Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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news. The deeper the sin of Adam, the higher the triumph of a

Christ. 'O felix culpa ... ' exclaims the Latin Mass of the Roman S Catholic Church, 'oh happy sin which has received as its reward 1 so great and so good a redeemer'. For a Christianity of higher §■

power, the saviour was quickly exalted high above the human n condition - and has remained there ever since. Despite &

clear doctrinal insistence that he is 'very God and very man' (see Chapter 3), his divinity has tended to eclipse and qualify his humanity rather than vice versa.

This early stress on Christ's divine status may explain why there are no records of what the human Jesus looked like. It certainly explains why the earliest visual representations of Christ, from the 2nd century, present him as a god rather than a man, and borrow directly from Graeco-Roman art (as in Figure 2 in the previous chapter). When Christianity finally began to develop its own images of Jesus, from the 4th century onwards, the figure of a slim, pale, bearded, robed, long-haired, ethereal man emerged, and has remained definitive to this day. Though this Jesus has a human face, it is no ordinary face. His expression is impassive, his gaze disconcertingly direct,

Christian confessions of sin

We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done,

And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us.

General confession from the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican)

Repent, and live: despair and trust! Jesus for you to death was sold; Though hell protest, and earth repine, He died for crimes like yours - and mine.

Verse of a Methodist hymn (by Charles Wesley)

Original sin is the corruption of nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.

The Methodist Articles of Religion

We have no-one to blame but ourselves when we choose to sin. And no one to thank but our Creator when he chooses to save us from our sins . . . again.

Bad Girls ofthe Bible (popular Evangelical book by Liz Curtis Higgs, 1999)

his divinity signalled by an aura or halo, his power manifest in his bearing (often seated on a throne, with a hand raised in blessing, sometimes with a book of law). He is usually located beyond the mundane world in an empty, dimensionless golden space. We are dealing here with 'icons' rather than portraits - magical images that offer access to the mysterious divine power they represent.

Consider the image of Christ Pantocrator ('Christ the ruler of all things'), which is located high above the altar in some churches in the East (see Fig. 5 overleaf). To see it you look upwards, above the earth and the human condition, where the saviour dwells in heavenly splendour. The architecture and decoration in the churches in which the image is set are n deliberately designed to give an impression of heaven brought g.

down to earth. In entering one steps out of the mundane world a and into a space that gives a foretaste of the higher and better S

reality that surrounds it - the world of Jesus, Mary, and the saints. 1 More real than this world, this paradise can be accessed here and §■ now by receiving the church's sacraments, participating in its n rituals, hearing its music, viewing its dazzling images, and i obeying its authority.

Until the early Middle Ages such images of Christ dominated the Christian imagination. Gradually, however, they were supplemented with something rather different: depictions of Christ suffering and dying - Christ on the cross, Christ being taken down from the cross, and the Pieta (the dead Christ cradled in the arms of his mother Mary). As we will see in later chapters, the change was bound up with new forms of devotion that focused not only on the glory and majesty of the saviour, but on his suffering. Images of Christ's death encouraged believers to meditate on his unique suffering, the sinfulness that nailed him to the cross, and the amazing love of the saviour. As well as signalling Christ's humanity, such images had the effect of underlining his unique divinity (see Fig. 6 on page 33).

5. Christ Pantocrator, Abbey Church ofMonreale, Sicily (12th century).

Some of the images produced by the Renaissance of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries drew Christ much closer to the human condition. So-called because it involved a re-naissance ('re-birth') of classical culture, this European cultural movement revived the Ancient Greek and Roman theme of the dignity of the human condition. Since it was a Christian as much as a classical movement, this dignity was often expressed by way of images of Jesus. In the

6. Crucifixion, by Matthias Grunewald (1500-8).

work of the early Renaissance artist Giotto, for example, Jesus appears as human not merely by virtue of his suffering, but in his ability to feel and express the full range of human emotions by way of a solid, three-dimensional body of flesh and blood. Even Giotto's angels have feelings; like Jesus' devoted human followers they weep and beat their breasts as they behold the death of Christ. Later Renaissance art would go even further towards the humanization of Jesus, sometimes depicting him naked and with male genitalia, thereby interpreting even human sexuality as a mark of potential human perfection rather than Fall.

