February 10, 2019

He Descended to the Dead

If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
Ps. 139:8 

Sheol was generally thought of as a place of complete separation from God. And yet Psalm 139:8 states that if a spirit would wish to flee from God, it cannot do so in Sheol. Perhaps this is the Old Testament equivalent to what we read in 1 Peter 3—
He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey [1 Peter 3:18b-20a]
This, of course, is something that is found in the Apostles' Creed and which millions upon millions of people recite regularly. Unless, of course, they're Methodist.* Whereas for the middle part, about Jesus Christ, most people say:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead...
Methodists for some reason omit the part about descending to the—which is curious, since it is a  doctrine entirely defensible by scripture. Although I suspect it's a doctrine also much understood. I'm afraid there are some who think that these imprisoned spirits are awaiting our prayers for their salvation, or our baptism on their behalf. That same passage of scripture from 1 Peter begins like this:
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. [v. 18a]
The spirits awaiting Christ's proclamation heard a proclamation of their long-awaited release not based on the prayers of their descendants or after their baptism by proxy, but because of God's sovereign grace extended to them through Christ's death on the cross. Their release was not aided on iota by human help. Though whether all were released from their imprisonment or just some, I cannot say.

This is all just to say that God's people are safe wherever they find themselves. Naturally we expect to find God in the heavenly places, since this is a metaphor for a good and glorious state. But we often believe that deep in the valley of the shadow of death, or even in death itself, we are unreachable by God. But nothing could be less true. In life and in death, we belong to God, and God does not abandon God's own children to the pit. As A New Creed (United Church of Canada) puts it:
 In life, in death, in life beyond death,
 God is with us.
We are not alone
.
Thank you, God, that I belong to you. And thank you for the assurance that no matter where I am or where I go on life's journey, you are with me; in the Name of him who died to make this a reality, and who taught me to pray...

*Methodsts have, for some reason, gone straight from, ...suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven.

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