Good Friday, the Virus, and the Curse

Today is Good Friday, the darkest day of Holy Week, a day Christians around the world remember the death of Jesus Christ. In the Christian calendar, the temporary thrill of Palm Sunday has passed and the crescendo of Easter is still to come. Today, only death and darkness.

The Christian faith is clear about why Jesus died, and what his death accomplished. He did not die for his own sins—he had none—but for the unending moral failures of others. He was not a Jewish criminal or an insurrectionist against Rome but the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He died as God’s final sacrifice for sin, a perfect substitute who alone could absorb the full weight of God’s consuming justice.

We know why Jesus died. He came to carry what we couldn’t.

Good Friday in a Pandemic

Yet God has ordained that the darkening days of a global pandemic fall on the darkest hours of the Christian calendar so that together we might taste a hint of what Jesus carried. He carried the very curse of God.

Sickness and death and upheaval, and the sorrow and chaos that accompany them, do not belong in the “very good” world God made. The four chapters that open and close the world’s story make this clear (Gen 1–2; Rev 21–22). There was a day, and there’s coming a day, when God rules with no conditions, qualifiers, or competitors.

Yet sickness and death and upheaval, with their sorrow and chaos and fear, all thrive in the world we know. Like an invisible beast unfed and unleashed, the curse stalks our world like a cosmic shadow that dims our days in ways we barely notice. Like swarming termites eating out our homes with barely a sound, the curse of sin is always over us and around us and even within us, working at all times, whether we realize it or not.

God told the woman, I will multiply your pain, and You will be ruled harshly. God told the man, our representative, Cursed is the ground, cursed is your work, and cursed is your very life (Genesis 3:14–19). Even the law God would later give only brought condemnation: “Everyone who does not do everything written in the book of the law is cursed” (Gal 3:10; Deut 27:26).

It’s Everywhere

The ultimate expression of this curse is our fatal and lasting separation from the God who loves us and made us to live harmoniously with him, each other, and our world. But this deathly separation isn’t filed away in its own curse-category and only applied at the moment of death. Instead, even as we live, sin’s curse clouds and belabors all our days.

Sin’s curse makes our planet a playground for pain. It brings measureless disease and disruption into our world. Sin is a settled and insidious evil that pollutes and corrupts everything, from east to west, from soil to sky, from every cell in the body to every capacity the soul possesses, from the tainted motives behind the smallest human transaction to the grandest manipulations of the global economy. No wonder Jesus taught us to pray every day for God to deliver us from the evil one (Matt 6:13).

The coronavirus is certainly the curse’s most famous weapon today, but remember this: For all its disruption, for all our fears and frustrations, for all the debates about stats and policies and liberties and lockdowns, the coronavirus is just one more contemporary illustration of God’s just curse working out its effects on a world that’s rejected him.

Even our independence, born out of our prideful distance from God, is its own deadly infection. Sin hard-wires humanity to believe we can escape our bondage on our own. Science, technology, military funding, psychotropic medication, self-discipline, religious practice, or at least the next election cycle or ruling family become our tools for self-redemption.

The Curse Must be Absorbed

But Good Friday reminds us that there’s only one way for the curse of sin to be unwoven and undone. The curse cannot be escaped. It must be absorbed. We can’t just pour it out. Someone must drink the cup to the very bottom, and not for themselves, lest it be deserved and therefore remain in effect for all others who deserve it. Instead, it must be absorbed, imbibed, and consumed by a righteous one on behalf of others, one who can bear it and drink it and descend into it, and then rise from its depths as the reigning author of a whole new chapter in the world’s story.

Someone must bear the curse. And someone did: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13).

On the cross, Jesus was bearing the separation that plagues our relationships. He was bearing the shame that shadows our consciences. He was bearing the guilt that wears us down and eats us up and makes us a shell of ourselves, because we know deep down we’re alienated from the one whose life we were meant to share. He was bearing the scars we inherit as we scrape through life in a world of broken vessels. He was bearing the sorrow that trails our bad decisions and the regret that haunts our wasted seasons and the pain that paints us into corners and calls for our surrender. He was bearing every bad thing that’s befallen our world, from the tiniest splinter of guilt to thundering national catastrophes to the bloodletting wars that have crippled continents in times both ancient and modern.

On the cross, Jesus was bearing the curse.

He wasn’t carrying a disease or a virus. He wasn’t carrying smallpox or polio or the Black Plague or the Spanish Flu or COVID-19. He was carrying them all. He was bearing our curse, because he was bearing our sin: “He himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains” (Isaiah 53:4).

The Weight Belongs to Christ

We like to think that our sin-problem is periodic and behavioral and consciously chosen, like an annoying bad habit we’ll overcome one day when we finally dial up our focus and effort. In a polluted world, sin can feel pretty normal, an inconvenience to others and sometimes ourselves, like an allergy that can spike and leave you itchy-eyed and frustrated but ultimately isn’t a big concern. Too often we treat sin like an irritant that deserves a shrugged frustration or flippant confession rather than what it really is: a mutinous destroyer and cosmic disrupter of all that’s good and true and beautiful.

But here we must be discerning, because while God the Father wants us to know the weight of sin, he doesn’t want us to bear it. If he did, he wouldn’t have sent his Son. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

Just as we don’t earn God’s favor through good works, we don’t earn God’s favor through good grief. The gospel is not an invitation to prove our goodness by showing God how bad we feel on this Good Friday. The gospel is not a promise that freedom comes to those who keep carrying loads of guilt and shame and fear in hopes that God might be impressed. Jesus does promise, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” but the same Savior who praises our mourning really means for us to be comforted (Matt 5:4). That’s why he called the weary and burdened to come and receive rest from the only one who can make our lives light again (Matt 11:28–30).

When we know Christ, the weight of Good Friday should not beat us down and tear us up and compress our souls into a tiny fraction of their true freedom. Instead, we should bow low as the weight of God’s curse falls on his own Son, who stands before us in our place, then rise with fresh hope as we rediscover the joy of God’s world-changing presence. Because if Jesus has truly taken our curse, then the sentence has been rendered, the judgment has fallen, the curse is absorbed, and through an act of sheer, infinite grace, God is with us again, and we are free.