I remember when Brielle first learned that Jesus died.
We were reading a book called The Legend of the Three Trees. In the story, one sapling dreams of growing up to be a treasure chest. Another young tree looks forward to being a great ship that will carry kings. The third just wants to stand tall, point to heaven and remind people of God's beauty and love.
Each tree's future ends up looking nothing like what it envisioned. The first becomes a mere trough from which animals feed. Then one day a baby in swaddling clothes is laid in it. The second becomes a humble fishing boat. And one stormy day a passenger wakes up from his nap and silences the wind and waves.
The third tree is chopped down in its prime, cut into planks, and set aside. But it gets worse. After years gathering dust and cobwebs, men make this tree into a cross. To this cross is nailed an innocent man.
Treasure chest. King's vessel. Symbol of divine love. Each tree did nothing it had dreamed and became everything it had hoped.
I'll never forget the weight on my chest the day 2-year-old Brielle looked at the Golgotha picture near the end of this book, and I saw the recognition in her eyes. She knew what Jesus looked like, because she'd seen the pictures: Good Shepherd, Teacher, Friend. But here, Jesus--the one who loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so--was being hurt. Jesus--healer of dead girls, feeder of thousands, teacher of peace, lover of children--had enemies. How could this be?
"Daddy, why are those men hurting Jesus?"
"I don't know, Brielle." The mystery of evil still confounds me.
"Lots of people liked Jesus, but some people didn't like him, and were not nice to him at all. These people didn't like him so much--" I falter, breathe in and sigh, discomfited at the gravity of what she is about to learn about the human race into which she has been born. "They didn't like Jesus so much that they nailed him to that cross, and they hung him up until he couldn't breathe anymore. And then, Jesus died. They killed him."
"I don't know, Brielle. I don't know why people are so bad that they want to hurt such a good man as Jesus."
"Oh." We are quiet.
"But Brielle, do you know what?"
"Jesus loves people so much, that even when those bad people were not being nice to him, he was still nice to them. He even prayed, 'God, please forgive them. They don't know what they are doing.'"
"And Jesus even loves us when we aren't being nice. And he forgives us too." Forgiveness is still over both of our heads, but both Daddy and daughter knew enough to sense that it is a nice thing done to people who aren't being nice. "But he can teach us to be nice."
The conversation moved on, but that moment changed so much. I was suddenly embarrassed by our species, heart-broken to have shared with Brielle the truth about humankind. I felt like an adoptive parent breaking the news to a child that her birth parents were a hooker and a crack dealer, worried she might feel guilty by association. I felt as if an innocence had been lost.
Jesus, for Brielle, was no longer just a nice guy. He was a nice guy that we killed, a God murdered by His children. He was not only the Good Shepherd. He was the sacrificial Lamb. Did she have to know? Did the perverse truth have to come so soon? Did the joyful story of baby Jesus' life have to take such a horrific twist?
Like Peter faced with the prospect of Christ's death, I want to pull Jesus aside and say, "Never, Lord! This will never happen to you!" Faced with the prophecy of our own denial, I say with Peter, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."
But it did happen to him. And more than deny him, I helped slay him.
Forgive me, Lord, for I do not know what I am doing. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner raising angels who are destined to fall. Let your tree point us to the loving beauty of heaven. May we find grace amidst the guilt and shame of the Friday we call "good."