When Moses was driven from Egypt, afraid for his life and with a warrant out for his arrest, he was not having his best day.  Raised to be a prince in Egypt, his murder of an Egyptian slave driver had been precipitated by his desire to see justice for his people.  Instead, he found himself exiled, marrying a foreign woman, and settling down to a life of tending sheep on the back side of nowhere.  Forty years would pass before anything changed for him.  During those long decades, he doubtless thought that all his dreams had died.

            On the Friday that Jesus was executed, had you been able to find any of Jesus’ disciples, and had you asked them, “Is today a good day?” their responses would likely not have been printable.  Likewise, Mary, Jesus’ mother, would have been certain that it was, instead, the worst day of her life.  All their hopes, all their expectations lay in shattered bits.

            For Jesus, it was not a good day, either.  His dying words, addressed to God, were a cry of despair, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

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            So why is the day that the Roman government put Jesus to death by means of one of the most gruesome methods ever devised by human ingenuity referred to as “Good Friday” by Christians?

            Because Christians believe that by dying on the cross that day, Jesus reconciled humanity to God, freeing them from their sins and giving them eternal life.  Thus, thanks to a wider perspective, the meaning and consequence of Jesus’ death transforms what would otherwise be a very bad day into a very good day.  It also helps Christian attitudes about his crucifixion that they believe that Jesus did not stay dead.  His mother and his friends had to suffer grief only until Sunday, when Jesus walked out of the tomb. 

            Moses and Jesus are not the only biblical characters to have bad days, of course.  The author of Hebrews writes that many people of faith “faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death….They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised...” (Hebrews 11:36-40)

            It is not immediately encouraging to us to contemplate those words in the last sentence: “none of them received what had been promised.”  Instead, they received destitute lives, persecution, and miserable deaths.  Very few calendars or wall plaques will be inscribed with those bleak lines. 

            In our generally happy lives as twenty-first century inhabitants of the Western world, surrounded by wonders and abundance—even in a recession—that would dazzle most who have struggled across the pages of human history—it can be hard to tolerate the least difficulty.  Instead, we wonder: if God is so good and so powerful, then why do we have problems?  If he owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), then why can’t he sell one or two to help me with my mortgage this month?  If he notices sparrows falling (Matthew 10:29), then why couldn’t he have moved that bit of debris out of my path and spare me having a flat tire?  If he talked to Moses face to face (Exodus 33:11), why couldn’t he have emailed me a warning against putting my money in GM?

            But perhaps our questions are backwards.  People rarely ask, when they are blessed by prosperity, by success as the world sees success, by happy relationships, by children who are doing well in school, “Why me God?  Why is life so good?  Why am I so blessed?  Why do good things happen to good people?”

            Likewise, when we see a drug dealer being hauled away by the police in handcuffs, we don’t moan and blame God, wondering, “why is that poor young man suffering so much?”

            Good things happening to good people is at least as common, perhaps more common than what keeps us up at night: bad things happening to good people (that is, bad things happening to me and mine), or good things happening to bad people (that is, a thrice-divorced, womanizing drug addict who lives in a beachfront mansion getting paid a fortune to star in his next movie).  When bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good people we think all is right with the world.  But should we not, for consistency’s sake, wonder about happy times as much as we wonder about what seems unjust?  Should we not be as puzzled by success as we are by pain?  Is good news not just as potentially disturbing as bad news? 

            Perhaps by looking at the uncomfortable issues backwards, we can gain some perspective: we can recognize that all in the world is not necessarily as we think it is or even as we think it should be.  Maybe if we can understand why a day like the death of Jesus on a Roman cross can be a “Good Friday,” then we can understand that our own lives, whatever the immediate circumstances, can be at least as good, too.

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