Summary: How you view the cross makes all the difference.
I wasn’t raised a Catholic, but I used to go to Mass with my friends, and I viewed the whole business as a lot of very enthralling hocus-pocus. There’s a guy ... nailed to a cross and dripping blood, and everybody’s blaming themselves for that man’s torment, but I said to myself, ’Forget it. I had no hand in that evil. I have no original sin. There’s no blood of any sacred martyr on my hands. I pass on all of this.’" -- Billy Joel, Musician
"May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." -- the Apostle Paul
The word "boast" can literally be translated as to glory in, trust in, rejoice in, revel in, live for. Talk about contrasting statements about the cross! One calls it evil, the other calls it wonderful. One wants nothing to do with the cross, the other wants nothing to do with anything else but the cross. One sees it as the ultimate in cruelty, the other as the ultimate in love.
Many people claim to have a relationship with God, but deny that Jesus died on a cross as a ransom for sin. They argue, ’My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin.’ But then a question remains: ’What did it cost this kind of God to love and embrace us? What did he endure to receive us? Where are his nails and thorns?’ A typical answer is: ’I don’t think that was necessary.’
"How ironic", writes pastor and theologian Tim Keller. "In our effort to make God more loving, we have made God less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love. The worship of a God like this will be impersonal, cognitive, ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We would not sing to such a being: ’Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’
To talk about God loving us independent of the cross makes the love of God nothing but mere sentiment. Who cares? In the midst of my misery -- debt, grief, loss, divorce, rejection, cancer, fear, depression -- what does it matter if God "loves" me?
Christian author Brennan Manning writes that only sacrificial love can move us to change. "Power affects behavior," he says, "love affects the heart. And nothing on earth so moves the heart as suffering love. That is why the perfect expression of God’s love for us is the dying figure of Jesus pleading for someone to moisten his burning lips." Thus, whereas Billy Joel and others find the cross appalling, the Christian cannot imagine God or love without it. Their hope, joy and life is bound to it.
"I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb", claims U2’s Bono. "I love the idea that God says: ... ’let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions’. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled… . It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven."
That is why Christians call the day we commemorate Jesus’ death as "Good" Friday.