In the biblical story of Susanna as recorded in the Septuagint version of Daniel, the virtuous Susanna is falsely accused by two elders who had hoped to coerce her into immoral relations with them. The description of the fall of these two men is quite helpful in that it describes the two stages that most people pass though as they fall into temptation.
The first stage of the elders’ fall is the cultivation of desire. Susanna’s husband was a wealthy man and owned a large house where the Jews captive in Babylon would often meet to discuss their plight and resolve conflicts among themselves. As honored members of the community, the two elders, who were also appointed judges, would stay longer than the rest enjoying the hospitality of Jehoiakim, Susanna’s husband. It says that the elders would see her go into and walk about her garden every day, and they desired her.
Notice that they would see (or a more accurate English word, watch) her every day. Even after immoral desire had been aroused within them, they continued to watch her, they continued to pay attention to what was arousing their immoral desire. They did not heed the lesson of Joseph who fled, even naked, to avoid temptation; nor the lesson of Phinehas who used violence within the tent (that is, within his heart) to check the immorality of Israel; nor the lesson of Samson who lost all of his strength through an immoral relationship. These elders continued to watch knowing full well that the desire being aroused in them was evil.
But being enthralled by what arouses temptation is not the whole story of their fall. The next verse tells the rest of the story. Sin is not merely a matter of what is outside us and how we relate to it when tempted. The next verse says, “They turned away their heart and averted their eyes from looking to heaven, from remembering righteous judgments.” Sliding into a temptation is always a movement on two fronts. It is a movement of one’s attention to what arouses the temptation and a movement of attention away from heavenly things. It is possible to be godly and struggle with temptation, but once you cease remembering–calling to remembrance–God in your heart, the struggle is over. Sin wins.
Then follows what I think is the saddest line in the story: “they were pierced to the heart.”
The wounded hearts of the elders allow them to see Susanna no longer merely as someone who arouses desire in them. Now they no longer see her even as a someone. In their wounded hearts they have already murdered her, they have already reduced her to an it, a means to an end, an expendable, consumable something. Sin wounds our heart and makes it easy for us to murder others, to transform them into its. And when the wound is not cured, the wounded heart follows us into our graves.
Death, eventually, claims all. In the story, Susanna is justified and the elders are condemned. But even if Susanna had not been justified, even if injustice had triumphed–as it often does, or so it seems–Susanna won. The elders lose no matter what the temporary outcome had been. The full knowledge of what they have done in their hearts and tried to do in action torments the elders forever. This is what Jesus calls Gehenna, “Where the worms that eat them do not die and the fire is not quenched.” Susanna on the other hand, whether death comes sooner or later, forever shines with the divine Light in the eternal Kingdom of God. Her conscience is clear, there is nothing to torment her.
Susanna is the hero of this story: the righteous person who refuses to let the fear of Power compromise her integrity before God. She suffers false accusation, and some would call her a victim, but I would not, at least not a victim as it is commonly understood. Susanna is not a victim because she refuses to descend to the level of abusive power. She refuses to be made a victim. For her, misunderstanding and death are preferable to fear. When accused in court, she doesn’t even respond to her accusers. She weeps and looks up to heaven while the elders accuse her; and when they finished she “cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘O eternal God, who know both what is secret and all things before they come to be, You know these men testified against me falsely, and behold, I shall die, though I did none of the things they wickedly invented against me.’”
She doesn’t even condescend to respond to her accusers.
So then, maybe Susanna is a victim, the kind of victim Christ is, who Himself did not respond to His accusers. While unlike Christ, Susanna could not summon ten thousand legions of angels to her defence if she chose to. She did not have the option of over powering her enemies. Yet like Christ Susanna commits herself and her suffering and the unrighteous judgment against her to God. Like Christ she commits herself to “the One who judges justly,” win or lose, live or die, honor or dishonor. Like Christ Susanna bears (endures) before God the sins of others, and in so doing she shares in the victory and resurrection of the Victim who bore the sins of us all.