The Reformation of the 16th century brought with it something of a reaction against these more obviously human images of Jesus, and a re-emphasis on his unique relationship with the Almighty Father God. Catholic art found ways of depicting Christ as a supra-human being who exceeds the human condition and dwells in the heavens, whilst Protestant art sometimes conveyed the authority of Christ by picturing him as literally 'backed up' by the Father. In many depictions Christ is removed from the repertoire of the human by being idealized. Both he and the Virgin Mary now appear as ideal types of moral perfection and human beauty, compared to which actual human beings will always fall short. As such, they can have the effect of reinforcing a sense of human sinfulness rather than > human potential, whilst appearing on the surface to do the opposite (Fig. 7).

7. The Holy Family with a Little Bird, by Murillo (c. 1650).

The tendency of Christian art to depict Jesus as human - only better - continued in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the invention of cheap printing, images of Jesus became more widely available than ever before. The majority depict a handsome man who is both masterful and compassionate. In Roman Catholic depictions of The Sacred Heart (see Fig. 8 on page 36), Jesus literally lays bare his heart to those who would love, or scorn, him. In Holman Hunt's famous allegory The Light of the World (see Fig. 9 on page 37), he knocks on the door that symbolizes the human soul and that can only be opened from within. In Warner Sallman's popular portrait of Jesus (see Fig. 10 on page 38) he appears as a handsome, caring all-American male (Sallman rejected an early version with the comment: 'top of hair and head looks feminine'). Such images still speak of Jesus' divinity more than his h humanity, for they do more to remove him from the normal human g. condition than to identify him with it. The 'removal' is obviously a greater for women than for men (see Chapter 7). S


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The Sacred Heart of Jesus. Image on a popular card (c. 1900).

The Sacred Heart of Jesus. Image on a popular card (c. 1900).

9. The Light of the World, by Holman Hunt (1900-4).

10. Head of Christ, by Warner Sallman (1941).

Laying hold of salvation

Christianity developed many different ways of explaining how Christ saves (so-called 'theories of atonement'). Some said he had defeated the devil and his angels, others that he was a sacrifice to God, still others that humans are saved by entering into mystical union with Christ. In modern times the theory of 'substitutionary atonement' has become very influential, especially in Evangelical circles (see Chapter 5). It holds that Christ becomes a substitute for humanity, taking our sins upon himself and suffering the necessary punishment on our behalf.

Behind these different theories was the shared view that we are saved not by anything we do, are, or can achieve, but solely by the initiative of God working through Christ to save us. In the most extreme view, the view of Augustine and some of the Protestant reformers, even when we are saved we remain sinners: God simply chooses not to condemn us for our sins (see Chapter 3). For other Christian thinkers, salvation does effect some change and improvement in the human condition, even if it fails to make us perfect. At the other pole of the spectrum is the minority view n that salvation can result in human perfection, even divinization g. (see Chapters 4 and 5). a

Despite their characteristic stress on human passivity in relation 3 to salvation, however, Christian leaders and teachers were clear §■ that there was something Christians could and must do in n order to be saved - have faith in God's saving power, and join i the church. In Christianity God's grace is mediated to humanity through two channels, Word' and 'sacrament', and both are best received by way of a Christian community. Though different forms of Christianity might lay more stress to the one or the other channel of grace, all Christian worship services are composed of some mixture of the two: reading from the Bible, preaching and exposition of the Word, consecration and reception of sacraments.

A sacrament is a material object that symbolizes and transmits divine power. Although the Catholic Church would eventually recognize seven sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, penance, confirmation, ordination, marriage, extreme unction), the two sacraments recognized by all Christian churches are baptism and Eucharist (the latter may also be called 'Mass', 'Holy Communion'

or 'the Lord's Supper'). Their basic elements could not be simpler: in baptism, a washing in water; in the Eucharist, a sharing of bread and wine.

