go to hell

This is the week I have been waiting for since the quarter began back in January. Spring Break. Ok, it’s not the same sort of excitement I used to have when the phrase “spring break” was uttered throughout the hallways of my grade school or high school. And no, it isn’t the same joy I had during college or my first two years of seminary when I realized I now had a break from all studying, reading, and those other entanglements that occupy so much of my time. This week is so exciting because I have a narrow window to read and study the things I want to rather than what I have to.

Contained within this week was the planned reading of a few books and articles that spoke to the struggles I had been going through, especially toward the end of the quarter. But as always, life injected itself into my plans and although it’s only a day in, plans have changed. I don’t know yet whether this change is good or bad, only that the week I thought I was going to have is not going to happen. I imagined a week of rest, sitting on a couch or chair with coffee at the ready diving deep into the pages I longed to digest. Only, there was work to be done around the apartment, and it wasn’t going to do itself.  Now, before I lead you to think I didn’t have time to do anything but work I must admit that I still found time for a nap and tomorrow I’ll still find time for my coffee. But what should have taken 5 minutes took an hour and a half and I lost my day. Tomorrow will bring work, and the following days will bring other tasks to be completed. Today, the day I thought I’d have to do whatever, ended up being just another day that forced me to do things I didn’t want to do.

However mundane the tasks were and however distracting they became, they did give me time to clear my head, and hopefully my heart, of the attitude I had been carrying the last few weeks of the quarter. Time spent on something other than theological notions has its advantages, not the least of which is that I get a break. My mind doesn’t often let me takes breaks, my wife reminds me, and sometimes I remind her, i just cant shut it off. It’s my great achilles heel, I focus so much on one thing and tear it to pieces only to drop it a day later and attack the next thing. Im like a rabid dog, looking to bite the jugular of theological positions I don’t see as tenable.

This too has its advantages and disadvantages. In a way it is helpful because it forces my ear to the ground, always listening for both the words being spoken and that which lies behind them. I don’t always have an ear for both, but more often than not I get lucky enough to hear the answer, even if they don’t come out and say it. Like I said, it’s something I can’t always turn off and when it goes in my ear, it isn’t always nice enough to go out the other side.

Jesus didn’t understand his divinity. Or so I read this morning. One of those things that went in and didn’t easily come out. It was argued that when Jesus predicts his death, he isn’t actually doing so prophetically in the sense that he knows it is going to happen, just standing in line with those other revolutionaries who give over their lives to a movement, like MLK when he preached about not getting to the promise land. But this notion bugged me because it seems like we (btw this was spoken by a Christian and that’s why I say we), are more often than not happy about undermining the person to which we cling for the sake of what we think makes Him more fashionable.  The quest for the historical Jesus is such an endeavor that does the same thing. Taking the man Jesus and the Divine Lord and gluing them together like two boards that, although they are one are completely separate ideas or persons, results in not one Christ but two. But why is that problematic? Because this notion was rejected with Nestorious long ago.

Now, I will readily admit that we, as people who take seriously the claims of scripture, need to address the arguments against inerrancy and inspiration and, for the sake of the Truth, need to spend more time becoming the implied reader in order to understand the author of each document. That being said, I abhor the notion that to be a thinking Christian means I have to reject the historic notions of the church. I don’t just mean notions that became innovations like preaching in the native language, I mean those supported biblically, whether we like it or not. But those things we don’t like, the things that scare us if they are actually true, are precisely what needs to be embraced for the sake of others.

What do I mean by this? Why even talk about it? Well, as I pondered the claim that Jesus didn’t know who he was I reached out to a friend, one who should get back to business, and he pointed out something I missed. He said, “To accept that Christ was prophetic in such a manner, 2nd person of the Trinity, Savior of the world demands that we recognize there is a higher power at work and that we’re really fucked up and continue to fuck up, and that takes a lot. It’s extremely frustrating. Especially when people come up with these pseudo theories to baptize their insecurities before a Holy Christ and so many fall prey. And all you wanna say is that you don’t have to feel this way. Let go. Believe.”

So what did I miss? That life is scary, especially when you see it for what it is. Turn on the news, read a paper, look out the window and you will be confronted with a world that seeks only its own gain. Life is even scarier when instead of looking out the window, you look into the mirror. You know you better than I know you. I know those things I dare not speak. Things I’ve done, thoughts I’ve had, notions I’ve pondered. When we look into the deepest parts of our souls we see ourselves for what we are, broken. It shouldn’t surprise us then that the world we have, it’s broken too… and that is our fault.

