Climbing out of Sheol


Skulls and bones in the ossuary of Kutná Hora, Sedlec, Czech republic

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. Psalm 130:1-4

Jews of the Old Testament lived constantly in the shadow of Sheol, the pit of darkness and despair to which all souls descended after death. Job described Sheol as the “place of no return … the land of gloom and utter darkness … the land of deepest night, of utter darkness and disorder, where even the light is like darkness.”

The depths and gloom of Sheol were so impenetrable, even faith and prayer could not reach the souls suffering there. “For the grave cannot praise you,” Isaiah tells us, “death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.”

As Christians, we know Jesus Christ fulfilled Isaiah’s promise that God would “swallow up death forever.” In his atoning death and resurrection Christ forever conquered death and the old notions of Sheol. In his life of self-sacrificial love, Jesus showed us how to live outside the shadow of death.

God conquered death, and broke down the barriers between this life and the Kingdom of God. But, we still go looking for Sheol. When we lose sight of the cross, it’s easy to slip back into that old place, where fear, greed and doubt make us feel like we’re in Job’s impenetrable pit of despair. In our vanity, we may think our sins are too great for grace. We may think God’s light cannot reach us. We may fear we’re too far gone for God’s faithfulness.

But, as the psalmist reminds us, with God there is forgiveness. No matter how dark things may look, God is ever attentive, ever merciful, ever loving. No matter how hard we may try to dig ourselves into Sheol, the cross still stands for us. God’s grace still calls to us – to return to his service; to return to his love.

Eternal God, amid our trials and temptations, when our eyes may be turned downward to the darkness of this world, keep us ever-mindful of the all-encompassing light of your grace, and the redemption that awaits us in service to your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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