Thinking About Hell

DamnedIfYouDoI heard a great sermon on  hell last Sunday.

“Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” – Luke 13:2-5

I’ve been thinking about hell all week – and rereading C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce.  Here are a few quotes that have stuck with me,

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. ”

“The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

“I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road.  A sum can be put right: but only by going back til you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’ –or else not.”

Did you get that?  “All that are in Hell, choose it.”  The reoccurring theme here is choices… Little choices, big choices, choices every day and every hour.  Choices to love, to obey, to surrender, to seek truth, to reach out, to engage, to labor…. Or choices to disobey, to turn away, to be independent, to seek our own good, to hide behind falsehood, to ignore, to not love, to be lazy…

Over time our choices will define us and the path that we walk on.

One day we shall come to the end and discover that we have chosen our own destiny.  God, in His grace and mercy, desires that we choose to follow Him… to take the narrow path, the path of surrender and obedience… And if we do He will do everything in His power to help us along, making us stronger, sustaining and encouraging us, and using us to bring about His kingdom on earth.

If we chose not to follow Christ He does not give up on us but continually pursues us… Yet, like a warm coal that is separated from the fire, as it draws farther and farther away it becomes harder and harder to breathe life and flame into it… It cools and eventually there is no possibility of a fire left in it.

God is calling – You choose.  Hell is a reminder that the choices we make matter, right now.

Here’s the sermon: under the title “Hell And Who Goes There”.  He covers what Jesus meant when He spoke of gehenna, God’s love and justice, universalism, exclusivism, and inclusivism, and more.  It’s well worth 30 minutes of your time.

He descended into hell – What?!

I was ambushed at lunch yesterday.

“What is up with the “He descended into hell” part of the Apostle’s Creed? What does that mean, and how come some churches say it and others don’t? Why don’t you write a blog on that?”

Well, alright then, it being Easter weekend and all… Here’s a round of what I call Coffee Cup Theology.

This is the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

The “descended into hell” part is controversial, and has been debated for about 1,000 years. Remember that the Apostle’s Creed is a confession of faith (in this case it was a baptismal statement) that was developed around 350 AD and made an official around 750 AD. It is not a piece of scripture but a statement designed to clarify what the church believes.

So here’s my one cup of coffee commentary:

A literal translation of “descended into hell” is “went into the grave”. All the creed is saying is that Jesus was really dead. He was not an illusion. He was nailed to a post. He died. He had a real body, a corpse, that was placed in a tomb. He was not merely unconscious, the death of Jesus was not just a swoon or a coma, but death in every sense of the word. In the South we would say he was “deader than a door nail”… like really, truly dead. The reason that phrase was a part of the creed was to combat other heresies – unacceptable beliefs that Jesus wasn’t really dead.

Got that? So when you come to the “descended into hell” bit just say to yourself “He went down into the grave”. And you’ll know He was really, truly dead for your sins.

Who’s got time for a second cup of coffee?

Let me start by saying this – There is no place in scripture where it clearly says what Jesus was doing on Saturday of Easter weekend. He was dead, in the grave remember? He died on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday, the third day. So nothing is really said in scripture about what happened in between. You’ll have to ask Him when you get to heaven. Add it to your list of Unanswered Questions.

Today, as best I can figure out, the Catholic church has dropped the “descended into hell” line as have the Methodists. The Episcopalians/Anglicans have kept it and teach it in the catechism. I don’t know about the Presbyterians, and if you’re Baptist it’s possible you have no idea what I am talking about. LOL. (Tell me what you know, girlfriends!!)

However, there is a church tradition that on this occasion he took the souls of those who had died trusting in the promises made under the Old Covenant before Christ — Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, and many others — and brought them out of the realm of the dead who are waiting for resurrection and judgment and into heavenly glory. In the Episcopalian catechism (get out your Book of Common Prayer) the question is asked, “What do we mean when we say He descended to the dead?” The Answer: “We mean that he went to the departed and offered them also the benefits of redemption.”

This tradition is based on an interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20

18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

I have no idea what verse 19 really means. (Luckily it has no real impact on my life today!!)

I do know that it opens up many questions regarding what you believe about what happens between when you die and the resurrection at the Judgment Day. I can’t do three more cups of coffee today. I have Easter eggs to boil and color with my kids today. No eschatology – maybe another time.

Except one last interesting thought – this week as you read and hear the dialogue between Jesus and the thief on the cross remember that the spoken word has no punctuation. In Luke 23:43 did Jesus say,

“Truly I say to you – today you will be with me in paradise.” or
“Truly I say to you today – you will be with me in paradise.”

I had to throw that out there, just for fun!

It doesn’t really matter. What we know for sure is that we all gonna die one day and then there will be a resurrection and a judgment. You can be scared about that, or you can be excited about that… it all depends on what you do with Jesus and his teachings.

Jesus really did die on the cross and bore the full wrath of God that we deserved for being full of sin and our self-righteous, independent-living ways. The promise of Romans 10:9 is the same for all of us, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming—O glorious day!”

Sing it this Easter weekend, and every day of your life! He is risen, hallelujah!

More reading for the curious: