Then I came to the story of the passion, and when I read Jesus’ death cry, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” I knew with certainty: this is someone who understands you… This was the divine brother in distress, who takes the prisoners with him on his way to resurrection. — Jurgen Moltmann
As I walked this morning from my home to my customary coffee shop, I was brought up short by a voice. The voice came from above, its source invisible. It said, with perfect clarity, “Go to hell!”
It was not the voice of God, but presumably the voice of one of the residents of the multi-story apartment building I was passing at the time. The voice of a human woman, overcome with helpless fury.
Wondering to whom she was speaking, I scanned the sidewalk ahead. I saw only two people: a thirty-ish man feeding his parking meter, and an elderly, white-haired woman preparing to cross the street. Both were clearly just passersby, like myself. With no singular target in sight, I could not help but feel that we were somehow all the targets of the curse issued from above.
This particular morning, I was feeling blessed, not cursed, and my first impulse was to scatter some of that blessing. The old woman was already crossing the street and too far ahead to catch, but as I passed the guy at the parking meter I smiled and said, “I don’t know who just said that, but don’t go to hell, okay?” He grinned back. “You heard that all the way down the block?”
But I couldn’t figure out how to get that blessing to the person who really needed it. Because it seems pretty clear that one who most needed blessing was not the guy on the street, but the woman who shouted so angrily from above. Anyone who, shouts “Go to hell!” with such venom, is probably already living there. This, I think, is the very function of a curse: it is an attempt to pull the other down into hell with us.
I run in fairly well-behaved circles and I have seldom had anyone tell me to go to hell. I have, however, heard many people proclaim in public that people like me are going to hell. These people like to phrase this as a statement of fact, a cautionary warning for my own benefit. But really, this is just a polite way of telling someone to go to hell. If you tell me that God will send me to hell — that your God will send me to hell — how is this not your will as well?
These words can sink in after a while. They start to seem true. They start to seem true, because this is the function of a curse: to pull another down into our own hell of judgment. Curse someone enough, and they just may believe themselves cursed — and that is hell. I’ve been there.
So I tell everyone: if you hear someone telling you to go to hell, do not be afraid. It is not the voice of God. After all, the powers that be told Jesus to go to hell. They even crucified him, just to make sure. And what happened? He broke open the gates, and took the prisoners with him, on the way to resurrection.
When you hear someone telling you to go to hell, remember they are already there. Don’t let them pull you in; pull them out instead.
(Featured image: Gerolamo di Romano called Romanino, “Descent of Christ to Limbo” (detail of Christ helping Adam to rise), 1533-34, affresco, Church of Santa Maria della Neve, Pisogne (BS), Italy. Source: Wikimedia Commons.)