Good Friday and The War for Our Souls
The name of this holiday is always jarring to me.
Good Friday, the day we observe the crucifixion of Jesus, first leaps upon our senses as everything bad. An illegal trial gone wrong; a miscarriage of justice; extreme acts of violence; an innocent man stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Not only that, but there’s also the loss of hope, the triumph and cruelty of the mob, and a people sent into hiding. It’s bad, it’s evil, and it’s everything nefarious rolled into one.
We only know Good Friday as good through the lens of Sunday’s resurrection. That’s why pausing too long on Good Friday is dangerous for our souls. God in his mercy moved the focal point of the fullness of time from Friday to Sunday. If we lag too long on Friday, we miss the movement of resurrection. If it all ends on Friday, our souls are stunted, and Friday is not good. The only hope for our souls lies on Sunday with Friday behind it.
Followers of Jesus remind ourselves of this movement year after year because by it our souls have been saved. And therefore we celebrate Christ’s death — a celebration of mourning that, with resurrection, turns into jubilation. The celebration is continuous because our memories are not. At minimum, we need this yearly reminder of what God has done for us in Christ. We needed it in the years following Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension, and we need it in 2023.
Especially in 2023.
There is, of course, nothing new under the sun. Anything novel today has been seen before in one fashion or another. But still, 2023 has its unique challenges for Christians. There is a certain type of war being waged for our souls, and here in America, to say it’s under a microscope would be an understatement. It’s under the floodlights, and it’s by no means subtle.
Back in the 2020 presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden said in his nomination speech at the Democratic National Convention, “This campaign isn’t just about winning votes. It’s about winning the heart, and yes, the soul of America.” Even the Trump campaign picked up on this language, producing a video mocking the rhetoric while asking people to give to their own campaign in order to “save America’s soul.” More recently, President Biden upped the ante on our nation’s soul during his infamous September 2022 speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Backdropped by ominous red lighting, a strangely imposing looking Biden railed:
“I ran for President because I believed we were in a battle for the soul of this nation. I still believe that to be true. I believe the soul is the breath, the life, and the essence of who we are. The soul is what makes us ‘us.’
The soul of America is defined by the sacred proposition that all are created equal in the image of God. That all are entitled to be treated with decency, dignity, and respect. That all deserve justice and a shot at lives of prosperity and consequence. And that democracy — democracy must be defended, for democracy makes all these things possible. Folks, and it’s up to us.”
The president made mention of “soul” eight times in that speech. And he’s continued to use the word gratuitously. In recent days declaring the Transgender Day of Visibility, he proclaimed, “Transgender Americans shape our Nation’s soul.” Make no mistake, while he may have grown up in suburban Pennsylvania, Joe Biden is most definitely a soul man.
Whether or not it’s Biden himself or one of his aides who is behind this overtly theological doctrine of the soul, it’s certainly a teaching at odds with the Bible’s concept of the soul. For Biden, “democracy makes all these things possible.” Contrast that with Paul: “For by him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16, ESV).
For Biden, transgender Americans shape our nation’s soul. The Bible’s view of shaping comes from a radically different frame: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, ESV).
We who follow Christ in America must live in Biden’s world, but we must not live as students of his doctrine. We live as expatriates, as citizens of a kingdom that is far away, but that is also already present but not yet fully realized.
On Good Friday, Jesus was crowned by his captors with a garland of thorns. But what was meant as mockery served as a coronation. King Jesus ascended not a throne there in Jerusalem, but a cross. Jesus’s substitutionary death for his people revealed that the battle for souls was far more than a battle for what makes us “us.” As the late John R.W. Stott, in his classic work “The Cross of Christ” observed, “What God in Christ has done through the cross is to rescue us, disclose himself and overcome evil.”
The good news of Good Friday is that this battle — this war — is ultimately one-sided. Victory for souls is won on the cross of Christ and only on the cross of Christ. And we as combatants in this battle must be captured by the cross to have any hope of Sunday’s resurrection. The alternative leaves us stranded on Friday, and that’s anything but good.
Jared Bridges is editor-in-chief of The Washington Stand.