Breakfast talk, April 19, 1996
Hell and the Devil.
At the end of January, our minister Craig in a children's sermon on the Apostles' Creed mentioned John Calvin, the founder of Presbyterianism, inserted the curious phrase, "He descended into Hell." This caused a stir so Jack Howard asked me if I would speak today about Hell and The Devil. Who better to ask than a guilt-ridden Jewish Christian Presbyterian.

The phrase, "He descended into Hell," was dropped out of the Apostle's Creed by Martin Luther, who felt Jesus was too holy to go into Hell. Craig taught the children this statement was reinserted by Calvin to show that humans need never have fear. Jesus has overcome every possible human experience on our behalf. Even Hell.

And of course, we can't speak of Hell without the Devil. I want to thank Jack for this provocative subject. Studying Hell and the Devil is tough going during Lent. But now Easter's happened. It will be enough this morning to scratch the surface of the Underworld.

So, where is Hell? Is it down there, under the magma below the earth's crust? Is it just a bogeyman idea to scare young Catholics into obeying the Sisters? Most of us either have a childlike idea of Hell, or more likely, we don't think about Hell at all now that we are grown-ups leading Christian lives more or less as best we can.

So, what is Hell? Is Hell is a physical place with dimensionality , or is Hell a spiritual place, or maybe just an idea, or if it does exist, it's outside our ability to understand it. Is it the flip side of Heaven? Let's take the scientific view. In Biblical terms, this is the Wisdom approach. 1 Corinthians 22, Paul said, Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, Let's leave aside the Jews looking for signs for a moment, and focus on the Greeks seeking wisdom. Wisdom in this sense is logic and scientific inquiry. This morning we'll seek both as Greeks and as Jews.

Thomas Cahill, who you remember from "How the Irish Saved Civilization, has a new book called, "The Gifts of the Jews." Cahill describes Sumerian pagan concepts of heaven and Hell in Abraham's time. The motion of stars, sun and moon led the ancients to the concept of a great dome above a flat circular earth. They did not have the idea of time as a forward movement which an individual can alter. Cahill thinks that idea was one of the gifts of the Jews. The pagans thought of time as cyclical. It just came around again and again. The gods controlled all. Man was just to do business and propitiate the gods. Fit in and don't fight destiny. Death was seen as a place under the earth. An underworld. The grave was still, at the center of the wheel-like movement of the earth and heavens. This concept of the grave moved forward in early Jewish thought to Sheol, or, in Greek, Hades. This is a place of death, and possibly, of waiting.

From the scientific point of view we can look at Hades, or this early version of Hell, as an end of the law of entropy. Newton's Laws of Thermodynamics assert everything moves from complexity to simplicity. That is, things run down. Iron rusts, flowers wither, corpses break down to elements, the universe may implode in the big crunch. Life, of course, is a defiance of entropy. Through some mysterious initial big bang, life began as a movement to complexity. The corruption, or destruction of the grave is the entropic place where the Sadduccees of the Old Testament thought we would end up. Pharisees, on the other hand believed we would somehow come out of the destruction of Sheol, and have a life after death. Which, of course, is what Jesus life, death and resurrection promises. And if there is an eternal life after death, and there is Heaven, there must be a place for the unrighteous to go.

So, the early view of Hell is destruction, the abyss, the grave, nothingness, rest, waiting, corruption. Here, the body is no more, and the soul or spirit waits. However, in the inter-testament time, this concept of Hades changed. Hell developed as a place of torment. Payback.

Before we develop Hell, however, we should give the Devil his due. There is not much mention of the Devil, or Satan, in the Old Testament. He is referred to most famously as the serpent who either tempted, or had intercourse with Eve in gan eden. Satan in the Old Testament is The Accuser. Or the Adversary. He has many names. Satan, Belial, Beelzebub, Mastema, Samael, The Old Enemy. Isaiah calls him an angel of light, and because of rebellion, this angel, the Devil and a third of all the angels were cast down from Heaven. Depiction of Satan in the book of Job gave rise to the concept of the devil, not as an enemy of God, but as God's agent, in subjection to God, who performed a TESTING or PROVING function with humans. We hear reference to this idea today in the Lord's Prayer. paraphrase, "Do not lead us into temptation -or testing - but deliver us -from the dark side of our nature -from evil actions and desires. "

In the New Testament, the devil, demons, and Satan take on a more prominent role. For flavor, here is Revelation 12:7:
"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth and his angels were cast out with him."

