“He descended into hell,” has been a part of Christian belief that has always intrigued me. Augustine, Aquinas and so many other giants of Christian thought have wrestled with this phrase. The idea of contemplating it seems presumptuous. And yet, my imagination makes its way into the question. Here is what I see.
The crucified body impacting the suffering spirit of Jesus that did not refuse death but embraced it as a gateway to eternity, having been made (for a time) mortal, descended into the final confrontations of the soul.
In this state, revealed were all of the atrocities that were committed in the name of his teachings. He was shown the persecution of Jews. The tortures of inquisitions were displayed for him. The misguided horrors of the crusades were paraded in front of his spiritual eye. The endless rape of children, the Magdalena laundries, the pomposity of Rome, the wars, the slaughters, the misogyny- all of them were revealed to him in the hell of Jesus. He was shown the weaponry that was created in his name. The seemingly endless wars fought over the details of his teaching. Those who were slaughtered were revealed to him
His final challenge was to rise anyway. To find hope in resurrection after knowing all of this. To affirm that what he put forth was more powerful than that which sapped it.
This isn’t the easiest thought with which to wrestle. I mean, suppose Jesus knew it all and rose anyway?
It was the promise and the consequences of eternity. Simple and direct, with certainty instead of temptation.
It is akin to the dilemma of The Grand Inquisitor that Dostoyevsky created but not exactly. He says that the Inquisitor had no choice but to execute the risen Christ. But what was the hell from which he ascended?
The last temptation must be that eternity itself is fragile, that it depends upon belief.
Comically with tears, it is “clap if you believe in fairies.”
Does eternity depend upon belief?
Do we try to combat chaos with an organizational plan? Does the plan depend upon the belief?
After someone creates, don’t we have to sit back and see what becomes of creation?
And so Jesus ascended with the added burden of that which time creates. Can you imagine that ascension? What strength would it take? What immense assuredness?
I had a professor who taught in graduate school a class called The Trial of Jesus. This diminutive, old man believed that what Jesus was saying was that God was also “Daddy.” He was Abba, the familiar form of father. He taught that this is why he was killed and that the miracle was that he hadn’t been killed earlier.
The Christian scripture now reads that he descended into the land of the dead. I don’t know where the Christians believe that is. Was it the limbo of unbaptized innocents? Did Jesus say that those little children should come unto Him? Or was it actually, as it used to be termed, Hell.
Did love cause him to rise? What was it love of?
Even if you only believe this a myth, what was the repository of strength and faith? Was it the perspective of the immortal?
I don’t know what it was but I ask anyway, for the sake of the myth.