Descending Into Hell

Originally written in March, 2016


"I believe in Jesus Christ... He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again." (The Apostles Creed)

You ever notice how we just breeze through that middle part on Easter weekend? We're big on the passion and suffering narrative, love the cross, confused about but still all over the resurrection; yet we rarely talk about what happens between Friday and Sunday. 

Now, to be fair, Evangelicals (my context of upbringing) don't really pay much attention to the creeds so I suppose the descent into hell stuff isn't really that problematic for them. Though it is rather funny to me that a group that loves talking about hell so much largely ignores this interesting idea of Jesus going to hell and, as it vaguely alludes to in 1 Peter, preaching to the "spirits in prison". (By the way, does this mean there was hope for them? There's a fun theological conversation.) 

Evangelical Easter is generally an accurate representation of Evangelical religion, solely focused on God's saving action so that we might live forever in heaven. If anything, it's a movement away from hell. 

Yet this is why I think it's so important to reflect on this idea of Jesus descending into hell.

The incarnation is this beautiful story of a God who forsook divinity in order to become human, to share in all aspects of life - joy, sorrow, family, friendship, celebration, and loss. It was a descent into human experience. The cross is the story of a God who is then executed as a condemned criminal by an oppressive and violent regime despite being innocent.  It was a descent into human suffering. Easter Saturday takes it even further by telling the story of a God who is present with us in the deepest and darkest places. Even in death itself. 

The descent into hell. 

For Philip Clayton this means that "there is no place where the encompassing love of God can't be present. There is no place where God is afraid to go." 

On this holy Saturday we recognize that the good news has no limit or boundary, that it reaches us in whatever heaven or hell that we find ourselves in, and invites us even now into God's in-breaking peace and justice. 

It is also a reminder that the Christian story is not a movement towards heaven and away from hell; but of heaven itself moving, descending ever downwards, infiltrating every aspect of human life and death. The reconciliation of all things.

Perhaps even hell itself?