Yesterday I was asked why we call Good Friday ‘good’. It’s a simple enough question but it’s difficult to give it a convincing answer. After all, it’s only in the English-speaking world that the word ‘good’ is used in this context. Other languages and cultures speak of the day being ‘holy’, or ‘silent’, or ‘sorrowful’.
There are answers of course. The favoured one for many Christian people is one that you might call ‘consequentialist’ or ‘outcome-oriented’. ‘It was very nasty at the time, but the result – the salvation of the world – was good. Hence Good Friday.’ QED.
Personally I don’t care for this very much. It suggests a relationship between ends and means which can be used to justify all sorts of abominations. Think of the generations of children subjected to corporal punishment for the good it would do them, with the added commentary, ‘this is hurting me far more than you’.
Another argument is that ‘good’ is a corruption of ‘God’. This is the one that seems most likely to me. After all ‘Goodbye’ is what you might call the secularised, or modern, version of ‘God be with You’ (I gather that in the sixteenth century people were still saying ‘Godbye’.)
There is a third argument, however, and this is my preferred theology. This proposes that Good Friday is helpfully called ‘good’ because it shows what it takes for good to triumph over evil.
This suggests that if we contemplate the events of Good Friday we can learn something of the cost for those involved in that struggle, whenever and however it happens. It makes the point that doing good is often more difficult than we think, and can involve far more suffering on our part than we had anticipated or imagined. This is subtly, but importantly, different from the argument based on results or consequences. It’s about the quality of commitment to goodness, that is disinterested self-sacrifice, being the sort of action that is most profoundly transformative.
But while I like it, it probably isn’t historically or linguistically true.
And, equally importantly, it’s just too easy for people to hear a story of abuse, torture, mocking and death and to say ‘it doesn’t look good to me’. They are self-evidently right to do so. We want to enjoy doing good; not to be hurt or worse while making the effort.
Moreover, the phrase ‘Good Friday’ has now become a major date for gardening and sports fixtures – in the latter case a kind of spring-time ‘Boxing Day’.
So I want to suggest we should drop an ‘o’ and change it to back ‘God Friday’.
The question then becomes, ‘why is God Friday called God Friday?’
And that’s not just a good question, it’s a great question.