Each Good Friday we pause to consider the son of God hanging on a cross, humiliated, broken and weak. And for many of us, I suspect that this is deeply guilt inducing. We know we should feel thankful but we secretly formulate this year’s list of sins: gossip, nagging, making-good-things-ultimate, lies, lust, jealousy, bitterness, anxiety, losing-my-temper-AGAIN, unforgiveness, the list goes on.
My experience suggests this is a particular issue for women. Whether we’re conditioned by our society’s constant commentary on what a good woman is, or whether we just naturally have more sensitive consciences, or whether it comes from a certain power dynamic within churches, or a combination of all these things, most Christian women I’ve met are well acquainted with guilt.
For most, I suspect this is a silent struggle: Christian women are meant to be joyful daughters of the King. If we feel guilty, it’s because we haven’t understood the gospel – one more thing we’ve failed at. But on Good Friday, there’s lots of talk about sin, and it’s personal. There’s no shifting the blame: ‘it was my sin that held him there.’
It’s about right and wrong: what I’ve done wrong and how Jesus makes it right.
All this makes it hard to see that the sin Jesus is bearing on the cross is not just my wrongdoing, but it’s also my pain. It’s not that it’s sinful to feel pain and suffering, after all, Jesus does. But the fact that they exist is part of sin. There’s sin that you do and then there’s sin that you experience or that is done to you.
Sin is present when you are overlooked or unfairly targeted; when you are unloved or loved wrongly; in neglect or abuse; in gossip about you or crushing pressure applied to you; in mental illness, physical sickness, sexual brokenness, emotional fragmentation.
Each of us is both a sinner and someone who is sinned against. As important as it is to know your own sin, it is also right to acknowledge when you have been sinned against. On the cross, Jesus deals with both.
Isaiah 53 has become very dear to me in recent years. We are familiar with the verses that say he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Just before that comes these comforting words, rendered so well in the new NIV:
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering
This isn’t just about Jesus taking our punishment: it’s about him knowing the hurts of our humanity.
The lashes on Jesus are not just taken in my place; they are the stripes that bring my healing.
Here is the promise, not just of escaping punishment, but of things made new.
For those who struggle with guilt, this is a game-changer. As well as focusing on how I have wronged Christ, it allows me to cry out to him about how I have been wronged. It validates my pain and it assures me that something is being done about it. Good Friday becomes the hopeful moment when God acts in history, not just to deal with my personal wrongdoing, but to put to rights a damaged world, and with it, my painful history or present.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.