"Embarrass the wicked, stand them up, leave them stupidly shaking their heads as they drift down to hell." - Psalm 31:17
Have you ever told a stupid person to go to hell? The psalmist has! Our anger can get intense. Sometimes its intensity is justified. There are people among us who deserve the fires of hell.
Some Christians think we all fall into that category. God is so powerful that any transgression warrants an infinite punishment. The correct penalty for a crime is proportional to the status of the wronged individual. Think about the third grade. Make your little sister angry and you might get away scot-free. Make your teacher hopping mad and you'll have . . . hell to pay.
This argument makes sense. But it’s incomplete. God is all-powerful. But the ultimate expression of God's power was the decision to give away control, to suffer total abandonment, and then to rise from a disgraced grave in order to pull every one among us up to heaven in his wake. Jesus promised "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself."
As Karl Barth said, "It is a serious matter to be threatened by hell, worthy of hell, and already on the road to hell. On the other hand, we must not minimize the fact that Jesus has triumphed over hell, and this victory took place in order that hell would never again be able to triumph over anyone."
So when my thoughts drift toward damnation I imagine caves and chains and red-hot flames. Sometimes I even think of a cartoon devil with a pitchfork in his hand, running around his nasty realm in vain, poking at the empty air - there’s no one there. A land of angry flames that burn for no one, because we’ve all been lifted up, straight into God’s embrace.
Dear God, thank you for loving all people, even those of us who don’t deserve it. Amen.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL.