Perhaps during this time of being plagued with the coronavirus pandemic, some people are more inclined to think about death and the hereafter. This may also be the case for seniors—including me—who are among the highest population at risk of being infected with COVID-19. I have had my days of wondering if I have the virus; or if I will get it and possibly die from it.
Thinking about death and the hereafter reminds me of the gift of faith, being able, by God’s grace, to trust that I do not have to fear death or what happens beyond it. I, along with countless other people of faith, find great comfort and hope in scripture passages such as Psalm 23, John 14:1-7, and tomorrow’s Revised Common Lectionary second lesson from 1 Peter 3:13-22—especially vv 18-19: “He (Jesus) 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....” Some biblical scholars and systematic theologians have interpreted this reference “to the spirits in prison” as Jesus’ descent into “hell.”
I am of a divided mind concerning hell. On the one hand, I can see the need for God’s justice to be exercised towards humankind—especially in light of those like Hitler and Stalin who caused immense suffering for millions of human beings. On the other hand, I also believe that God is an all-loving God, and the life, teachings, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus truly bear witness to God’s love. So, I hold these two possibilities in dialectical tension, without a satisfactory resolution. However, I do like this quotation from popular Presbyterian pastor and author, the Reverend Frederick Buechner (pronounced Beekner), first published in his Wishful Thinking, and later in his Beyond Words:
“Dante saw written over the gates of hell the words "Abandon all hope ye who enter here," but he must have seen wrong. If there is suffering life in hell, there must also be hope in hell, because where there is life there is the Lord and giver of life; and where there is suffering he is there too, because the suffering of the ones he loves is also his suffering.”