fbpx Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer

Take, Eat

Derek Caldwell

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:32b-33

In the early hours of November 16, 1989, four Jesuit priests lie slain on the dark, silent grounds of Central American University. 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 simply 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 who had been fighting for the poor and calling for an end to the then nine-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. And the stillness held, as it always does when a piece of earth is hallowed by the blood of God’s children.

In the wreckage at Central American University, a “blood-drenched” copy of El Dios Crucificado, the Spanish translation of Jurgen Moltmann’s book The Crucified God, lay prostrate on the ground.[2] 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.[3] The imagery is staggering. On the blood-drenched ground of the world lies a crucified God who enters our suffering.

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 depicted above 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.”[4] Separated from our Creator, we seek to create through devastation, 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 it does include the countless ways we “kill” the beauty and wholeness of God’s creation with hate, jealousy, greed, and injustice. “Vice, depravity, and crime,” writes Simone Weil, “are nearly always, or perhaps always, in their essence, attempts to eat beauty, to eat what we should only look at.”[5] As Dracula, that master of horror, reminds us, “There are far worse things awaiting man than death.”[6]

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.[7]

Since the dawn of humanity, God has provided us with sustenance, but we have consistently chosen another’s fruit. On the battlefields of the world, we have stolen more than just fruit, but divinely-imaged life. The ultimate judgment on this system is God Himself descending to earth only to ascend up a cross, where He asks us to take His blood, His life, and stop demanding it from others. If all spilt blood cries out to God from the ground (Genesis 4:10), it is no wonder that Jesus is the man of sorrows, for He carries our griefs and sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-6).

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.”[8] 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. In the words of Clement of Alexandria, Christ has “changed sunset into sunrise.”[9] Athanasius believed likewise, writing,  

He suffered to prepare freedom from suffering for those who suffer in Him; He descended that He might raise us up; He took on Himself the trial of being born, that we might love Him who is unbegotten; He went down to corruption, that corruption might put on immortality; He became weak for us, that we might rise with power; He descended to death, that He might bestow on us immortality, and give life to the dead.[10]

In 2 Timothy, Paul writes, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever” (2 Timothy 4:18). Earlier in the letter he had spoken of those who abandoned him, and beseeched Timothy, “May it not be charged against them!” What does it mean for Paul—who was in prison while writing Timothy, and who had been beaten, stoned, and abandoned, and who would later be beheaded by the order of Emperor Nero in Rome—to be rescued “from every evil attack”? In one sense I think Paul is saying that he trusts Christ, who suffers with him, to not allow Paul to be consumed by evil as he once was, to not be consumed and turned into the image of evil by its influence. Paul’s heart had been saved from evil’s corruptive and reproductive influence. As Christ conquered through it, so will we, through Him (Romans 8:37).

Jesus is with us in our suffering from evil, 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.

Regarding the materialist German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach’s famous statement—“man is what he eats”—Alexander Schmemann remarks, “In fact, however, [Feuerbach] was expressing, without knowing it, the most religious idea of man.”[11] Food gives life, and spiritual food gives eternal life. Unlike other ancient conceptions of deity, God does not demand we bring Him food for His sustenance and survival, but rather brings Himself to us for ours. As Jesus told us,

Here is the living bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.[12]

Instead of a having comments section, we invite you to contact us here.

[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] 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.

[3] 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, accessed January 28, 2022, https://www.americamagazine.org/media/gallery/memory-and-healing-el-salvador.

[4] Scott Harrower, God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of this World (Lexham Press, 2019), 27.

[5] Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 166, in Ann W. Astell, Eating Beauty: The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 2016), 227.

[6] Dracula, directed by Tod Browning (Universal Pictures, 1931), DVD (1999). 

[7] Soren Kierkegaard, “Evil and the Gift” in Spiritual Writings, trans. George Pattinson (Harper Perennial, 2010), 23.

[8] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 81. 

[9] Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen 11.114, trans. J. E. Ryland, in Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (eds.), Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2 (Buffalo, NY: The Christian Literature Company, 1885), 203.

[10] Athanasius of Alexandria, Festal Letters 10.8, trans. H. Burgess and J. Smith Payne in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace(eds.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 531.

[11] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press Classics Series Volume 1 (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2018), 17.

[12] John 6:50-51. Emphasis added.