and repeating to yourself often. It applies to all the tragic events of Good Friday, and it applies to all the tragedy and pain in our own lives. The line is simply this: “No matter how bad it gets, remember, it’s only Friday–and Sunday is coming.” Easter Sunday turned everything around for the disciples, and for the whole world, for all eternity. No matter how bad it gets, for everyone who will believe that story and believe in that Jesus, there will be an Easter Sunday coming, a day in this world, or in the next (most certainly in the next), when all will be restored, all healed, and all made right again. This is God’s answer to the problem of suffering in our world.
Good Friday was good because it was God’s circumstantial will that Jesus die on the cross, to restore what was from the beginning God’s intentional will, to be followed by the fulfillment of His ultimate will on Easter Sunday and in all eternity.
Genesis 1:26a — Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”
Jeremiah 8:4-6 — This is what the Lord says… “‘Why have these people turned away?… They cling to deceit; they refuse to return. I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Each pursues their own course like a horse charging into battle.”
Luke 13:34 — (Jesus said), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Romans 3:22-25a — This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood; to be received by faith.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
–Jesus, Matthew 6:10b
I first learned about this way of understanding the will of God from a book I read in seminary, The Will of God, by English minister Leslie Weatherhead (1893-1976). Weatherhead was a terrific preacher, though his theology was oftentimes not at all terrific. But he did get it mostly right in this book, and I still find his description of the ‘three wills’ of God very helpful.