A guest post from Mustang:
Human history is beset with tragedy. There is a tragedy, for example, even in God’s greatest gift, which is a two-edged sword. He gave us the gift of free will, which allows us to determine our own ultimate destiny. This means that some of us, perhaps even most of us, will never find our way into His presence. To never have a relationship with the Almighty is, I believe, the definition of hell. Heaven is not a place where there are streets of gold and magnificent feasts (a silly concept, if you ask me) — hell is our refusal to establish and maintain a close relationship with our Father.Good Friday and Easter remind us of the greatest story ever told — which is also illuminates human tragedy. Two tragic figures stand out, but there were than just a few. I think of Pontius Pilate, whose role on Good Friday was pre-ordained. Here we have a man who was raised within his society to be a good Roman. Because of this, he could no more help who he was at middle age than any of us can help who we are ... except that most of us have been raised in an enlightened household, within which we have some understanding that ultimately, our destiny is entirely up to us. Romans were raised to believe that their mythical gods determined their fate.
Pontius was a career Roman soldier. To him, Good Friday may have been just another miserable day in a wretched land. At some time during the day, he was quite unexpectedly faced with having to make a fateful decision. Pontius, I believe, did his duty as a Roman soldier. He didn’t know about the Old Testament prophecies — and, like most of us today, he didn’t know what he didn’t know. Pontius didn’t know who this Jesus of Nazareth fellow was and could not have believed it even had he known.
I think Christian history treats Pontius unfairly. From a young age, we are taught to revile this Roman officer — which is completely unfair because Pontius was unknowingly fulfilling the prophecy. Shall we denounce a man who was doing God’s will? I believe that while standing before Pontius Pilot, Jesus felt great compassion for this man who knew not.
We similarly revile Judas — the traitor. But without Judas there would have been no arrest; without Judas, the prophecy could not have been fulfilled. His treachery was foretold; it was already out of Judas’ hands. Was this not also a great tragedy?
Pontius tried not to crucify the man called Jesus; he left it up to the Jewish leadership to decide our Lord’s fate. In the orthodox tradition, with absolutely no record available to us suggesting that it is true, Pontius is believed to have become a Christian; he is viewed by some in the orthodox faith as a martyr for Christ. If this is true, then it reinforces our Christian belief that there is redemption for us all. Therefore, even at the end of these tragedies, we are offered hope.
I mention this only because — even in the greatest story ever told — whose ultimate lesson is that there will be a resurrection and an accounting for all of us, if we but love God with all our heart, and if we can find a way to forgive those who trespass against us — we find examples of the tragedy of human life. Isn’t it strange that we Christians somehow find it possible to forgive Peter for his denial of Christ, but withhold our forgiveness from Pontius for “washing his hands of the matter?”