Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Apostle's Creed and the "Harrowing of Hell"

Regardless of the fact that the Creed is sufficient enough to cover my statements on faith by itself, I will provide a personal commentary of the Apostle’s Creed and how it pertains to my beliefs.

First, I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I’ve already made it clear that I believe the words of this creed, but this first line prompted a thought or two: I am a monotheist, which, for those who do not know, means I believe in one God not several gods. In accordance with that, I accept the doctrine of the Trinity (God is three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) but I have not decided whether I accept the eastern or western definition of the Trinity (although, I do agree with the idea of perichoresis attributed to Gregory of Nyssa). Frankly, the general definition is good enough for my theological views and I won’t lose sleep over whether God the Father is the source of the Godhead or that the love of God unites the three persons within the Trinity. I’d rather not waste time debating the Trinity, I believe that there is a Holy Trinity and that is enough for me; if you want to know more, research the doctrine of the Trinity.

Second, I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. It’s safe to say that this basic statement is essential to my theology. In accordance with the Theology of the Cross, “Christ imputes his righteousness to you, taking your sins onto himself.” Third, He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. Christ died, even for you” and “God is found on the cross.” In my opinion, these two ideas reject the notion of a works based theology because it is as simple as Christ died for all of humanity and it refutes the ideas of natural theology that God is found everywhere. As a former Evangelical Christian, emphasis on the former, I once believed the antithesis of these two theological statements prompted by the aforementioned line of the creed. Again, I state, “Christ died, even for you” and “God is found on the cross.”

Fourth, He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. This is my favorite line of the creed and, oddly enough, the most important one to my beliefs. My faith is grounded by the cross and functions on the truth of the resurrection of Christ. I have included the piece “The Harrowing of Hell” to articulate my thoughts on this line of the Creed.

Some time ago, I heard a sermon on this piece of art; the theology behind it has stuck with me ever since that day. The major elements that I take away from this piece include the image of Christ taking the “Adam and Eve” characters by the wrist because they, as representatives of humanity, are helpless to help themselves. This concept is vital to my views because I used to spend a lot of time trying to be more righteous, so to speak, and that sort of theology fails to grasp the power of Christ and the reality of human depravity. Therefore, Christ takes me and the rest of humanity by the wrist to bring us from death to salvation – I have no hand in my salvation. Christ descending into hell to save the dammed and the dead reflects a very Old Testament concept. After hearing this sermon, I considered what stories and histories would support or deny such an idea. At that time I was neck deep in research on the book of Jonah – which actually addresses a similar descent to save the dead. If you look closely at this painting, you’ll see that Christ is standing on the cross, which is floating over a sea of the dead – waiting to pull the dead and the dammed from their graves and bring them into a rebirth. In the book of Jonah, the prophet talks about being engulfed by the deep and being in the belly of the great fish. In my personal interpretation of the text Jonah experiences a death and resurrection or a death and rebirth because the word “belly” in the story of Jonah is able to be translated from Hebrew as womb. The painting helps bring a visual to the theological concepts, which do have roots grounded in tradition. As I mentioned earlier, those traditions are important to maintaining an orthodox theology.

Fifth, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen. For those who don’t know, catholic (with a small “c”) does not refer to the Roman Catholic church but the entire Christian church universally. As for the resurrection of the body, I believe in a physical resurrection of the dead if I didn’t make that clear in my discussion of Jonah, Sheol, and the “Harrowing of Hell.”

1 comment:

  1. In effort to further clarify, the hell I speak of is based on Old Testament theology; it is not fire and brimstone (I don't believe in such a place). Hell, or better yet, Sheol, is the dwelling place of the dead. As far as I understand Old Testament Jewish theology, both the righteous and the damned dwell in Sheol. In essence, Christ's descent into hell is his conquering of death. Sin is the only reason we do not live forever and Christ overcame death and its power to condemn. Peter talks about this briefly in Acts 2 and discusses Christ's descent into hell through the eyes of David. Moreover, the matter of Christ's decent into hell is affirmed by the creeds, which are general statements of faith for the entire Christian church (Alister McGrath, Historical Theology). For those that are less comfortable with the notion that Christ was in hell, all this really means is that Christ died for the living and the dead and offers us a gift of salvation from the condemnation of death.