The fact that Jesus entered hell is not much preached about. This is understandable since the major emphasis is and should be on the resurrection. But His invasion of hell can be incredibly meaningful for many of us who have suffered trauma. And honestly, a good many of us who haven’t. One of the main reasons many sufferers of trauma do not seek help is that they fear having to re-enter their own personal hell.
I get it. No one wants to go to hell.
But too many also don’t necessarily want to leave it either. Jesus asked a man if he wanted to get well. This question is still current. I have heard from many people that they would rather not disturb the monstrous pain in their past, ignoring the fact that they live in a sort of hell every day. No one can permanently escape their history without confronting it. Trauma will always find a way out, whether in one’s physical or mental health or perhaps their relationships.
Years ago, I had a session with a young woman who saw her heart as being in a dark dungeon wrapped in barbed wire. Ouch. She was not a Christian, yet, though she soon became one. Her complaint about Christianity was that she didn’t want to believe in a God that sent people to hell. When I told her that He doesn’t, that people choose to go there, she stared at me in disbelief.
In fact, I told her, you already are in hell. Or at least your heart is.
At that moment, she understood. She already pretty much knew what hell was. Her heart lived in torment every day. The hell that comes after death would just be more of the same: anguish, isolation, and lack of identity. Everyone already has a pretty good idea about what it will be like in hell. Their worst moments have already shown them a glimpse.
So what do I do? Terror made her voice quaver when she asked this. How do I get out of this terrible place? I can’t make myself go there and I can’t get out! I had good news for her, the Good News, in fact. I told her to invite Jesus to go with her. She was a little shocked. She had this idea that there were some things Jesus could not or would not do. This despite the fact that she didn’t particularly believe in Him.
It’s ok. He’s been there before, I told her.
Her eyes opened pretty wide at this. And I understood. I grew up reciting the Nicene Creed but she hadn’t. Most presentations of the gospel skim over the fact that Jesus actually entered hell and sprung a whole bunch of people. He made no secret of it. In fact, He mentioned it well beforehand in John 5:28-29:
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
One of the things I love most about Jesus is that He doesn’t wait until people have their doctrine or even their faith all figured out before He helps them. I have seen Him show up to love on believers and unbelievers alike in prayer ministry.
She thought about it for a minute. She knew I couldn’t go there with her except as a friend in the room as she went herself. But the idea that Jesus would go with her and rescue her hurting heart from torment was a whole new idea. When I told her that she could always turn back if it got too much, she decided to give it a go. For the first time in a long time, she began to believe that her fate wasn’t to live out her life in a living hell known only to herself.
So down she went into the deep places in her own spirit, holding the strong hand of her new Friend.
There her heart lay in the filth of an old prison cell, deep underground, bound in barbed wire and scarcely beating. The first thing that shocked her was Jesus weeping at her poor wounded heart. His grief gave her permission to feel her own grief at the terrible things that she had done and that had been done to her.
She gave Him permission to do what He wanted to. I never know what Jesus is going to do. This time He took out bolt cutters and freed it. Then He picked up her heart and held it. In His hand, it came alive again and suddenly the prison disappears. They are next to a river, the River of Life, actually, and He is cleaning her heart.
I expect Him to hand it back to her, but what do I know? Instead, He tucks it into His big, warm, healing heart and just hugs her. It is such a privilege to watch Jesus love people. Her heart now belongs to Jesus and He has healed it in many miraculous ways. She feels joy now, and love. Peace comes to her much more easily. I suppose you could say that she has entered the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s what Jesus does, isn’t it? Proclaim that the Kingdom is in our midst?
Have lingering personal hells you carry around with you? Invite Jesus into them with you. He knows just what to do. After all, He is in the business of resurrection. He has a big pair of bolt cutters, too, if you need them.
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