3 minute read

Cutting To The Heart of the Matter

By Rev. Jeffrey Ahonen

The unusual marks on her arms were scratches from her cat, she said. Then she explained that she no longer wears shorts, even on very hot days, because she is more comfortable wearing jeans. What do your friend’s curious statements mean? Could she be hiding the fact that she is “cutting?”

Cutting is what some teens—one out of every ten, according to an Oxford University report—do to relieve emotional pain. A cutter tries to drain the pain out of his body by cutting his flesh with a sharp knife. He hopes that his sadness will be carried away with the blood as it flows out of his body.

The story of the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 shows not only that cutting is not a new phenomenon, but also points us to the real solution to this real-life problem: Jesus Christ.

These false prophets spoke about a god that existed only in their minds. While they lived as though he were real, Baal was an imaginary god, unable to provide help to anybody.

Elijah, a prophet of The Holy Trinity, boldly challenged the false prophets to an amazing contest: a duel between the gods. Whichever god sent fire from heaven would be declared the true God. During their turn, the prophets of Baal were unable to demonstrate anything except the futility of worshiping a nonexistent god. Out of complete despair, they became cutters. “So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them” (1 Kings 18:28).

This was more than just an effort to relieve the emotional pain of rejection by their god. It was also an attempt to please their god, so he would finally answer them.

Whether they recognize it or not, modern-day cutters do a similar thing. Their drastic action is a way of calling upon a “higher power” to bring relief from their heartache. They hope to bring themselves to the attention of a “god” to raise them out of their depression.

The prophets of Baal were manipulating their god into answering them when they poured out their own blood, in mockery of the bloody sacrifices the true God commanded His priests to perform. But God cannot be mocked (Galatians 6:7). In the end, God mocked these 450 false prophets, ironically giving them exactly what they desired; their blood was poured out of their bodies—completely—after they were cut open by the sword of the Lord, wielded by Elijah, as punishment for their blasphemy.

Before this, Elijah had taken His turn in the contest and called upon the one true God, who sent down from heaven a fire so fierce that it completely burned up everything in the area—even some nearby water! This was a mighty proclamation of the law of God against the man’s sin—including our attempted manipulation of God. It was a vivid reminder that God is an all-consuming fire, which brings all unholy things to an end (Deuteronomy 9:3).

But that end is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus is the Way (John 14:6) by which we sinners escape God’s fire, for Jesus is the sacrifice to which all of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed, the sacrifice for all sin. The piercing of His flesh and the flow of His blood brings true relief to the troubled soul. He is the sacrifice that was totally consumed by God’s fiery wrath against sin. Jesus had taken the sin of the world upon Himself. He suffered wrath, even unto death, in our place.

And He is risen from the dead to bring His new and everlasting life to us! In Baptism, He gives us the threefold pouring of water, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, to protect us from God’s fiery wrath. In the Supper, He feeds His people at His altar with the very flesh and blood He sacrificed for our sins. By His Gospel of forgiveness, He kindles in us the fire of His Holy Spirit, so we might joyfully serve our neighbors in love, especially our hurting friends.

Do you know someone—perhaps even a cutter—who is hurting emotionally? Show your love by encouraging your friend to speak with your pastor. Invite your friend to church to hear the Good News of Jesus with you. He is the answer!

Rev. Jeffrey A. Ahonen is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Ladysmith, Wisconsin.