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Advent Reflections: Hell

They asked him: Say then, Scibboleth, which is interpreted, An ear of corn. But he answered, Sibboleth, not being able to express an ear of corn by the same letter. Then presently they took him and killed him in the very passage of the Jordan. And there fell at that time of Ephraim two and forty thousand (Jdg. xii. 6).

In the Book of Judges, the word “Scibboleth” (also spelled shibboleth) is used as an identifier to distinguish between the allies of Jepthe and the Ephraimites. The way the word is pronounced (and it is a regional pronunciation) is evidence of where a man’s allegiance lies. One lesson from this Bible passage is that there can be enemies who are almost indistinguishable from an ally. Their beliefs, habits, customs and traditions may seem exactly the same, but there is always a “shibboleth” that illuminates the truth of who a man is and what he believes.

This term is helpful in these times of Modernism and infiltration in the Church. So often we are duped by personalities, laity and clerical, who appear perfect allies in the quest for orthodoxy and tradition. But, at a certain point we encounter a “shibboleth” in their work, and from there we are able to see just how deep the Modernism has weaved its way. It is not to say that every theologian or cleric must agree on reasonably disputable matters, but there are certain non-negotiables that show the heart of what a man believes.

In my opinion, Evolutionary Theory is a shibboleth. I understand that there is room for mystery in how we understand certain things about the Origin Story in Genesis. However, there are a whole host of binding teachings, like the special creation of Adam and Eve, that render evolutionary ideas absurd. Whenever I am recommended a Bible scholar or a book to read, I immediately research what that scholar or school of thought has to say on Genesis and Evolution. If I find approval of any sort of Theistic Evolution, I immediately dispense with any notion of giving the resource a second thought. This might seem strange to some, but without exception, I have always found that an unholy alliance with Darwin leads to weak theology in a host of important areas. Original Sin is dealt with sheepishly, and Biblical inerrancy is relegated to only “religious” things. It isn’t that writers who assent to evolution cannot be sound in other areas. In truth, many evolution-friendly theologians are solid on morals and even some areas of doctrine. Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, the theology of a man who explains away the beginning of the Bible, will not withstand the flood of those who seek to explain away the rest. It is like a house built on sand.

Another “shibboleth” is the reality of Hell. What someone believes about Hell will affect the rest of their faith. It will affect how they read the Bible, and how they see the Catholic Church. In the end we will end up in Heaven or Hell. There is a philosophical principle wherein the completed nature of a thing is the first thing intended. For example, Michelangelo saw the completed David in his mind before he began to work. The completed statue existed in his mind before it existed physically. As he worked away at the marble, he had the finished masterpiece as his end goal.

How does this apply to Hell? Well, Hell is a potential end for each one of us, as is Heaven. Thus, what we believe about our end and what we hold in our minds as a finished product, will greatly affect how we operate currently. Even if we keep Heaven in mind, but eschew any true sense of Hell, we will find our understanding of Heaven perverted as well. What is Heaven if not a refuge? From what are we saved if the threat of damnation is not ever present? We love to speak of Christ as our “Lord and Saviour,” which is true. But, why must we be saved?

If our understanding of Hell is weak, then our relationship with Christ will also be feeble. In the past I have asked Catholics who are squeamish about the topic of Hell to explain how they present Christ to others. What is their motivation to share the Gospel? Inevitably, I get a response that alludes to the comfort and friendship they find in knowing Christ as their motivation to evangelize. This is of course true, but if our desire to know and share Christ is based on a need for consolation, then our faith is ultimately egocentric.

Jesus Christ is not just our Friend and Healer, He is also our Deliverer. He delivers us from the bondage of Satan, to whom we all belong until Baptism. He is the God Who comforts the afflicted, but He is also the Exorcist who violently casts out devils. He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. His Crucifixion was not merely a sentimental act of love: it was a requisite self-sacrifice needed to save us. How wretched must we be if Sacred Blood must be shed for our salvation?

When Christ is born in the coming days, innocent blood will be shed. Herod will order the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. The first martyrs of the Catholic Church will be made. It makes you think of what sort of world the Messiah was born into. Are we any different today? Hardly. Our world still hates Christ. Our world still hates innocence and infants. We still sacrifice to the pagan gods of prosperity. We are all destined for Hell if not for Jesus Christ. And, just because we have met the Lord, does not mean He will say to us in the end, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” Not all those who even perform miracles in His name will be saved. If we do not take the reality of damnation as seriously as a heart attack, we may hear those fateful words, “Depart from me, for I never knew you.”

This Christmas, do not approach the Manger as a man who deserves to be there. Instead, like the Magi, come from the depths of your superstition and worldly philosophy to see the God-Man. Witness the triumph over Hell that is the Nativity of Our Lord. Listen to the Choirs of Angels as they sing hymns of joy over the suffering of Satan. Stand with the Holy Family, understanding that underfoot lies a pit, with a dwelling place the Devil has prepared for you. Prostrate yourself in front of the resting place of Christ, and put your ear to the ground. As you lie there in the cave of the coming of Christ, listen for the footsteps of Herod’s death riders as they search for the newly born Logos. The demons of Hell still prowl around the world seeking the ruin of your soul.

You will not save yourself, and you have no defense against the onslaught of Hell apart from Christ. You are not guaranteed Heaven, as you do not have the keys to open the Gate. This Christmas, remember what world you were born into, and under whose dominion you belonged.

Our only refuge is in Bethlehem, huddled around the fire of divine charity. Dare we hope to be among the few who stay with Christ along the bloody journey from the City of David to the City of God.

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