My friend Steve asked me this morning a most unusual question. "Have you read about the 'screams of the damned'"? For a split second, I thought about a webpage that was up many years ago, that had a .wav file (remember those?) of what was supposed to be the literal screams of the damned, in hell. I know, it sounds ludicrous, but it gets worse. The story was a Russian crew of oil riggers (or something like that, maybe they were Italian or from Arkansas, who knows?) had used this great big ole honkin' drill to bore a hole uber-deep for oil. For some unexplained reason, they dropped a mic down this zillion mile hole into the earth and what they heard sent chills (chills I tell ya!) down their spines. As the story went, it freaked them all out so much, that they decided to record it and share it online to freak everyone else out too. Deep within the hole, they claimed, you could hear on this recording what could not be explained by anything else, the literal screaming and moaning of the condemned in hell.
Yep, I heard the wav file, and yep, it was creepy. More than anything, it sounded like any run of the mill scary movie clip where crowds of people were screaming and moaning (or the sound you hear at any gas pump across town, these days). I'm sure if you looked, you could find the "screams from hell" wav somewhere if you really wanted to hear it.
As it turns out however, that's not what was being referred to at all. I suppose the only reason I thought of that, was because in all my years as a Christian, that was the one and only time I've ever heard that phrase. The way it was used today however (or at least in the post I was directed to today) was in the context of CJ Mahaney referring to Christ's words in Mark 15:34 as "the scream of the damned", found in this post at Justin Taylor's blog. I cannot say how many times I read this post, and that phrase, again and again to make sure I wasn't reading something into it, or misunderstanding what was being said. For me, words matter, and the words we use to communicate ANYTHING about our Lord, should demand us to be Biblically accurate.
So then, when our Lord cried out in a loud voice on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?", we can somehow translate this to mean a.) He was screaming? and b.) He was damned?
Honestly, I just don't get that. From all that I have read and all the sermons I have heard on the very moment God's wrath came down on our Lord, I have understood it to be a moment in human history of great anguish that cannot be compared to anything like it before, or since. I have never heard it described as a "scream". Screaming is what women do when a rodent scurries across the kitchen floor, or in some other context of sudden fear or intense pain, coupled with, a near 100% lack of self-control to keep their wits about them. I just cannot wrap my thoughts around the idea of Jesus screaming. He cried out with a loud voice is what the text says, and I guess I just assumed most Christians understood that to mean just that. While I don't want to get all nitpicky here, and while I suppose it could be translated to mean "scream", I've just never heard it referred to that way and the use of that word seems to be there for no other reason than to impart a more dramatic scene. Frankly, I think it was dramatic enough without using more theatrical type words, but that's just me.
The second part of the statement is what really threw me for a loop. Jesus was damned? I'm really glad someone else spoke up about this, while I was mulling this over all day, sort of wrestling with my own thoughts about the wording of this and why it refused to sit well with me. One of the commenters at JT's site said this:
"Please allow me to pose a question. Where in the Scriptures do we find the concept that Christ our Lord was Damned? To actually be damned one must have committed sin. 1 Peter 2:22 states that He did no sin. Jesus did not become a sinner, he bore our sin in substitution without becoming unrighteous in any way. Isaiah 53:4-5 says He bore our griefs,carried our sorrows, was wounded for our transgressions,bruised for our iniquities,and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, (our) is the key word here but at no time did he become a transgressor or commit iniquity. I fail to understand why The Word of God does not make you feel such wonder and awe. If Christ became damned then we have nothing to rejoice about, but if he stood perfectly sinless in my place that is something to rejoice about. Substitutionary death is not equal to the damnation unbelievers suffer, it is far superior because it is not due. His cry was not the cry of the damned but the perfectly obedient and sinless cry of the Son to His Father.If at any time He became a sinner He would have been unable to complete His work. Words have meaning and it is wise to stay within the framework of the meaning the Scriptures supply. Substitution not damnation." - Willow Walker
That said it perfectly for me too.
After considering this today, looking up some Greek words, and asking some questions of those a lot smarter than me, I know why this language bothers me. It bothers me because it gives me the impression that Biblical language is no longer enough for us to understand Biblical things. It bothers me because it seems as if, we have to use intensley dramatic language to convey the message, and once we do that we also run the risk of using the wrong language to make our point. The more I thought about the word 'scream' and the reason it bothered me, the more I had to keep looking closer at it. A scream conjurs up in the mind a completely different scenario than a "cried with a loud voice" does. I'm a woman, who's given birth 7 times. I know screams quite well, and I know sudden, uncontrolled outbursts of verbalized pain, quite well. Now while there is no way in the world I would ever compare anything I've gone through to what He suffered on the cross, the idea of my Lord on the cross screaming is just not what the text says, at all. So, why do any of us ever feel the need to soup it up and make it say something it doesn't actually say?
Beyond that, the idea that Jesus was damned, just takes this dramatic language to a place that it should have never gone. As the commenter at JT's so aptly stated, if Christ actually became damned, what in the world do we have to rejoice over?? Of course He was never damned, but for whatever reason, saying "the cry of the One who stood in my place" doesn't have that same powerful, Hollywood blockbuster impact, as "the scream of the damned". In fact, it wouldn't surprise me one bit to find out there have been at least a few low-budget horror flicks with just that title. It's very dramatic, isn't it?
I think we need to be very, very careful with how we impart to others, what the Scriptures actually say. While I have no issue at all with 'replacement' words (we all do that), even those words have to be carefully chosen so that we make certain we're still conveying the same message. I have to do this every day when I teach my kids in their Bible class, and it's no easy thing to explain big, complicated words rich in meaning, to young minds - but it can be done. It must be done, and it must be done Biblically so that they have a right view of God, a right view of sin, themselves, and what our Lord actually did on that cross, and why. I know for a fact if I said to my four youngest kids that Jesus vocalized the scream of the damned, they'd all think I'd lost my mind.
Yes, words matter. They always have, and they always will. Words chosen carefully, accurately, and biblically.
Steve has now posted on this topic as well, and I would encourage you to go read what he has to say, here.
"Words matter; especially when expounding God's Word. Some initial questions I have about this disturbing phrase are: is it biblical?; does the Scripture speak of the substitutionary death of Jesus for the elect as Christ being damned?; is this just cultural contextualization?; is it emotionalism run a muck?; is it sensationalized passion?; or shock the flock nomenclature designed to wake up tired ears? is this sound doctrine, theatrics, dramatics, blasphemy, or truth?"
Go read the whole thing, it's worth it.