Hell, Doubt and Easter

Well, once again I violated the cardinal rule of blogging by disappearing for a week. Sorry about that. I was out of town, and then it was a holiday weekend, and there you go.

To make it up to you, here are a couple of Easter-related things that caught my eye this week, and some comments I had on them:

Holy Week for Doubters, by Rachel Held Evans 

But you won’t know how to explain that there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you’ve mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud on the car ride home:

“What if we made this up because we’re afraid of death?”

Indeed, one of the more misused verses in the New Testament is the one I quoted on Facebook today, 1 Corinthians 50:55, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” We say this as if we should not fear the power of death. But Paul’s words in context tell us something much different. I never noticed it until I read and posted 1 Cor. 15:50-55  from N.T. Wright’s Kingdom New Testament  translation:

This is how it will be, you see: The trumpet’s going to sound, the dead will be raised undecaying, and we’re going to be changed. This decaying body must put on the undecaying one; this dying body must put on deathlessness. When the decaying puts on the undecaying, and the dying puts on the undying, then the saying that has been written will come true:

“Death is swallowed up in victory!
Death, where’s your victory gone?
Death, where’s your sting gone?”

Did you see that? When the dying body puts on the undying body, then the saying will come true. It’s not true now. Death still wins sometimes. It still hurts. Yes, it’s Easter, but yes, it’s still Saturday, too. And as long as there’s death, there will be doubt. Death is our ever-present reminder that all is not right here, and until everything is right, we simply can’t know for sure that it ever will be right. What if we just made it up?

He Descended Into Hell, by Scott Paeth (h/t Tony Jones)

One needn’t believe in an literal, or at least eternal, view of hell and damnation in order to believe in the importance of Christ’s descent into hell. On the contrary, one may believe that Christ’s redemptive activity is precisely that which saves us from the hell that he himself suffered. He deprived hell of its eternity, not to rescue us from divine wrath, but from our own experience of god-abandonment.

In the presence of death – indeed, in the presence of hell itself – we cling to the belief that Jesus suffered hell for us. He knows. He understands. He doesn’t just sympathize. He empathizes. Because he was there. He felt the abandonment, and he experienced the despair.

Could we have made this all up? Could we have invented a God who would give up his rule to be tortured and killed, who would leave heaven to experience hell just so he could spend forever with us? Could the human mind ever conceive of such a ridiculous notion for the creator of the world to undertake?

In spite of all the death, all the suffering, all the chaos and brutality and hellishness – I still say no. We did not make that up. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. Quickly, please. Saturday has lasted long enough.

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