Michael Gerson

At the center of his book is an interesting case study: human rights. Some skeptics argue that the universe is an empty, impersonal void -- that life has no meaning or value beyond its material makeup -- and yet they try to maintain the importance of human dignity as if still living in a world of meaning and justice. "If morality is relative," Keller asks, "why isn't social justice as well?" Why isn't the rule of the strong -- the clear teaching of nature -- just as valid as a belief in the rights of the weak? A materialist, Keller argues, can only respond with sentiment.

The final part of Keller's book will be the most difficult for many readers to accept. He contends that the God of space and time is somehow uniquely found in Jesus of Nazareth. The earliest Christians knew this was a "scandal" often interpreted by others as blasphemy. Sophisticated, first-century Greeks and Romans were no more likely to believe in risen corpses than we are today.

Yet Keller argues for the reliability of the New Testament accounts. And he makes the case that the Christian message has an advantage: It is more than an intellectual theory. In his book, Keller quotes Simone Weil, the French mystic and social activist, who made a practice of repeating Christian poetry during her migraines: "It was during one of these recitations that . . . Christ himself came down and took possession of me. In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that, of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God."

Good Friday calls attention to a final argument as to why the God of the philosophers, however useful, may not be enough. In the end, the problem of human suffering cannot be minimized or explained away -- but in the Christian story, that suffering has been shared. Perhaps, in our own darkness, we need the imprisoned God, the scarred God, the shamed God, the despairing God.

The poet Jane Kenyon grasped at this mystery of Good Friday:

The God of curved space, the dry

God, is not going to help us, but the son

whose blood spattered

the hem of his mother's robe.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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