I could be wrong. There are those who think that people are basically good and kind and caring, and at our core that is who we are. Some people, like the one I am reading, think that this Christian idea of original sin isn’t biblically, intellectually, or scientifically supported. But I wonder how a claim like that, which in this case is buttressed by scientific theory which rejects the historical facticity of Genesis 1-3, is supported by an evolutionary theory which presupposes survival of the fittest, not helping the sick and weak. That may be a cheap shot, but before the fundie or conservative card gets played, please, hear me out.

Look at a newborn, does that child care about his or her parent’s sleeping habits. Does that kid care about mommy and daddy in their heart or do they actually just care about food, being changed, naps, and all around comfort. This is not to say kids don’t love their parents, but rather, that a child’s first inclination isn’t to the other, it is to their own needs. Why do you have to teach a kid to share but not to be selfish? Perhaps there really is something wrong with us. Something that scares the crap out of us.  Something that causes us to distrust our neighbor and hate or fear the world around us. Something that always reminds us that we are alone.

This is the world we live in, one that rapes, murders, steals, lies, and causes all sorts of pain and hurt. This is not the fault of anyone but ourselves. But instead of dealing with the problem, we find ways of coping. We present theories that allow us to escape the reality of a claim. We do as my friend said, we baptize our insecurities before a Holy Christ. Sin is real. But so is Christ. A Christ who took on flesh and dwelt among us as fully God and fully man. A Christ who was baptized in the Jordan, betrayed, and murdered. He was hung on a cross with nails in his hands, and you on his heart. For in this event he took on the sin that lies in each of us. The sin that separates us from God, our neighbor and ourselves. He became sin and paid the wages of it. He died.

But death, this is not the end of the story, three days later He rose again and conquered that which sin creates, He conquered death. But between death and resurrection, at least as our fore bearers confessed, He descended into hell. This descent was not to suffer, but to proclaim the victory that was His. The victory of His sacrifice over the powers of sin, death, and the devil himself. So what? Why should it matter that He preached this in hell, to the captives in prison? Because hell could not overcome His message. His resurrection put to bed once and for all the powers that would seek to kill and destroy, and there is absolutely nothing that can stand in the face of such a reality.

Tonight I listened to a sermon, one that I am borrowing from, and one that has impacted my life in ways I do not yet know. It spoke of  the story of Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ. In response Jesus says that upon this rock He will build the church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.  Some take the rock to mean Peter himself, but as for me, I think it is speaking to his confession, it is speaking about Christ. He is the rock, and the gates of hell will not overcome. Funny thing that expression, because gates are not things that go on the offensive. Rocks, on the other hand, do.

There is an expression, or liturgical greeting, often used when Christians gather together. Someone proclaims: The Lord be with you. Everyone responds: And also with you. While there are some variations to this, the idea is the same, a shared presence of the Lord in the lives of all who are there. But what if we were bold enough to greet each other a different way. Imagine someone getting up and saying: Go to hell. And the response: And you go as well. Our American minds may not be able to get past the phrase that is so often used to degrade or insult someone but if we are built upon Christ, to hell is where we should go, and we should go unafraid because those gates have no power over us.

Hell, whatever else it may be, is all around us. It is there for the mom who can’t pay her bills, and the dad whose best friend is the bottle. It is there in the one who chooses to sell a body rather than protect it. It is there in those who take what isn’t theirs, and murders for no reason. But it is also there in us, in our hearts that tell us we aren’t good enough, in our thoughts that teach us how worthless we are, and in our memories that remind us of things we wish never happened. It is to this hell we must march, unafraid and unashamed, carrying forth the banner of the cross and empty tomb of Christ. He is the one who destroyed the power of sin and death, once for all. His victory impels and empowers us to bring that freeing message to a world that needs it, to a person who feels it.

So, go to hell. And go unafraid, for the one who leads you has already won.

4 thoughts on “go to hell

  1. Eric

    “Go [to hell] in peace. Serve the Lord.”

    I may never hear the closing words of the liturgy in quite the same way again.

    1. I know I won’t. And I think that may be a good thing. Perhaps instead of those “you are now entering the mission field” signs we should have ones reminding us to go on the offensive. Just a thought.

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