Slot-machine Jesus

“We don’t believe in a slot-machine Jesus,” she says. “We believe in a Jesus that understands suffering and is with us in suffering, and is not judging or pushing or saying hurry up and make this redeemable.”

Ana Grace Márquez-Greene
Ana Grace Márquez-Greene

These words come from  Nelba Márquez-Greene, whose youngest daughter, Ana Grace, was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — she was six. 

Nelba Márquez-Greene was recently profiled in People Magazine as one of the 2019 Women Who Change the World feature. 

I encourage you to read this short profile of Márquez-Greene and the work she is doing since her daughter’s death. But here, I want to focus on the quote above. The image of a “slot-machine Jesus,” where we insert a prayer, pull the lever, and wait to see if we win is probably something we all follow more than we realize. And, like a slot machine, the more prayers we throw in the better chance we have of getting what we want.

Of course, it does not work this way. What she says next is simple and powerful: “We believe in a Jesus that understands suffering and is with us in suffering.” 

Márquez-Greene does not ask why she and her family, especially her daughter, had to suffer. Instead, she knows she does not suffer alone and that Christ is not asking us to make this suffering something positive. She has done something positive and started a foundation to address children and trauma, but I’m sure she would not sacrifice her daughter in order to make that happen.

Léon Bonnat – Christ on the Cross, c. 1880
Léon Bonnat – Christ on the Cross, c. 1880

Suffering is part of Christian theology. Catholics prefer the crucifix over the cross so we are reminded daily of the sacrifice that Christ made for us. That sacrifice involves suffering, which Jesus understands because he endured it. 

“That’s the message of the cross, and signing ourselves opens us to hearing it. God’s only Son became a man in Christ. In his human nature, God himself suffered rejection, humiliation, ridicule, abandonment, buffetings, scourging, crucifixion, and death. He embraced suffering as a man so that he could comfort us in our suffering. When we make the sign of the cross we invite the Lord to join us in our suffering” says Bert Ghezzi in his book “The Sign of the Cross.” 

[Jesus] embraced suffering as a man so that he could comfort us in our suffering.

Bert Ghezzi

Márquez-Greene also says in the profile “Everyone wants to fix it…They want something good to come out of it.” That is the slot-machine version of Christianity and she is not buying it. Nor should she. Life is full of suffering and we have a God who, instead of removing it, and quite possibly our free will, embraced suffering.  

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