N.T. Wright Sings Sydney Carter from Thomas McKenzie on Vimeo.

In the clip above, the celebrated New Testament scholar and former Bishop of Durham, N T Wright, sings the hymn “Friday Morning.”  This hymn by Sydney Carter continues to be controversial today. May it serve as a meditation on the extraordinary (dare I say divine?) irony of the crucifixion, so central to the Christian faith.

* * *

FRIDAY MORNING

It was on a Friday morning that they took me from the cell
and I saw they had a carpenter to crucify as well
You can blame it on to Pilate
You can blame it on the Jews
You can blame it on the Devil
But it’s God that I accuse
It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree

You can blame it on to Adam
You can blame it on to Eve
You can blame it on the apple,
but that I can’t believe
It was God that made the Devil
And the woman and the man
And there wouldn’t be an apple
If it wasn’t in the plan
It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree

Now Barabbas was a killer
And they let Barabbas go
But you are being crucified
For nothing that I know
And God is up in Heaven
and He doesn’t do a thing
With a million angels watching
and they never move a wing
It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree

To hell with Jehovah
To the carpenter I said
I wish that a carpenter
had made the world instead
Goodbye and good luck to you
our ways they will divide
Remember me in heaven
The man you hung beside
It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree

* * *

Allow me to add a few more words.

The problem of suffering and evil is perhaps the strongest objection to the existence of the Christian God, a God who is simultaneously proclaimed to all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good. There is unjust suffering in the world. A good God would want to remedy the injustice. A wise God would know how to do it. An all-powerful God would be able to intervene however he wanted. So whence suffering? Whence evil? How did it ever arise, and why doesn’t God do anything about it?

About a year ago, we held a friendly debate within these ivy-covered walls of Harvard College on the problem of suffering and evil. Harvard College Faith and Action and the Harvard Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics represented opposite viewpoints on this most difficult of theological problems. Philosophical arguments were advanced and rebuttals ventured. But it seems to me that even the most philosophically rigorous response to the problem of suffering cannot help but feel hollow.

Dostoevsky-Brothers_Karamazov

That is why I am sharing this hymn. Much like the Grand Inquisitor passage from The Brothers Karamazov, it is highly ambiguous as to whether or how this solves the problem. (I, for one, consider the Grand Inquisitor passage to be an extremely profound refutation of the problem of suffering;  atheists who read it tend to think quite the opposite.) I don’t think this ambiguity is a bad thing. I think it is an honest means of communication, and entirely commensurate to the nature of the problem. Life is highly ambiguous. Our stories often have two sides. The story of the cross, as presented in the hymn “Friday Morning,” is such a story. Which prisoner do you think is the narrator in this song? How are we meant to understand his accusations? I wonder what Jesus would have said. I wonder if it might it have been, “Oh my son. If only you knew.”

— S.G.M.