On my commute home this evening I was listening to the Fundamentalists podcasts hosted by Peter Rollins in which he mentioned an event called ‘the Belfast Agreement’ or because of the day it was signed, ‘The Good Friday Agreement.’ This was an agreement signed Good Friday, April 10, 1998 that ended a three-decade long conflict in Northern Ireland between the Republicans and the Unionists, known as the Troubles.
Even growing up here in the United States during the 80’s and 90’s I remember being aware of the Troubles. It was featured in movies like ‘The Devil’s Own’ (1997), and even made its way into the Daredevil comic books I read in my teen years. I remember being told that it was a bloody conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics in Ireland, but of course the truth is a lot more complicated than that.
I knew about the Irish Republican Army and the UVF. The larger part of the conflict had to do with nationalistic identities, the Republicans wanting Northern Ireland to be part of a united Ireland, and the Unionists wanting to stay part of the United Kingdom. Nationalism can be a dangerous thing.
I heard about the explosives that were used and I knew that it cost a lot of lives. I knew somehow that the violence just seemed to escalate, tit for tat, without any real hope of resolution. Irish stories were sad stories.
The Good Friday Agreement
So, part way through this podcast Peter brings up this ‘Good Friday Agreement.’ He talked about how thirty years of violence had grated on the people of Northern Ireland’s souls. They needed the violence to stop.
It was with the support of the U.S. government there was an agreement was made between the British and Irish governments as well as the eight Irish political parties. Only one of the eight parties opposed it, yet all signed in the end. It wasn’t that they all agreed or changed their ideologies. They just were done with the violence and wanted to learn to live in peace again. So, they signed the agreement. They agreed to stop the violence, and they did so on Good Friday.
The day picked was intentional.
I find this really beautiful because Good Friday is the day that God made peace with man through Jesus Christ.
You see it could be argued that based on the terms of the Good Friday agreement, almost no one actually got what they wanted, outside of peace. All they really gained was an end to ‘the troubles.’ There would be no more violence. Which means they didn’t get what they wanted, at least not exactly. The same divisions between them were there. Some still wanted to be an Irish republic. Some still wanted to continue to be part of the United Kingdom.
They both had to die to their desires in order to make peace. They had to stop with the tit for tat, and just let the damage stay where it is. They had to decide to absorb the violence that was thrust upon them rather than look for means of retaliation. When you do that, when you forgive, it is always a sort of death.
They had to die.
They had to die to their violence.
They had to choose forgiveness.
They had to choose peace.
I grew up hearing all sorts of ideas about what Jesus did on the cross. I heard stories about an angry God who had to punish someone because of all of us sinners. I heard about a loving Jesus who took that punishment on himself. There is some truth to this. But we can only see this truth if we trust that Jesus is what God looks like.
Pastor Brian Zahnd from Word of Life Church in Missouri is fond of saying “Jesus doesn’t save us from God, Jesus reveals God as Savior.”
What we see on the cross is not Jesus taking on the wrath of an angry God, but instead taking on the violence and wrath of humanity. He absorbs our violence and then refuses to retaliate. At the cross we hear the words, “Father forgive…” It is there that we meet the real God.
Jesus dies to bring peace, by taking on the worst we can throw at him and forgiving it.
As I reflect on these moments in history it gives me hope. When we see humanity taking steps towards peace that look more like a cross and less like a sword, I have hope that our ‘troubles’ can come to an end.
Like our Savior and Rabbi, we can take up our cross and die rather than retaliate. We can choose peace, love and forgiveness over violence.
We can agree to a Good Friday.
“He left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps. He committed no sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive. When he was insulted, he did not reply with insults. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed. He did this so that we might live in righteousness, having nothing to do with sin. By his wounds you were healed.”
-1 Peter 2:21-24