Through baptism an individual is 'born again', not into the world but into the church, and not by natural birth but by supernatural re-birth. The transition is marked by an immersion in water, which symbolizes entry into the womb or the grave, as well as a washing and cleansing. Christological significance is expressed through the language of 'washing in the blood of the lamb' (where Christ is likened to a sacrificial lamb), and in the metaphor of a 'dying' of the old life in order to live in Christ. The ritual brings new life in several senses. First, in that one is no longer under the power of the devil and evil spirits but under the Lordship of Christ (a transition that is also marked by anointing with oil after the baptism). Second, that one is living by a new set of standards - not of the world but of

> God and His church. Third, that one is no longer living the old mortal life but has already begun to live the risen life of Christ - in

J anticipation of eternal life.

The Eucharist repeats, reiterates, and reinforces the message of baptism. The simple act of sharing a meal has an obvious significance in binding together those who participate. For Christians this significance was extended by virtue of the fact that Christ, at the Last Supper he ate with his disciples, is said to have commanded them to 'do this in remembrance of me'. What is more, the bread and wine can be understood as a symbol of the sacrifice that he then made and the gift he offers: his flesh and blood given for the salvation of the human race. The symbolism is powerful: those who participate are being nourished by Christ's body; his flesh is becoming part of them and they are becoming part of him, whilst also being drawn into closer relationship with one another. Since Christ's death on the cross is often interpreted as a sacrificial offering to God, so the Eucharist can be understood as a symbol or even a repetition of this unique sacrifice of the beloved Son.

11. Mass of Saint Gregory, by Israhel van Meckenem (1490s). This engraving commemorates a vision in which Jesus appeared to Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) as he celebrated Mass. Jesus' blood pours into the chalice, while his body represents the bread of the Mass. There could be no more vivid representation of Christian belief in the 'real presence' of the God-man in the sacraments.

Christianity operates, in other words, by taking basic elements of 'natural', unredeemed life and sacralizing them by bringing them into relation with the transforming power of God. It does the same with time, dividing up the calendar not on the basis of nature's seasons and rhythms, but according to the life and death of Christ. Thus the Christian world counts time forwards from the birth of Christ, and organizes the year around Christ's birth (Christmas), his death and resurrection (Good Friday and Easter), and other lesser feasts and fasts. Even the Christian week pivots around the day on which Christ was raised from the dead (Sunday) (see Figure 13, page 60). By hearing God's Word, and by receiving the sacraments, individual life, social life - indeed the whole of creation - is conformed ever more closely to the higher power of God, revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man.

Spirit and world

The characteristic Christian framework of sin and salvation abases

J the human and exalts the divine. The good life is not the life lived u according to one's deepest instincts and desires, but the life lived according to the higher standards of God as witnessed to by Christ. One must destroy and give up one's own will and appetites in order to live wholly according to the pattern of Christ. Thus God, the saviour and the means of salvation - Word and sacraments - are all 'objective' and external to the believer. One is saved not by what lies within, but by what lies outside and is in a significant sense alien to the human condition.

This outward and objective orientation is qualified, however, by Christian belief in the Holy Spirit. God the Father dwells above in the heavens, and His Son sits on his right hand. But not only did His Son come down to earth to save us, He is still present and accessible on earth by way of His Spirit. In Christian thought, the Spirit is inseparable from Father and Son; 'He' is the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. Rather than existing above the world, the Spirit is God's presence in the world - and in the heart of the believer. In other words, the Spirit qualifies Christian belief in the transcendent otherness of God, and brings the divine into life. And the greater the emphasis that Christians and Christian groups place upon the Spirit, the more they shift the focus of their religion from higher power to power within.

