The All-Consuming Christ
Four Jesuit priests lay slain on the dark, silent grounds of Central American University in the early hours of November 16, 1989. Two other priests slump lifelessly in their rooms.(1) So, too, does Elba Ramos, whose still body is cocooned over her daughter Celina, no doubt in an attempt to shield her from the bullets that would claim both of their lives. While not considered a threat, they would be eliminated for witnessing the massacre. Just after midnight, the Atlacatl Rapid Reaction Battalion, an elite unit of the Salvadoran army, had unloaded its ravenous rage upon the heads of God’s workers because they had been criticizing the government, fighting for the poor, and calling for an end to the then 9-year-old Salvadoran civil war. The voices of peace and love for all had been, once again, cut off with fiendish rapidity, coldness, and cruelty.
While the notions of “sin” and “evil” are not easy or fashionable concepts, they are ever-present in our world and must be confronted seriously and sincerely. This story of horror is a visceral personification of the devastation of sin wrought in our world, a sin of pride and violent hopelessness. As Scott Harrower writes, the consequence of original sin in the Garden is that “people have since lived in a hostile world to which they are maladapted. They become horror makers, interested in their survival above the interests of others.”(2) Separated from our Creator, we seek to create through devastation, which is something of a twisted act of anti-creation. In this, humans usurp a role that they were not given: to give and take away life. This does not always mean we dole out death in the literal sense, but in the countless ways we "kill" with hate, jealousy, greed, injustice, and on and on. As Dracula, that master of horror reminds us, “There are far worse things awaiting man than death.”(3)
The psychological and emotional trauma that results from such horrors is a death that one must relive over and over, again and again, blow for blow. When we sought to “become like gods” in Genesis, we were grasping for a sovereignty that was not ours. Martin Luther rightly believed that peace with God is found when we accept our role as creatures, and God’s as sole Creator. Kierkegaard describes the opposite side of this coin well, writing of the disorientation that rises apart from God and fosters a lack of peace: “It was only from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that human beings were forbidden to eat, lest knowledge should enter the world and bring it grief: knowledge of the pains of loss and of the dubious pleasures of possession, of the fear of separation and of the difficulty of separation, of the restlessness of reflection and of the worry of reflection, of the need to choose and of the decisiveness of choice, of the law’s judgment and of the law’s condemnation, of the possibility of being lost and of anxiety about being lost, of the sufferings of death and of the expectation of death.”(4)
In the wreckage of the 1989 massacre at Central American University in San Salvador there lay on the ground a “blood-drenched” copy of El Dios Crucificado, the Spanish translation of Jurgen Moltmann’s book The Crucified God.(5) Today this book sits in the “Memorial Hall of the Martyrs” near the site of the killings. The killers are vanished vapors while the martyrs are remembered and honored.(6) The imagery is staggering. On the blood-drenched ground of the world lies a crucified God who enters our suffering.
For all of the good work theodicy does, it is interesting to note that God rarely answers the “why” questions that theodicy seeks to confront. Perhaps contrary to our hope, God does not swoop down in Marvel-like fashion to wage scorched-earth war against evil. As Nicholas Wolterstorff notes, “A great mystery: to redeem our brokenness and lovelessness the God who suffers with us did not strike some mighty blow of power but sent his beloved son to suffer like us, through his suffering to redeem us from suffering and evil.”(7) Perhaps God knows that we could not fathom, or feel pastored by, the reasons why we suffer, for in our individual trauma there is no justifiable reason for, say, the loss of an innocent daughter to rampaging soldiers.
But maybe it is something to note that as soon as Jesus was born, death began to stalk him. As soon as he declared his public ministry, the father of death, Satan, sought to isolate and tempt him. Because of Jesus’s identity and his radiating goodness, sin could not help but to be on a search and destroy mission like a holy-seeking missile. Evil always seeks out what is good in order to make it some sort of demented monster or disfigured victim (and if you are like me, you have been both yourself). Evil seemed magnetically drawn to Jesus at times, stalking him as a polar opposite. But Jesus is to evil like a black hole, and the closer evil got, the more it was pulled in, stretched, twisted, and finally disintegrated in every dimension until it was formed into the shape of divine love itself. Ravi Zacharias often quoted Scottish minister James Stewart, who wrote:
“It is a glorious phrase—'He led captivity captive.’ The very triumphs of his foes, it means, he used for their defeat. He compelled their dark achievements to subserve his ends, not theirs. They nailed him to a tree, not knowing that by that very act they were bringing the world to his feet. They gave him a cross, not guessing that he would make it a throne. They flung him outside the city gates to die, not knowing that in that very moment they were lifting up the gates of the universe, to let the king come in. They thought to root out his doctrines, not understanding that they were implanting imperishably in the hearts of men the very name they intended to destroy. They thought they had God with his back to the wall, pinned helpless and defeated: they did not know that it was God himself who had tracked them down. He did not conquer in spite of the dark mystery of evil. He conquered through it.”(8)
Jesus is with us in our suffering, which we might hear as a platitude. But what if we were to say that Jesus is so present in our suffering so as to say that he consumes it? The consumption is still painful, but we know that we will not be consumed ourselves by suffering or sin or evil because the Triune God sustains and restores us. We wish to eat sin, which in actuality eats away at us; in response, Christ offers his own self to eat and drink as a life-giving grace bestowed upon and within his beloved bride.
Derek Caldwell is a writer for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) The martyred priests were Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J., Segundo Montes, S.J., Juan Ramón Moreno, S.J., Joaquín López y López, S.J., and Amando López, S.J.
(2) Scott Harrower, God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of this World (Lexham Press, 2019), 27.
(3) Dracula, directed by Tod Browning (Universal Pictures, 1931), DVD (1999).
(4) Soren Kierkegaard, “Evil and the Gift” in Spiritual Writings, trans. George Pattinson (Harper Perennial, 2010), 23.
(5) Daniel Castelo, “Qualified Impassibility,” in Robert J. Matz. and A. Chadwick Thornhill, eds., Divine Impassibility: Four Views of God’s Emotions and Suffering (IVP Academic, 2019), 73.
(6) The book resides not far from a rose garden planted and maintained by Elba Ramos’s husband and Celina’s father, Obdulio, until his death in 1994. “The roses remain as a testament to life and resurrection.” See Luke Hansen, S.J., “Memory and Healing in El Salvador” in America: The Jesuit Review,
(7) Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 81.
(8) James Stewart, The Strong Name (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1972), 55.
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