As he stared into the fire in front of him, Jesus couldn’t help but wish he could tell this disciple the whole story. That he had woken up dead and not in paradise as he’d promised the thief who had hung next to him. How instead of the joyous return home to his father that he had been expecting, he found himself in Sheol. Just like everybody else. And God was nowhere to be seen. This was what the people following him weren’t ready to understand – how very human Jesus’ experience was. How for moments that felt like eternity he had despaired at finding himself dead with all the other souls that had come before him. This was not the reward he had suffered so much for.
The story then goes on to describe the harrowing of hell from Jesus’ perspective with this pivotal moment:
“This cannot be. It just can’t. Not any longer.” He could hardly explain where it came from. He just knew that after many long years of learning to love God and live God while walking the earth, even in hell, his heart could not let go of the hope that was his in God. So Jesus did just what he had promised the Pharisees that the rocks would do if no one else would – he began to shout out worship to God.
In the end, what he tells his disciple is this:
Jesus looked towards him and spoke quietly but firmly, “I descended into the world of the dead and preached the good news of my Father there. Those souls that would follow were rescued from the darkness and lead to their reward in God’s kingdom.” The disciple nodded slowly, trying to process all that this meant. He got the jist of it – that Jesus could save even the dead. Jesus knew that although his disciple didn’t understand it in full, the seed had been planted. It was what he and every other follower who would come after him would need to know in order to survive: if you find yourself in hell, keep going.
This story is pretty special to me. I wrote it specifically for the book after the manuscript was pretty much done. It just came to me and I felt compelled to put it in. And in the months that have followed, I have thought of its message more than once. Which is true of many of the things I write. When I write something, I would love for other people to find some sort of comfort, inspiration, or thought provoking idea in it. But its not completely alturistic. I often find myself depending on things I write during difficult times as well.
As I have mentioned before, I have a toddler named Olivia. Olivia has always approached sleep the way most people approach death; they aren’t exactly sure why, but they are going to fight with all their might to avoid it for as long as they can. For most of her life, we had to put her to sleep by holding her down, while also holding her hands (she pinches!) and keeping her from moving her head (she also bites!). But in the last few months, I have been able to get her to go to sleep at night by holding her and singing to her. I have a few hymns that I usually sing to her to put her to sleep, but there have been times when I have been so discouraged that singing a hymn was the last thing I wanted to do. I remember one night I tried to think of other songs to sing her and was alarmed to discover that for some reason I couldn’t seem to remember the words to any non-Christian song I know. So, some nights I think of this story and think of Jesus overcoming his despair to praise God – even in hell – and I sing the hymns that put my baby to sleep for the night. Some nights, the words would barely come out and I just croaked them the best that I could and hoped that maybe just repeating them in the middle of my despair would count for something. Jesus’ example gives me hope that they do.
If you like the things I write here or found this story interesting or intriguing in any way, I hope you will consider purchasing a copy of my book, The Upside Down World. It’s an ecclectic collection of essays, short stories, poetry, ideas, spiritual memoir and more. In it are many of the things I have written that I personally go back to for inspiration and comfort when I need it. The book can be purchased on Amazon. I am also offering a buy-one-give-one deal on full price copies of the book ($12 plus $2 shipping) ordered directly from me. For each copy of the book purchased directly from me, I will donate a copy to Transport for Christ or Freedom Works Prison Fellowship. These are two local groups who have agreed to give copies of the book free of charge to people they minister to. If you are interested in the buy-one-give-one offer, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “b1g1” in the message.