In Charles Williams’ novel Descent into Hell, one of the characters describes something as being “terribly good”. A discussion ensues about whether or not something terrible can be good. This leads to the question as to whether it is possible to describe something as being a “terrible good”. Another of the characters, who has paralyzing phobic fears, questions whether her fears could ever be considered good. The answer given to her is an assertive “Yes, surely”.
We can easily wonder the same thing. How can anything that is terrible be considered to be good? Yet as we go through life, we often find that many of the little things that happen to us, which in the heat of the moment we consider to be terrible, have actually helped us to grow. The failing grade we received in a class spurred us on to better grades. The difficulties we go through in our lives build character. The trials we experience make us stronger persons. We may find that we are better persons because of living through these experiences. Yet at the point we were going through them we thought them terrible. If at all possible, we would have avoided them. But perhaps these are examples of something that we might call a “terrible good.” Though at the time we thought them terrible, in the long run they actually had a beneficial effect upon our lives
The celebrated Olympic speed skater, Apollo Ohno, said that the most devastating point in his life was when he, the number one speed skater at the time, failed to make the team for the 1998 Nagano games. Speaking of this excruciating experience he recently said in a news conference “It was a devastating moment for me … but looking back it was the single greatest thing that ever happened to me… It fuelled me to become a better athlete. I look back on those hard times … that was one of the biggest turning points in my career. I haven’t looked back since.” For him, this experience has proved to be a terrible good. The success which he has experienced in the Vancouver games comes from the blackness of the terrible despair he felt twelve years earlier.
There are also those things that are so hideous and barbaric and cruel that no sane person could ever call them good? What of them? The 911 attack and the Nazi atrocities come to mind. Yet it was through having to deal with hatred learned in the death camps that Corrie Ten Boom was able to even love the former camp guards and gain an understanding of what it means to love one’s enemies. But there is in the annals of ancient history one account that is so hideous, barbaric and inhuman that it practically defies description. An innocent person, condemned to death on a trumped up charge, is bruised and beaten to a pulp, barely alive. His bruised and swollen face is practically unrecognizable, even to his close friends. The loss of blood from the wounds inflicted upon him is excessive. His suffering is intense. He is tortured repeatedly and dies by experiencing a slow, excruciating, painful death at the hand of his executioners. There is absolutely nothing that could be considered humane about the treatment to which he is exposed. Anyone even reading the account of his death can’t help but be repulsed. It is utterly hideous and horrible. How can anything so terrible be considered good?
We all have experienced this terrible good. It is called Good Friday!