The Gospel According to El Chapo

Sean Penn pictured with Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán in 2015. (Photograph: Sean Penn/Rolling Stone)
Sean Penn pictured with Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán in 2015. (Photograph: Sean Penn/Rolling Stone)

The most shocking thing about the capture of the most wanted man in the world, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, is that his capture was not the most surprising event he was involved in this week. Instead, social media was aflurry over the weekend about a clandestine meeting between the world’s biggest drug kingpin and Hollywood star and activist Sean Penn, who wrote about the experience in a rambling and unlinkable (because of the profanity and content) missive at Rolling Stone.

The Rolling Stone story provides a window into the soul of one of the most ruthless and depraved men alive today. He is myth and legend, not only because of his exploits but also because of his reclusiveness. In fact, El Chapo has escaped from prison more times in the last 15 years (twice) than he has given media interviews (once).

So, what can we learn from this interview about El Chapo, and more broadly, about all those who are in rebellion against God? Let’s think through several aspects of the gospel according to El Chapo:

First, El Chapo’s interview reveals the way sinners are drawn to idolatry. In his case, that idolatry was his freedom from prison. When asked how he feels now, El Chapo says, “Lots of happiness – because of my freedom.” His joy is contingent on his freedom. That’s the essence of idolatry. When people find their joy in anything but God, that’s idolatry. For El Chapo, he was driven by his freedom; for others, they may be driven by the approval of man, business success or many other things.

Second, El Chapo’s interview reveals the way sinners suppress the truth in unrighteousness in a way that allows them to rationalize their sin. In El Chapo’s case, he justified drug trafficking based on his biography (“where I grew up there was no other way and there still isn’t a way to survive, no way to work in our economy to be able to make a living”). And he rationalized his sin based on the inevitability of the ongoing drug trade (“the day I don’t exist, it’s not going to decrease in any way at all”).

When Romans 1:18 tells us sinners “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” it is teaching us that we all have a tendency to do what El Chapo has done: a man determines the way he wants to live and then builds a belief system around it to justify it. Yes, belief shapes behavior; but behavior also shapes belief.

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Phillip Bethancourt

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