The Total Population of Hell


Some years ago I read a story about a Christian teacher who was asked, “Who do you think is in Hell?” The teacher responded, “There is only one person in hell. Jesus.”

The teacher’s point, to my recollection, was that since it Jesus came to liberate the oppressed, bring sight to the blind and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4: 17-21), the last place to do this work would be hell. Additionally, wherever Jesus goes, there is liberation (Mark 5, for one example). There is no where we can go where the liberating love of God cannot find us (Psalm 139: 7-12).

Not even hell.

Therefore, as I recall the teacher making the point, the total population of hell is clear. Hell’s total population is 1. Jesus stands in the depths of hell as the crucified victim of heinous acts of violence sets all captives free.

Good news: If there is a hell, Jesus empties it.

The People Without a Right or Left Hand

Guugu Yimithirr is a language of some aboriginal people of Australia. I know nothing about how to speak it. What I have come to learn about this Guugu Yimithirr is that it does not have a word for right or left. When giving directions, a native speaker might say, "go north, then turn south and there will be my house on the east." The speaker may also say something like, "raise your east-side hand and touch your west-side foot." 

The people who speak Guugu Yimithirr have a language that is geographically centered. Conversely, English speakers have an egocentric language, where right and left are words used in relation to the person rather than the outer world. Those who speak Guugu Yimithirr do not have a right or left hand, only hands that are north, south, east or west. 

(This wonderful little article from 2010 goes into greater detail on the limits of language and where 20th century thinking got a little off when considering the role of language. However, the article also points out that just because someone does not have the word left or right does not mean they are incapable of understanding the concept. The article is more a discussion on the axiom, "Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.”)

The language of the Church, at her best, is Christocentric. This Christocentric language is designed to not only draw our eyes to beyond ourselves but also to reorient our lives. There is a difference in saying, "look what I am doing" and "look what Christ is doing though me." The first is egocentric, the later is Christocentric. The first implies that the individual is paramount, the latter implies the self is a small part of something larger. The former props up the ego. The later puts the ego in proper location. 

For all those weird Christians we meet who want to "give God the glory" or say "it is by God's strength," just consider how weird it would be to listen to someone ask you to raise your north-side hand. It is a different orientation. A different orientation does not always mean a misguided, wrong, evil, sinful or heretical orientation.

How egocentric is your language? Are you willing to be re-orientated?

Pentecost and Moses

There are several connections between the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 and the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. It is worth your prayerful consideration how the story of Pentecost reverses the tower of Babel. It is also worth considering the ways Pentecost connects with the story of Moses. Specifically the fire that does not consume. 

Moses encountered a bush that is not consumed by fire. The disciples at Pentecost were on fire but were not consumed. There is a lot to unpack here, but might I just offer this one insight: God does not consume us, but allows us to consume him. 

In the communion liturgy and sacrament, it is God that offers himself for our consumption. God allows God-self to be consumed by the community, Where primitive religions fear a God that will consume (kill) them, the God manifest in Jesus Christ shows a God that does not consume humans. Philippians 2 speaks of Christ who did not see equality with God as something to be exploited but Christ emptied himself and took the form of a slave - willing to be crucified. 

I commend to your prayer life the question of what does it say that God is willing to be consumed rather than be the one who consumes? For some this is scandalous. To others this is foolish. But Christ crucified is Good News.

It is Christianity, not Jesusism

Jesus is a big deal. Not only has part of the world measured time around his life with the less common "B.C." and "A.D." but as of 2010 there were an estimated 2.2 billion Christians. And that is the thing, the religion is centered on Jesus but is not called Jesusism. Christianity revolves around the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, but the faith is built on the foundations of "the Christ". 

Not unlike the religion that revolves around the man named Siddhartha Gautama, but it called Buddhism. Buddha is a title, not a name, and it means "Awakened" or "Enlightened" one. Christ is a title, not a name, and it means "anointed" one. While Jesus is very important to the faith, Christianity is larger than the man named Jesus. Christianity is built on the foundations of the mystical Christ that was fully embodied in Jesus but the Christ spirit is not limited to the life of Jesus.

Jesus says that anyone who believes will have the Christ spirit and may even do even greater works than Jesus. The Holy Spirit is a more common name of the spirit of Christ that came down at Pentecost. Luther said that we are all to be "little Christs". 

Again I say, Jesus is a big deal, but Jesus knew that what God was doing was (and is) much bigger than even him. Following Jesus is a great idea, however if the Jesus you follow is not able to bridge time, space, divisions and people, then you might be practicing Jesusism and not Christianity.