The bane of Christianity is the literal reading of Scripture, something that scholars have blown up beginning 200 years ago, but this gross misunderstanding of Scripture is still what most believers rely upon. (The only way around this approach is knowledge and study, which, I shall observe, in not in great quantity among adherents of any religion that has "holy books.") Not to mention the hordes of noisy atheists, skeptics, and naysayers--all of them as ignorant of Scripture as the believers--who find people who read the Bible with any degree of literalism incredibly easy targets. Literalism with "holy books" is nothing but trouble. It misleads the gullible, amuses the scoffers, and goads the loudmouth non-believers. Moreover, and far more consequential, a literal reading of Scripture limits God. I don't think God can be apprehended in any way but metaphorical, the only way for idea to be both personal and expansive enough to encompass everybody on the planet who is trying to understand God at all, trying to grasp the immensity of the divine.
Which brings me back again to Good Friday. Here's the way Richard Rohr, a Franciscan mystic, explains the crucifixion of Jesus. I present it as an example of the kind of thinking about the Christian God that I've come to over the years. It's way beyond the silly notion that humanity somehow owes something to a God who supposedly called humanity into existence out of love.
Today the primary human problem, the core issue that defeats human history, is both revealed and resolved. It is indeed a “good” Friday. The central issue at work is the human inclination to kill others, in any multitude of ways, instead of dying ourselves—to our own illusions, pretenses, narcissism, and self-defeating behaviors. Jesus dies “for us” not in the sense of “in place of” but actually “in solidarity with” us, to show us how! The first is merely a metaphysical transaction of sorts, the second is a transformation of soul and history and people.
Whenever you see an image of the Crucified Jesus, know that it is the clear and central message unveiled. It reveals what humanity is doing to itself and to one another. It is you and every person and Jesus all at the same time. Don’t lessen its meaning by making it merely into a mechanical transaction whereby Jesus pays some “price” to God or the devil. The only price paid is to the human soul—so it can see what it has done, who it is, and what it still can be.