He Descended Into Hell

Some days, there is a heaviness.
Some days, silence seems like the only appropriate option.

Faced with the suffering of women and children in India, in Nigeria, in Syria, in impoverished U.S. neighborhoods; faced with a friend’s loss of a loved one, or overwhelming anxiety, or difficulties at work; faced with the fact that all these little children grow into teens who hurt each other, and these teens grow into adults with deep emotional and physical scars; I feel the weight of these days when You offer no answer.

Frederick Buechner writes that the gospel begins with silence, with truth in silence; then, there is news–the bad news, the tragedy that strips us bare; only after this silence and this tragedy can there be good news, can we be clothed and healed. And anyone who ignores the silence or the tragedy is only telling part of the story.

In his chapter on the gospel as tragedy in Telling the Truth, Buechner uses the Shakespearean tragedy King Lear to illustrate his argument. He talks about the poor naked wretches, and all of us who are weary and heavy laden, and Jesus hanging on the cross. He glosses Jesus’ prayer, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) as follows:

“My God, where the Hell are you, meaning If thou art our Father who art in Heaven, be thou also our Father who art in Hell because Hell is where the action is, where I am and the cross is. It is where the pitiless storm is. It is where men labor and are heavy laden under the burden of their own lives without you.” (39)

I have been in a sober state since reading this. Last night I sat up in bed reading Lamentations, breathing out prayers for those who are suffering. There is a holiness in bearing witness to the suffering. We cannot fix it; sometimes we can do a little to stop the bleeding, and we can always give up a few luxuries to ensure someone else does not go to bed hungry. But we cannot fix it, and we cannot end it, this poverty—material, mental, spiritual, and emotional—that stalks the earth, looking for someone to devour. Tragedy is in the news; it is in the truth. It comes first.

And so, first and foremost, we need to listen to the tragic news and we need to see those who are living tragedies. For we are all living tragedies sometimes; and we are all of us poor naked wretches, even the wealthiest and most beautiful.
And so, sometimes the best thing we can do is sit in the dust, “to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence” (Lamentations 3:27-28a)

Buechner’s interpretation of Jesus’ prayer from the cross brought two articles to mind that I highly recommend:




One thought on “He Descended Into Hell

  1. Wow, thanks for this and sharing these articles – they aren’t just touching but moving! I will approach the mission field (i.e. my work) with a new attitude tomorrow.

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