Even the 'highest' forms of Christianity believe in the Holy Spirit, at least in theory, but the Spirit has played a less prominent role in orthodox Christian life and thought than God the Father and God the Son. The New Testament has no systematic doctrine of the Spirit ('pneumatology'). The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus 'as a dove' when Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist; it 'overshadows' Mary when she conceives Jesus; and it is poured out on Christ's followers after he ascends to heaven n (at Pentecost). For Paul the Spirit takes possession of Christians at g. baptism, taking the place of the evil spirits who formerly enslaved a them, and filling them instead with the mind and life of Christ. It S was several centuries before orthodox Christianity arrived at an 1 agreement that the Holy Spirit was divine in the same way and to §■ the same degree as the Father and the Son. Even then the Spirit was n defined as 'proceeding' or being 'breathed' from the Father, which i suggested that the Spirit was in some way subject to the higher authority of the Father. This impression was reinforced when, after the 6th century, the Western churches began to affirm that the Holy Spirit 'proceeds from the Father and the Son' (see Chapter 6). The effect, on the imagination at least, was to subordinate Spirit to Father and Son, just as the effect of liturgical practice was to subordinate it to Word and sacrament.

But the Spirit remains the rogue element in Christianity, the sacred in a form that is hardest for the churches to pin down and control. Despite the precautions that have been taken, it is always open to ordinary women and men to claim its inspiration and, in doing so, to lay hold of God's own power for themselves. Although Christianity took pains to identify divine power with its own institutions, rituals, sacraments, and scriptures exclusively, the

Spirit may be received as a free-floating divine power which anyone can plug into - without the authorization of the church or the need for its mediating agency. As we will see in Chapter 4, radical Christian groups such as the Quakers who developed a very high doctrine of the Spirit dispensed with priests, scriptures, and sacraments altogether. They had no need of these external containers of the divine when, in their view, the sacred could enter directly into human life.

Not only may the Spirit challenge the Christian preference for higher power, it can also qualify a general Christian preference for stability and changelessness. The Christian God is normally said to be changeless. He brings into being a world that is fully formed. Christ has been at the right hand of God from all eternity. The end will be like the beginning - paradise will be restored and the second Adam will take the place set aside for him from all eternity. The > truth has been laid out in Christ's revelation once and for all.

The best that can be hoped for is recapitulation, restoration, and J reformation. These are common, and central, themes in Christian life and thought. By contrast, the Spirit highlights a different, more suppressed theme in Christianity: that the divine is present in and through change, working to 'make all things new'.

This is not to imply that Christianity is generally content with the world in which it finds itself. Far from it. In looking above, Christianity also looks beyond. It cherishes and nourishes a vision of perfection - not the way things are but the way they ought to be. The vision is summed up in Christ, and is nurtured, enacted, and embodied in the ritual actions that Christians perform as they come together to worship. Such ritual always anticipates what lies beyond. Such 'beyondness' may be thought of in spatial terms as 'up there' (heaven, higher than the world) or in temporal terms as 'to come' (the coming Kingdom of God, the end of the world, the return of Jesus). Consequently, Christianity says both that individuals go to heaven when they die, and that they will be resurrected at the end of time - and Christian ritual and expectation looks forward to both.

For Christians of all hues, then, this world is not the only - nor the best - world. There is something higher that must be aspired to, and something better that can be hoped for. The consequences of this belief are varied. For some, it means rejecting this world, this life, this body in order to prepare for the higher life that is to come (the ascetic tendency). For others, it means 'treading lightly' in the world: taking its joys and satisfactions, sufferings and frustrations as transitory and relatively insubstantial compared to the life to come. And for some the vision of perfection acts as a provocation to act in the world here and now in order to bring it more closely into line with God's higher standards. Belief in the Spirit can inspire each and every one of these options.

Conclusion e i ua'

What sets Christianity apart from other monotheisms and a turns it into a religion in its own right is its emphasis on the S

unique God-man in whom the might, majesty, and mercy of God 1

are made visible and accessible to mortals. This saviour becomes §■

the focus of a new community of worship (the church) with n distinctive beliefs and rituals. Its promise is that all who join, i receive its sacraments, and hear its Word, will be saved from sin and death and admitted into the kingdom of heaven. Emphasis on the higher power of God is, however, qualified by Christian belief in the Holy Spirit - in the divine as it comes within human life rather than standing over and above it.

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