Jesus Goes to Hell
Martin B. Copenhaver
Hell—a sense of being forsaken, the absence of God, a place of despair. We have been there. And Jesus has been there.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Psalm 22:1
To be sure, I have never experienced the kind of suffering Jesus endured on the cross, but you do not have to experience pain on that scale to ask God, as Jesus did, “Why have you forsaken me?” Life being what it is, at one time or another, in one form or another, everyone has occasion to ask that question. What Jesus’ question says to me is that even my feelings of being abandoned by God are not foreign to God.
The Apostle’s Creed contains this affirmation about Jesus: “Jesus Christ was crucified, dead and buried. He descended to hell.” The last part of that statement always used to trouble me, until one day someone told me that, for her, it is the most treasured part of the creed. When I asked why, she answered, “Because hell is where I spend much of my life.” Hell—a sense of being forsaken, the absence of God, a place of despair. We have been there. And Jesus has been there. And having been there, Jesus transformed it.
One who would rescue those trapped in a mine shaft sometimes must enter into the danger and darkness of that place himself. How else can those who are trapped be saved, if the one who knows the way out is not willing to be trapped with them?
The good news of this season is that we await the birth of the one who is willing to enter our darkness so that he might usher us into the light.
Holy One, thank you for your willingness to share in human defeat, so that we might, in turn, share in your victory. Amen.
Martin B. Copenhaver is the President of Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, Massachusetts. His most recent book is Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered.