04/06/2012 12:21 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2012

Annie Dillard, Wheel of Fortune and Good Friday

Annie Dillard, in her book "Holy the Firm," asks, "Has God a hand in this? Or does the accidental world spin mute? How do we know?""

Good Friday is a day that leaves us spinning with questions about the nature of God. Is God's hand in this? Or does this crazy world spin accidentally? How do we know?

Several years ago, when I was in high school, my dad and I were wandering through the halls of one of our great art museums. Avoiding the crowd, we headed down a back stairwell. Were we surprised when we saw one of the greatest crucifixion paintings ever painted hanging in this back corner of the museum. Salvador Dali's perspective altering painting of Christ on the cross, larger than life, painted at an angle where it came right toward us. We were very much caught by surprise. It wasn't just the fact that this masterpiece was tucked in the back stairwell, but the overpowering effect of the cross coming right at us.

Psalm 22 takes us down a back stairwell as well. As we read and hear the Psalmist we descend into the despair of those who were exiled and those who felt forsaken by God. The psalmist screams out the words Christ later cried from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Caught by surprise, the psalmist cries to the God whom he had known to be close, personal and present. Now, this God is absent and the psalmist can only wonder, God, where is your hand in this?

This is a cry that too many in our world silently and desperately cry out this day. Isaiah also tells of one who suffers -- a servant who was oppressed, afflicted and wounded. Some believe the servant whom the prophet describes is a prophecy to Jesus Christ, others think the servant was the community of Israel. The passage is deliberately cryptic, open to many interpretations. But one thing was certain: injustice and suffering caught this servant by surprise. Caught by a perversion of justice he was taken away and was wounded for the transgressions of the world.

Centurion Ministries is an organization designed to help wrongly convicted men and women who have been caught by a perversion of justice be released from life in prison. For many years Centurion Ministries worked on the case of a man named Roger and over and over again their efforts were thwarted. On the evening Roger was condemned to die, he ate his last supper of cold pizza and warm Sprite. As he shared this last supper with the chaplain and his lawyers, they watched the popular game show "Wheel of Fortune." As they ate and watched, they were quietly waiting to see if the Supreme Court would call with a delay of the execution.

Midway through the game show, Roger pointed to the television. The three contestants were halfway through solving a three-word puzzle. It was clear that Roger knew the answer, though neither the contestants nor his companions had any idea. Roger quietly said, "Miscarriage of justice." Everyone in the room shuddered. And everyone knew then that an innocent man would die an unjust death. And he did. No one watching the "Wheel of Fortune" that day was caught by surprise when the remaining tiles were turned to reveal exactly what Roger Coleman had quietly uttered.

Today, this Good Friday, we face the fact that an innocent man will die an unjust death. Caught by betrayal, caught by a perversion of justice, caught by surprise. God, where are you? Is God in control of the events of our world or does the world revolve around as randomly as a wheel of fortune? Someone who struggles with questions like these is the writer Annie Dillard. She was caught by surprise when one of her neighbor's daughters died at a very young age.

Sorting through Good Friday prayers, she wrote the book, "Holy the Firm." "Is anything firm, or is time on the loose?" she asks. "Did Christ descend once and for all to no purpose, in a kind of divine suicide, or ascend once and for all, pulling his cross up after him like a rope ladder home?" Has God a hand in this? Or does the world spin randomly about like a wheel of fortune?

When we read the Gospel of John, we step into the Jerusalem world that was spinning out of control. Denial, accusations, questions, authority, violence, anger, injustice, betrayal, fear -- all spinning. And what makes the spinning world of Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago all the more distorted is when we look at it from the perspective of our world spinning wildly today. And we all question, God, where is your hand in this? After Annie Dillard asks this, she continues, "How do we know? How could we know -- that the real is there? By what freak chance does the skin of illusion ever split, and reveal to us the real, which seems to know us by name?"

Freak chance does not reveal to us the real. It is not a freak chance that splits open the skin of illusion. It is God's entry into the world in the person of Jesus Christ that splits the skin of our illusions. It is God's entry into the world in the person of Jesus Christ that splits the skin of God's own son. The skin of illusion is split when Jesus was wounded for the transgressions of the world. The skin of illusion is split when Jesus was nailed to the cross. The skin of illusion is split when Jesus' side was pierced and blood was poured out for us all. When the skin of illusion is split, and the real is revealed, we see Jesus before us on the cross and we can no longer despair that God seems absent. God is very present, for it is God's own self who is present on the cross. For a moment the world stops spinning, and it is very, very still.

And what catches us by surprise is that when we ask, God, where is your hand in this? We see that it is God's own hand that has been nailed to the cross.