It’s almost Easter—lilies, candy eggs, cute-talking rabbits and if you’re like me… going to church and singing. Do you feel like singing? I hope so. But sometimes, it’s hard to sing about Heaven when you feel like Hell. I doubt there’s any singing in Hell.
I vaguely remember my daughters standing in front of the television screaming, “Keep singing Ariel. Keep singing!” They were watching the Little Mermaid. If I remember correctly, Ariel, the little mermaid, was battling the sea witch who had stolen Ariel’s voice and imprisoned her father in the depths of the sea. Basically all Hell was breaking loose, but when Ariel got her voice back and started to sing everything turned into Easter. “Keep singing Ariel. Keep singing!” Good advice. But how do you sing about Heaven when you feel like Hell?
Do you believe in Hell?
Actually, nobody believes in Hell, because Hell is “not believing.” Nobody believes in Hell except one… on Easter… who sings.
OK… I’m talking about Hell #1. There are at least three Biblical realities, which English speaking people, refer to as “Hell.” The first, you actually can’t believe in; the second, actually is belief; and the third, is the boundary between the first two.
Hell #1. There is a place of “outer darkness where men weep and gnash their teeth- “ the “depths of the earth,” “the abyss of the sea.” To describe that place, the Old Testament uses the Hebrew word, Sheol, rendered Hades in the Greek New Testament. It exists in space and time. It’s the Grave; the realm of the dead and the demonic. It’s the place of darkness and separation from God, who is Light, Life and Love. It’s the realm of faithlessness, belief-less-ness, hopelessness and love-less- ness. Psalm 6:5, “…in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol, who will give you praise?” “…there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” writes Solomon (Ecc. 9:10). In Sheol, no one believes; no one sings. I suspect, that in Sheol, all feel forsaken.
Hell #2. The Bible also speaks of the “Consuming Fire” and a lake of this Fire. Scripture reveals that God is “a Consuming Fire.” He is Light, Life and Love. He is entirely Faith Full and He is Eternal—outside of, beyond and before space and time. Sheol or Hades cannot be the same thing as this Divine Fire, but in fact, must be just the opposite. In the end, according to the Revelation, “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire…and death shall be no more.” When Jesus appears in the Revelation, he’s like, on Fire. He’s called the Lion of Judah and before Him, everybody sings. Perhaps Hell #2 is the very substance of Heaven.
Hell #3. There’s one last word or idea that gets translated as “Hell” and that’s Gehenna. It’s a place. I’ve been there and ironically, they were having a barbecue… no cries of pain and agony, just Jewish people playing volleyball and eating chicken. Gehenna is the valley just to the south and west of Jerusalem. In Jesus day it was a picture of Judgment; a place where the trash was burned; a place where Hell #1 is destroyed by Hell #2, which is the very presence of God. It’s the place where Light, Life and Love consume darkness death and apathy. It’s the edge of the New Jerusalem; the edge Heaven.
Hey, did you know that “Ariel” is a biblical name for Jerusalem? And God’s people are referred to as Jerusalem. In Hebrew, Ariel also means lion of God.
Well anyway, how do you sing about Heaven when you feel like Hell? Ask Jesus.
Matthew records that on the cross, just outside the walls of old Jerusalem, Jesus cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Most theologians explain that, at that moment, Jesus took on our sin and experienced Hell #1 in our place. According to Scripture, He descended into the “lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9) where He “preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19). Or maybe He sang.
Did you know that, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the first line of a song? It is. Psalm 22. We know that Jesus started to sing it on the cross. I think He must’ve kept singing it in Hell.
I hope you give the whole thing a read, but check out these lines and check out how it ends:
Verse 1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Verse 24: “…he has not despised or abhorred the affliction or the afflicted, and he has heard, when he cried to him.” (Maybe you’re not forsaken, but just think you’re forsaken? Well, Jesus knows how you feel.)
Verse 27: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.” (That would be worth singing.) Verse29-31 “… before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, (all!), even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it!”
Actually, on the cross, Jesus did sing that last line. He cried, “It is done. It is finished.” He delivered up His Spirit and at that point Matthew records that tombs were opened and people came out… that would be, out of Sheol!
On that Friday, which was transformed into Easter, the Darkness tried to swallow the Light; Death swallowed Life; Hell swallowed Heaven and Heaven wouldn’t stop singing. The Lion of Judah wouldn’t stop believing. Even though He felt the forsakenness of all sinful humanity, He wouldn’t stop singing his heart unto His
Father and the gates of Hell burst from the inside out. He gave up His Spirit, that by His Spirit, He might come sing to His Father in you—the lion in you, His New Jerusalem.
Soon it will be Easter. Even if you feel like Hell, ask Him to come sing in you. Ask Him to come believe in you; to believe in Love from the darkest places inside of you; to break down the gates of Hell from the inside out; to baptize you with Fire. That’s His specialty. He’s the Word of God. He’s the Voice of God… given to you… Ariel. Say, “Come Lord Jesus.” Then, “Keep singing, Ariel. Keep singing!”