Good Friday: The execution of God

By Simon Barrow
April 23, 2011

Next to efforts to explain Christian trinitarian language for God, it is sermonising on the message of the cross and the meaning of the resurrection that I often find most painful at this time of year.

Patterns of not-too-much-thought have been well ingrained in two kinds of churches. First, those that so elevate 'religious experience' that any attempt to hold it to account rapidly becomes part of a ritual of tribal approval and disapproval which stifles more difficult truths. Second, those where people 'go to' a church already laid on through years of subsidy and learn to seek consolation rather than challenge.

Actually, I have genuine sympathy for the latter. Being constantly "challenged" can be pretty wearisome, and "doing church" in a strange land at the end of Christendom is a tricky and demanding business. But, nevertheless, it has to be negotiated. And that means negotiating Christian meanings about things like the cross and resurrection which have either become loose pieties, or have long since ceased to resonate in a life-changing way, either within the communities that hold custody of them, or before a watching world which is inclined to think of them as little more than outmoded fairy tales.

There is hard work to be done, in other words. In a small and inadequate way, I have been trying to make some gestures towards that work with the first two in a series of four articles about Easter. The first one, viewing the whole scene through Holy Thursday, is called 'The religious betrayal of God and its antidote' ( The second is entitled, 'What sense does it make to say "Christ died for us"?' ( For the others, watch this space.

The second piece, for Good Friday, looks at the stark issues that arise from the central Christian conviction that we worship an executed God -- rather than an executioner God, you might (and hopefully will) say.

In the meantime, I rather appreciated Susan Brooks Thislethwaite's 'What’s good about Good Friday?' column in the Washington Post this weekend ( She's a senior professor at Chicago Theological Seminary in the USA, and one of a relatively small coterie of professional theologians who seek to communicate their ideas to a wider media without either being obscure or patronising.

Not that this is at all easy. That's the point. Or "challenge", we might say. (Ouch!) The darkness of Good Friday descends, and will not be peeled back simply for our convenience...

Oh, and just to prove I'm not ducking the challenge (that word again) I began with, here is an earlier piece entitled 'Three ways to make sense of one God' (


(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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