Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Divine Comedy of Being Saved

I recently enjoyed Rufus Fears' take on Dante’s Divine Comedy (paper, audio). I knew of the book and its descriptions of the levels of hell, but I'd never read it. Two things jumped out at me like a ton of bricks (yeah, I know, bricks can’t jump, but I live with a 4 year old, so they can do most anything): first, the concept around being "Saved" by believing in Jesus finally makes sense at a logical level. And it is both as profound in its implications and also nowhere near as all-forgiving as non-believers understand it to be. I'm not saying you should run out and be Saved. I'm just saying the concept as it is typically portrayed seems odd to those outside the culture and it is actually grounded in logical, motivational imagery. Second, if you want to start an evangelical church, the Divine Comedy can be your (only) sermon source. This entry is about the first of those….

As you may know, the book flows through Dante getting to tour hell with the poet Virgil as a tour guide. He goes down and down through the famous and increasingly nasty layers of hell…and then starts going back up. On the way up, he sees Purgatory, a separate place for people not ready for heaven because of things they did in life, but in a holding pattern until they get their ticket punched. If I’m getting it all correct, the key is that the levels of hell are for eternity. That’s it. You’re done. Maybe you have a REALLY bad location where animals eat your liver all day and maybe your level is just having to eat greasy chicken strips and okra every meal. Either way, get used to it. But Purgatory is temporary. It’s no picnic either and you may be there a long time, but hey, a long time is nothing compared to eternity. And once you leave Purgatory, you get promoted into heaven where all is lightness and brightness and you hang out with (and maybe even become part of) the top guy (uh, I mean Top Guy). And how do you get to Purgatory instead of hell? Through Jesus. Why do I find this so fascinating? Well for hmm, what term to use? Well, for typical "non-believers," one of the problems with the whole finding Jesus and being “Saved” business seems to be, “What a deal! You’re a jerk your whole life and you accept Jesus on your death bed and you go to heaven. What’s up with that? It’s so irrational that it can’t make sense. No omniscient being would make up rules like that. So either the Deity (in the form being described) is a fiction or those who claim to speak for the Deity are mistaken.” Well what a surprise, the rules are a little more rational…in fact, a lot more rational. Do bad things and you get punished. No matter what. Either way. But if you accept Jesus, you’ve got a friend in the diamond business. You’ve got someone willing to stick up for you and say, “Come on Dad…er, God…sure, this person did some nasty things, but his heart is in the right place, so let’s put him through the ringer for a few millennia and then let him into the party.” And God says “OK son, that seems fair. But make sure people down there know that those millennia aren’t going to be fun!” These are rules that make sense! If people knew and believed these rules, then some would try to be good all the time and some wouldn’t, but all would realize that Christ conversion and acceptance will help in the final resolution. Earlier is better (in fact, there’s a special--NOT particularly sunny--spot in Purgatory for those last-minute, just-in-case converts), but joining the team at any time gets you a friend on the other side. It’s a much more compelling story. Which leads to the second much more practical point. A point that could give you a new career anytime you want. But that's the next entry. I just need a few days….

3 comments:

Moshki said...

yeah, Hitler is having tea with
Stalin and Jesus as we speak.

Dox O'Ryan said...

Wow. This blog must be taking off. My first Hitler reference in a comment. The scary part is that even with such vehemence, the comment doesn't seem clear as to whether it is disagreeing with the content or offering a backhanded agreement. Sigh.

Cecilia said...

Well said.

 
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