It has become my tradition to write about evil on Good Friday (though I’ve missed a few years). As I’ve written before, the trauma survivor in me has always been willing to contemplate evil. Having experienced it firsthand in a most atrocious way – and survived – I am not afraid to confront it, call it out into the light, and take it on when necessary. Good Friday always seems like a good time to do that – the day when the Son of God took on the weight of the world’s evil and died under its pressure.
I’ve been traveling regularly to an army base in Georgia where I work with soldiers with PTSD. My prayer bead workshop is part of a three week intensive, interdisciplinary treatment program for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Thus, each month I am working with a new group of soldiers. So far, of the four times I’ve been, three of the groups have been easy to work with: they have formed a nice bond with each other and the staff, been willing to be vulnerable and talk about their spirituality, and participated in making prayer beads. The group I met with a few months ago, however, was completely different. You could tell they were flailing, they didn’t connect as easily with those around them, and several of them chose not to make prayer beads. Instead of leaving with my usual sense of fulfillment and excitement, I left with some anxiety, fearing that maybe I had not done a good job of leading the group or explaining the purpose of the prayer beads.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I also left hoping that no other group would be as hard to work with.
I shared this with my friend and colleague, Paul, a retired Army Chaplain who is helping to lead the workshops. “But Kristen, this isn’t about us,” he said. “That group was in so much pain.”
Ouch. He was right. I had made the mistake of making this about me and missed the very cause of their disconnection: pain. Deep pain. They had survived unspeakable evil – the kind most of us will never understand because we are not in combat situations – and were now experiencing a great deal of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain. No wonder they couldn’t connect with each other or me or anyone else. No wonder they couldn’t connect with God.
And I had missed the opportunity to connect with them. Granted, we only had two hours together, so we certainly didn’t have time to forge a deep bond or anything. And I was busy working with the group, helping those who made prayer beads, etc., so I didn’t have much opportunity to talk with them individually and hear their stories. Still, I missed the chance to see – really see – their pain. I didn’t enter into it with them. I was so focused on teaching and creating and sharing the prayer beads and hoping everyone was having a good time that I failed to recognize the depth of their pain and understand how much they were struggling; how the pain prevented them from being present: to each other, to me, but – most importantly – to God.
Theirs is the pain of Good Friday. This is the day when we are confronted with the depth of pain in the world brought on by evil. Here is where we come face-to-face with its devastation, pointlessness, and utter despair. We see the Son of God hanging dead on the cross. We feel the earth shake as the curtains are ripped in the Temple. We experience the overwhelming darkness that envelopes the world. We hear silence that is broken only by the wails of humanity. The Messiah is dead. Evil, it seems, has won.
Theirs is the pain of Good Friday, which makes me wonder how much we are willing to enter into the reality of this day. This is the day when we realize we had the chance to do things differently and didn’t. We had the chance to make this about others, rather than ourselves. We had the chance to bear each other’s pain but didn’t, leaving Christ to bear it for us. We had the chance to connect with others and with God, but didn’t. We abandoned God. Evil, it seems, has won.
Theirs is the pain of Good Friday. Are we willing to enter into it? I hope so, even if just a little, so that we can understand our desperate need for a Savior, recognize the extent of Christ’s sacrifice, and experience the true depth of God’s love for us.
Three days from now we will arrive at the tomb, see that it is empty, and realize evil did not win after all. We will be able to proclaim that Jesus the Christ is risen.
But not today. For now, we must sit at the foot of the bloodstained cross, smear ashes on our faces, and wail. For we are alone with evil.
We must be willing to enter in.