Friday, April 10, 2009

What’s Good About Good Friday?

First, a little history. According to the New Testament, Good Friday honors the crucifixion of Jesus. Most scholars accept Friday as the day of his death yet point out various problems in the stories as told by the four Gospels.

For example, The narration in the book of Mark says that Jesus was betrayed at the darkest point of the night, namely around midnight. When Jesus was arrested he was dragged before the Chief priests for a trial that presumably lasted until 3:00 a. m. Bible scholars struggle with this fact because no pious Jewish priest would have done such a thing because Jewish authorities were forbidden by the Torah to sit in judgment at night.

Since Mark tells us that "all of his disciples forsook him and fled," there would have been nobody around to tell anyone the details of Jesus’ final hours. So where did Mark get his information? How then did Mark know what happened after the disciples ran away?

Many Bible scholars suggest that Mark created these events from passages in the Old Testament (which would have been known as the Hebrew Scriptures). Perhaps, it is suggested, Mark used a phrase from Psalm 22 to put on the lips of the dying Jesus: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." He gets other ideas from this same Psalm. When he relates the story of Jesus being thirsty, he uses verses fourteen and fifteen. Mark tells us the Roman soldiers divided up his garments by using information from Psalm 22:18.

Then he uses ideas from the 53rd chapter of the book of Isaiah. Mark noticed that Isaiah wrote aboaut a Suffering Servant who "was numbered with the transgressors" (v. 12). This gave him the idea to write about two thieves being crucified with Jesus. The section about the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, may have been inspired by Isaiah, in verse 9, which said the Suffering Servant was "with a rich man in his death."

And so it goes. The other three Gospels were written decades after Mark’s gospel and, except for John, copied a lot from Mark. Luke also takes material from Isaiah. He noted that in Isaiah 53:12 the Servant made a petition to God regarding the transgressors. Luke then has Jesus speaking from the cross to God about the cruelty of the soldiers, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

So what does this have to do with psychology? Psychologists learned long ago that when people tell their story in therapy, the literal words are often a screen for deeper truths. For example, if a client were to relate the horror of reading about the terrible abuse of someone when they were a child, the client might be (but not always) trying to talk about her own abuse as a child. Deep truths are sometimes not on the surface of communication.

Many contemporary Christians and Biblical scholars believe that the Gospels are not about literal and historical truth. Rather, they believe that the stories point to something deeper and more meaningful than mere history. Unfortunately, other Christians are appalled at the idea that the Bible is not literally true.

Psychologists (also novelists and poets) would say that literal truth has severe restrictions. That is why great literature is not merely about the story that is being told. If any of you have taken literature classes in school, you know that you were encouraged to dig deeply into a story to find out what the author was trying to say through metaphor and other literary devices.

You were also taught that literary devices within a story are the most effective methods an author can use to get her point across to the reader. Some of these devices include figurative language, irony, allusion, simile. You may have discovered this took a lot of work. It would have been easier to just be satisfied with the literal story. For some of you, the light began to dawn and you found that literary and philosophical treasures could be found underneath the literal words.

The writers of the gospel stories were intelligent people who knew how to use literary devices to tell a powerful story. They were not literal historians whose only purpose was to record dry facts about Jesus. Their mission was much more profound than that. Jesus was not expected to die like a common criminal. When this happened, his followers were stunned and confused. It took years to figure out what his death meant. Each writer tried to express in mere words the seemingly inexpressible. Their words made use of literary devices to convey what simple facts were incapable of doing.

We still do this today. When we have had a profound, life-changing experience, we must resort to literary devices to convey to other people what really happened to us. We may struggle with finding the right words or phrases. This is why therapy can often be hard work. It can be an attempt to pass on to another person what is wholly subjective and personal to the person trying to tell their story.

Bible scholars realized these stories were more than just stories because the truths they were trying to explain were often beyond human understanding. To illustrate this point, look at all the different ways Christians disagree on what the Bible means. If it were as simple as an historical story, everyone could agree and Christians would be one big happy family.

As people, we are continually trying to figure out what life is all about. We are born with a brain that has no prior knowledge of how things are. We spend our entire lives learning, understanding, questioning. This is what gives life such richness. The more we probe beneath the surface of everyday existence, the more we discover the awesomeness (to borrow a currently over-used word) and depth of existence.

Oh yes, what about the title? Today is Good Friday 2009. As I thought about the day, I was reminded of what someone told me many years ago. He asked, "Why do they call it Good Friday? Shouldn’t it be called Bad Friday? After all, that’s when Jesus was killed. Doesn’t sound so good to me."

It all depends on your perspective. If you are a devout Christian, then I suppose Good Friday is all about Jesus dying for your sins. If you are a nonbeliever, then Good Friday gives you a three-day weekend.


Cheryl said...

Before I comment, I want to express deep gratitude for the concepts in your book, “The Deadly Diet”. When I purchased the book, it was more out of curiosity to understand people who have eating disorders. I had no idea what a spiritual feast I would enjoy. The techniques from your book are useful for everyone who has to fight the “Voice”. I use them everyday.
I've been working on a comment addressing the post "What's Good About Good Friday?" for quite some time. I thought I would be able to post it this morning, but I still haven't finished. I will send it later.

Cheryl said...

Dear Terence,
In your post, you cited from the New Testament that “all the disciples forsook him (Jesus) and fled”, and then assumed, (something in your book, “The Deadly Diet”, you taught us not to do, such as letting the Voice say, “You really blew it”, and then jumping to false conclusions that therefore “I am pathetic” or “I am worthless” or that “some tragedy will happen”), you assumed “that there would have been nobody around to tell anyone the details of Jesus’ final hours”. Now, if a person does not believe in the New Testament, he can choose to believe whatever he wants about this book and about Jesus' final hours, but if a person is using the New Testament to make a point by citing one verse, then in all honesty he/she should be open to additional verses that would give evidence on the point being made. The following verses from the New Testament show that Jesus' final hours were witnessed:
“Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple” and they went into the palace of the high priest where Jesus was interrogated. (John 18:15-16).
“then the cock crew, “and the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter....And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:61-62; Mark 14:66-68).
At least one disciple and women stood at the foot of the cross. (John 19:25-27).
From New Testament accounts we see there were many witnesses to Jesus' final hours.
Concerning the idea that no pious Jewish priest would have sat in judgment at night, one needs only to look at the inequity of judgments being made against Christians today to see that leaders do not always follow their own laws or execute their laws with equity.
Thank you for your consideration.
Cheryl Richardson