The Christian tradition has long held that the most persisting and infecting temptations we humans face is that of arrogating divinity into our humble humanity—remember the serpent’s words in the garden: “eat and you shall be like God.” The sufferings inflected upon the weak and the innocent throughout humanity’s history is nothing other than this perennial sin enacted: reaching beyond the pure gratuity of my own life to assert violently my will upon reality through murder. Theologian Rowan Williams fittingly calls this the “apocalyptic delusion”—the belief that we can assume the divine role of acting permanently in history by stamping out the life of another. Though we do not have the power to create out of nothing as God does, we assert the power to destroy and so claim dominion over reality. This is what we are remembering today, the time when we humans tried to appropriate a power we were not given—the power over life and death—and murdered the innocent Son of God. This is a day for introspection and repentance, for taking inventory of our own lives and asking if we are graciously receiving the life we’ve been given, or selfishly hoarding that which is not ours. We are always tempted to forget that we are creatures.
This day is more than that though. It’s not only a day when we remember our culpability for the sins of humanity; it’s a day when we remember that we fail at our sins. We try to act with apocalyptic finality, but it is a delusion, the infinite God who gives life sinks into death today, not as one who falls prey to its harsh finality, but as one who undoes death itself. The finite death we deal cannot contain the infinite God.
What we see in Good Friday is that God takes on not only human flesh, but human victimhood. All of the myriad voices that have been silenced throughout our blood-soaked history are not far from God, but are held by him as he embraces their victimhood in the solidarity of death. These voices that seem for all the world to be as still as dirt are given new life by God’s utter identification with them. Good Friday demonstrates that God remembers as one who suffers as a victim in history, not as a cosmic umpire inactively observing history unfold from a considerable distance. God is so close to the victims of history that his memory enfolds their memory. In Christ, God identifies himself as pure victim without a shred of guilt or violence in him, and receives into himself the extremity of humanity’s expulsive violence. Thus, God’s memory is not other than the victim’s memory, and his remembering is a literal re-membering, a making whole of what was broken, a giving again of what was taken; God redeems the past by taking it into himself and raising it in his resurrection.
Christ’s defeat of death through resurrection cleanses us of the presumption that the death we deal is final, that the suffering of history cannot be undone, that the only ultimate act in history is that act preformed by the executioner. Instead, he shows us that divinity is not the power or prerogative to judge and destroy, but is a wellspring of infinite creative love, and this is a divinity we are invited to arrogate to ourselves. Humanity acts with apocalyptic finality only when humanity imitates God in love. Love cannot be undone even by death, but death can, and indeed is, undone by love. The Christian answer to the problem of suffering in history is nothing other than the mystery of the cross and resurrection, of God’s revelation of himself as infinite and infinitely merciful, infinitely loving, and infinitely life.