Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | May 19, 2006

Hell

Life has been busy lately, a little too busy to keep up with daily entries.  I expect things to get even busier especially if I begin Seminary in the fall. Yesterday, listening to the Dennis Praeger show I heard a Christian call in to debate with the host over God’s sovereignty.  It’s hard to listen to the utter confusion that this woman had in her understanding of the sovereignty of God.  She was deferring any responsibility of loving or hating people to the acquiescence of God’s will.  I actually believe in exhaustive determinism, however she was denying any human responsibility for loving or hating people which cannot be allowed.  It was essentially hyper-Calvinism that she was promoting, which was rightfully rejected by the host who himself is semi-pelagian.  This confused understanding of God’s sovereignty gives Calvinist’s like me a bad name.

The battle of ideas is such an important one and if people only hear false caricatures of your view they’ll unfortunately tend to dismiss it (like the radio host).  Although, this bugs me it does not despair me since I know that God’s name and His truth will be vindicated.  Thus, all we can do is hope, pray and do our little part to advance the truth of God’s word to a confused culture.  This should be exercised with caution, however since Scripture indicates that teachers will receive a stricter judgment (James 3:1).  Thus, I personally tend to rely more on the great teachers of the past (i.e. the Reformers) to support conclusions that I make lest I stray myself.

Today we look at one of the more confusing statements of the Apostles Creed in the statement that Christ “descended to hell”.   To help us understand this we will continue to review the portion of the Heidelberg Catechism that provides the Reformers explanation of this statement in the creed.  Question 44 states the following:  

Q. Why does the creed add, "He descended to hell"? 

A. To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell. 1

1 Isaiah 53: …He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed…  Matthew 26:36-46:  …My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done….  Matthew 27:45-46:  Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.  About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Luke 22:44:  And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. Hebrews 5:7-10:  In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.  And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Some people have taught that this statement actually means that while He was buried, Christ actually entered hell to defeat Satan, released and/or preached to souls from hell.  As indicated in the catechism, however this is not the meaning of this statement within the creed.  It is actually symbolic of the price that Christ paid rather than a literal event, which He participated in.  This leads us to consider the concept of hell, who qualifies to be sent there, and how Christ took our hell upon Himself.

Hell is the place where God’s justice against evildoers is carried out.  Some people assert that it is the place where evildoers are merely separated from God forever.  However, this presupposes that God is not involved in executing justice against those who have violated Him.  It is not the Devil’s realm as is depicted in most of the cartoons I watched as a kid.  The Devil and his angels will be exposed to the wrath of God for their rebellion there.  Most of our understanding of hell comes from Jesus and is recorded in the Gospels.  It will be a place of torment (weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matt 8:12), it will be everlasting (Matt 25:41 & 46), and it is the final destination of all the wicked who rebel against God (Rev 21:8).  It will be beyond any suffering known here on earth, thus those who assert that their lives are living hell have no idea how foolish that statement is.

All sinners are qualified to go to hell, which means that the entire human race is qualified to spend the rest of eternity in hell.  A Just and Holy God must punish evil in order to stay consistent with His character.  Otherwise, God would compromise His nature and cease to be God.  Some people cannot accept this, however it is perfectly reasonable to grant that God has the right to punish those who rebel against His perfect rule.  Since the fall the entire human race has been rebelling against the rule of God.  Every time we sin we are rebelling against the rule of God and because of this rebellion we deserve the just consequences.  This is honestly bad news and we must face the truth that we have no excuse, no alibi and no ability to overcome the overwhelming case against us.

Although, we have no ability to escape the eminent judgment God in His mercy has provided a means of pardon.  This is where the good news comes into place.  Jesus Christ came to save a people and took their place.  He took hell in their place on the cross and paid the penalty for their sin and rebellion.  Thus, God maintains His justice by punishing the sins of His people.  However, we do not pay the debt for our sins ourselves Christ paid it by taking our punishment in our place.  Therefore, all sin is punished and the punishment is either received by the evildoer or by Christ.  In discussing this part of the creed in his Institutes, John Calvin offers the following comment:

“The point is that the Creed set forth what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then appositely speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ’s body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.”  II.XVI.10

So, this statement in the Creed again brings us to consider the good news of the Gospel.  It is amplified, however by describing the severity of the bad news.  Unfortunately, many Churches rarely if ever comment on the bad news or speak of hell at all.  This lackadaisical view of hell may explain the rare need to emphasize the Gospel.  Instead what is popularly maintained is a man-centered message of therapeutic self-improvement.  The severity of sin is diminished and people begin to think they can please God on their own. As a result, the bad news doesn’t seem that bad and the good news doesn’t seem that good.  This could be disastrous and hinder peoples understanding of the good news all together as RC Sproul explains in his exposition of Romans:

“But it is impossible to really hear the gospel, until one has first heard the gavel crash and the verdict sounded unequivocally – Guilty!  As long as we delude ourselves by attempts at self-justification, or try to make light of, deny, or shift to somebody else’s responsibility or blame, the sin that is a reality in our lives, we can never really hear the gospel.  Unless we understand the justice of God, how can we possibly know anything of his mercy or his grace?  Grace and mercy depend for their very meaning on the background of the reality of justice.”  The Gospel of God Romans, p 71-72.

Until next time be at peace, which can only come through faith in Christ's wonderful work on our behalf.

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Responses

  1. […] Back in our 5/19/06 entry (Hell) we considered that the common notion that hell is separation from God may not be accurate.  Based on the fact that God is everywhere can anyone really ever be separated from God, even in hell?  As mentioned in that entry, our position is that God is present there and is actively administering justice to the evil doers and God haters.  What say you? Published in: […]


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