The reason Good Friday presents an unsettled paradox for many is that the name “Good Friday” does not make any material sense. No one says that a murder crime is a good thing or gives the attribution of good to the day it was committed. But we are not referring to some sort of crime; this is the worst that anyone could commit and have been committed, namely, the crime of deicide. When the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche boasted that “God is dead, and that we killed him,” it was understood as words of a mad man. Nietzsche could be (and I believe he was) literally insane when he made the utterance; but as is often the case, mad people have a way of speaking the unvarnished truth. You have to look beyond their uncouth appearance to learn the truth they sometimes espouse.
And it is true: we killed God. What is not true, though, is that God is dead. Death is not part of God’s essence. His nature is “to be.” Death is a privation; and it does not reside in God – for God is Life in its fullness. “Life was in Him, and Life was the light of men” (John 1:4). St. Augustine says that “Christ, of Himself, has no power to die” just as we “of ourselves have no power to live.” St. Augustine expatiates: “Christ had no power of Himself to [even] die for us.” That was why He had to take on human form and dwell among us. To experience death, He had to take from us our mortal flesh capable of death. Hence, though immortal, He was able to die. Accordingly, Christ snatched death from us that He might destroy it and give us life instead. By this He effected a wonderful exchange with humanity, through mutual sharing: we gave Him the power to die; He, in turn, will give us the power to live.
The Passion Narrative according to St. John is as dramatic as it is quixotic for the mind of man. That explains the whole attribution of mystery to the event. The Paschal Mystery is one that we must tiptoe around in order to be able to peel enough layers of it for our understanding. But the central idea is that sin is a disorder that entered the world through human pride. To unmake the disorder and return to the original order of created existence, it would require one who properly understands order in the first place. St. Paul asks, “Who has known the mind of the Lord” (Rom 11:13). Only God can redress the disorder caused by human failure. Hence, only Christ is equipped to do it.
We cannot achieve a turning away from this disorder and sin if we do not identify the causes of our fall. All the characters around the passion of the Lord tell of the fall. Judas represents all betrayals that have and continue to happen in families and among friends. Peter represents the impetuosity of the human heart. Annas and Caiaphas represent the hypocrisy of the priestly class. Pilate represents the continued reign of injustice. In Barabbas we see our preference for depravity over virtue, etc.
But the cross of Christ reveals the love that is the only antidote to sin and death. His final words “I thirst” and “It is finished” show that His thirst for us and His full payment for our sins were the trademark of salvation. The last words, “It is finished” (John 19:30) means in Hebrew and Greek, “paid in full.” The original word in Greek is “tetelestai.”
Recently, archeologists in the Holy Land dug up a tax collector’s office with all the tax records. Two stacks of tax records were identified. One of them had the word “tetelestai” on top, representing those who paid in full and do not owe anything anymore. It was that same word that Christ uttered from the cross – “It is finished.” He says that our debt of sin is “tetelestai” (paid in full). This is why today is Good Friday.