The Devil is very prominent in the Gospels and the Letters. In fact the whole New Testament is cast as a war against the Devil and evil.
Ephesians II "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms .
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. Then,
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

That's the flavor. Elaine Pagels, the Princeton professor you may have seen on the Genesis series, wrote, "The Origin of Satan." Pagels points out reasons behind the growing importance of Satan and demons throughout church history. There is increasing Satanic polemic from Mark, written in 70 AD, through the Gospel of John, written about 100 AD. The early Christian church was a splinter group among the many splinter groups of Judaism. There have always been nearly as many factions within Judaism as there are Jews. Christians were at first welcomed within the synagogue, but later were vigorously opposed as heretics by mainstream Judaism.

So, two factors led to development of strong demonology in the New Testament.

First was the opposition of Jews. This was countered with powerful polemic, "Us good guys, them bad guys. They really can't be of God", tone. Second, was the catastrophic siege and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans crushing the Jewish Revolt in 69AD.

The Christians now wanted to create a wide difference between themselves and Judaism, and paint Christians as friends of Rome, not friends of Israel. Thus the aggrieved tone we see towards the Jews, particularly in John.

Towards the end of the second century AD, the Christians were now gaining ground in the empire and creating problems for the Roman way of life. Jesus calls us out of family, municipality and national ties into a new universal brotherhood of believers. God is universal, not particular to a city or empire. Thus, the Romans accused the Christians of sedition and atheism. Rome and paganism now are the demons, the Devil, the dark forces of evil at war with God's people. Now, pagans liked demons. In fact, the word DAEMON, meant "natural energies or spirits." They could be good, or at least indifferent to people. This is the heart of paganism -and a lot of new age thinking.

After demonizing Rome and paganism, the Church turned to demonizing fellow Christians who deviated from the orthodox line of thought. So called Apostate Christians. The Gnostics, for example, were cast as heretical, demonic. They were doing essentially what we and John Calvin and others did. We are looking into scripture more deeply than prescriptive and proscriptive behavior codes and simple statements of faith. We are committing the once heretical sin of thoughtful choice. The word, heresy means choice. For the early church fathers, who were trying to create a global organization with standardized rules, all this continuous creativity and thinking choice was anathema. And elitist. Thus, the Gnostic heresy was demonized. All the way up to Luther, "errant" Christians were called Pharisees, Scribes and Demons. We still hear preachers demonizing those who differ.

So we see the development of Christian demonology as a polemic flowing first from opposition to Christian Jews by mainstream Judaism, then to opposition to Christianity from threatened Roman paganism, and later, from opposition to heretics within the Christian Church by orthodox Christianity itself. Each time opposition to evolving Christianity was cast as demonic or Satanic wars against God.

If I can leave you with one thought today it is this. The dark issue in all this is in the idea of THE OTHER as the devil. By demonizing others, we don't deal with the dark side of our own selves, which is where the Devil also lives. Buried deep in our animal nature.

I don't think we will know in this life whether the Devil is an independent supernatural character or the dark side of each of our human natures. Or both.

Before we close, let's look at a view of the Devil that crosses over between faith and science. The gospels agree Jesus had three temptations from the Devil immediately after baptism. And there are three universal needs that keep us bound up. In a sense we can think of these three needs as unmanaged temptations, These needs, when inordinate, keep us bound up as psychological prisoners. The needs are for physical security, esteem, and control.

Jesus illustrates this: Jesus was famished after a 40 day fast. The Devil said "turn these stones into bread," appealing to Jesus' basic need for food and bodily survival. The Second temptation, the Devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said, "all these will be at your feet if you worship me," our need for esteem and affection. The third temptation of the Devil, "throw yourself down from the temple wall" so angels will be forced to save you, appealing to Jesus' need for invulnerability and control. The three basic human needs which if thwarted in childhood, can become inordinate and unsatisfiable, cause men and women to live in fear and neediness.

Until we are freed.

Jesus came to set us free, to unbind the prisoner, to give sight to the blind, to set us captives free. He descended into Hell, the Hell here now, and the Hell there later, to break the chains of the Devil, and "Lead captivity captive. "

Jesus frees us from the power of the Devil, and lets us live abundantly and free from fear. Hebrews 2: 14 " that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death...Therefore fix your thoughts on Jesus"

  back home