Today's Non Sequitur cartoon fits how some understand Good Friday perfectly:
Among our oldest traceable concept of gods are the personalities we once assumed to be behind the forces of nature.
How do we find a way to get rain when we need it, or divert illness away from ourselves? Placate the deity.
And how does one placate a person? Flattery and gift-giving. Hence sacrifices and outpourings of lavish praise at the core of so many religious traditions.
There is no longer any meaningful place for gods that are personified forces of nature. Rolling all the forces of nature, or Nature itself, into a single God, may or may not be better. We can discuss that. But what about the other part of the equation?
We understand enough about nature, and hopefully have reached a point where we can think seriously enough about our concepts of God, that we ought to be able to recognize that the placation element is likewise outmoded. Cancer obviously doesn't respond to our pleas. But to posit a God behind the natural phenomena, who is torturing a person with cancer, and is waiting for the moment when we have sufficiently stroked his ego to relent, is to project our worst human characteristics onto our notion of the divine.
And so if the cartoon meshes perfectly with your understanding of the cross – with Jesus presenting the best trophy ever to God in order to prevent him from smiting us eternally – then I would suggest that you give the matter some more thought. You could – at least at times – be kinder and more moral than that concept of God, could you not?
Lest I be misunderstood, this argument does not lead to the conclusion that there is no God. Not at all. But it does mean that the truly Ultimate Reality is not where your worship is currently being directed.
Good Friday is a great time to think about this. The holiday may be associated in your mind with an inappropriate and unworthy concept of God. Yet Colossians says that the fullness of the Godhead can be encountered in the life of Jesus. In the New Testament stories about him, we are not presented with an attempt to turn away the wrath of a God who is eager to smite us, but an outreach initiated by God to those in desperate need of rescue, compassion, and kindness.
And so it becomes clear that, for many people today, their idea of God is not only less than the best we can imagine thinking about these things in our time with the assistance of greater scientific and other knowledge. Their idea of God is poorer than the best that was offered thousands of years ago, in the very Scriptures which they believe are the source of their all-too-human image of God. Do you really want an imagined deity whose anger and vanity cannot be anything other than a projection of our worst human shortcomings? If not, then look beyond that concept, and see what you can find.
If you decide to do so, Jesus is not a bad place to start.