Monday, May 13, 2002

Keep in mind the blogs are posted in reverse chronological order.

Did Jesus spend time in hell?

Yesterday, during Sunday school, we were looking into the book of Ephesians. At some point we read:

(Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? (Eph 4:9, NASB).

This got me thinking again about the question of whether or not Jesus, perhaps as part of the price of our redemption, spent time in hell. I know that Christians disagree on this, and I am not going to give a defense of my opinion (I think that He did). Instead I want to talk about the fact that is one of many difficult if not insoluble problems -- questions that I like to think of as Christian imponderables.

The only other passage that I know of relevant to this question is from 1 Peter:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. (1 Pet 3:18-20).

Apparently this was enough, (along, perhaps, with the notion (not stated in scripture) that it was necessitated by the enormous price Christ had to pay for our redemption), for the belief to find its way into in the Apostles' creed, which includes the statement: He descended into hell.

You might like to read Calvin’s take: link.

Apart from the question itself, what I find interesting about this is that fact that, in my experience, it does not stimulate passionate debate. Some say he did, some say he didn’t, some say they don’t know, and know one seems to want to draw battle lines, which in a way is kind of nice. Contrast this to, for example, the young/old earth debate.

I Don’t Know

It can be so refreshing when a teacher says, “I don’t know. Not too often, otherwise they forfeit the title. Yet when there truly seems to be no way to resolve a question it sometimes is nice to hear that response rather than an opinionated discourse.

A pastor once told me “It’s not the things I don’t understand in the Bible that keep me up at night, it’s those things I do understand”.

Now this was a rhetorical device: the things he did understand did not really keep him awake (at least from worry) -- for all those things are good news. The real point: study in earnest those mysterious biblical questions -- but in the final analysis concentrate and celebrate the essential elements of the gospel, which have the additional beauty of being beyond dispute.

In R. C. Sproul’s book Chosen by God he asks the question (given that God has the power) why doesn’t He save everyone? (As opposed to just the elect.) Sproul's answer: “I don’t know”. This is fairly remarkable for a book whose aim is to present the Calvinistic view of predestination. Sproul could have said “for His own good pleasure” or “for His own glory” either of which would be acceptable but neither of which provides any additional insight. The answer “I don’t know” sends the right message. This is a question the answer of which God has chosen to keep hidden -- a Christian imponderable.

Peaceful Islam and the Academic Left Are A Match Made -- Somewhere

He are a few examples:

One of the great political imponderables, as far as I am concerned, is how the democratic party continues to get the majority of the Jewish vote.

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