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.
Third, El Chapo's interview reveals the way sinners are aware of God even when they reject him. El Chapo repeatedly references God, but in a way that shows there is no genuine relationship with him. When explaining how he escaped, El Chapo says, "I never thought of hurting anyone. All I did was ask God, and things worked out. Everything was perfect. I am here, thank God." When asked what his dreams are for the future, he states, "I want to live with my family the days God gives me."
In essence, El Chapo acknowledges the role of God's providence in his life. He implies that God helped him escape from prison, and he realizes God numbers his days. He credits God for his deliverance from the bondage of men, but there is no evidence he credits God for his deliverance from the bondage of sin. Most lost people are just like El Chapo. They acknowledge that there is a God, but they have fashioned him in their own image to pursue their own desires.
Fourth, El Chapo's interview reveals the way sinners recognize how envy drives people toward sin. The violence of El Chapo's Sinaloa drug cartel is as notorious as their drug trafficking. Notice how El Chapo responds when asked about why there is violence: "In part, it is because already some people already grow up with problems, and there is some envy and they have information against someone else."
Without recognizing it, El Chapo rightly understands what James declares about how jealousy drives sin. James 4:1-2 says, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel." What El Chapo recognizes to be true in the fields of Mexico is true in the heart of everyone: envy leads to evil.
Sean Penn's Rolling Stone story about El Chapo provides a fascinating window into the soul of the most wanted man in the world. Along the way, El Chapo's interview answers reveal much about the false gospel of El Chapo that shows us how the lost live and justify their sin. The fact this interview appeared the next day after El Chapo's capture reminds us how, even with drug kingpins, pride comes before the fall.