Monday, January 01, 2007

"Twixt Stirrup and Ground ..."

... mercy he sought and mercy he found."

A comment I made in an internet discussion group about the state of Saddam Hussein's soul has caused quite a debate. What I said is, that it appeared as if Saddam had gone to his death unrepentant of the evil he had done, and that, as a result, he is now in hell.

That prompted some interlocutors to raise the old canard about how God just might give him one last chance. In its extreme, it led one person to suggest that it was somehow unhealthy for us to dwell on such things. He asked: "Is arguing about the ultimate fate of someone else's soul something that affects the person making the argument?"

The following was my response. I would be interested in hearing what you have to say.

The answer is, unequivocally, yes.

The Four Last Things -- Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell -- are central to
Christian doctrine as held by the church catholic and are something about which each one of us should have as clear an understanding as possible. The simple reason is that, in due course, they will apply directly to each one of us.

We all die. We will all be subjected to judgment. And we will all go either to heaven or hell. It is something that does affect us, and something that we should ponder and discuss.

A fundamental tool of teaching is the case study. And a fundamental way to learn how to live a righteous life is to imitate the lives of those who have gone before; most importantly, Christ himself, but also his saints. The flip side of that is to avoid imitating the lives of those who have not shown themselves to be righteous.

Discussing the life and death of someone so notoriously evil as Saddam Hussein can be illuminating. Hopefully, none of our lives will mirror his in the enormity of the evil he did. But each of us is equal to Saddam in one thing -- if we do not repent of the evil we have done and of the good we have failed to do, then our souls are forfeit.

None of this is to say that we should gloat over the fact that Saddam, as I firmly believe, is in hell. Indeed, it should be a cause of great sadness. It is for me. How I would have rejoiced to see a transformation "twixt stirrup and ground."


Warwickensis said...

Well, that's what the Gospel says.
Hell exists and it's our choice whether we get there or not.

Hell is full of the folk who have made that choice and are forever tormented by the ceaseless gnawing of the worm which is, in effect, the image of God in each one of us pining for its Creator.

I wonder: does the issue of Pergatory arise here?

Abu Daoud said...

Yes, and then there is the evil twin sister, universalism.

Both of these ideas are absurd and unbiblical in the extreme. There is no basis in the Bible or Tradition for the "final option" or whatever you want to call it. It also makes the kind of work we do here in the Middle East (sharing the Gospel with Muslims) pretty pointless. I mean, if they all get a fully explained and complete presentation by God himself after they die, well, far be it from me to try to do God's work.

I want to go home where I can get good beer and pork and not have to hear the call to prayer five times every day.

But instead, the love of Christ compels us. Every day I see hundreds of people who are heading for hell because they have rejected God's Son, and in doing so, they have rejected God himself. We work, by his grace, to share goodness and truth, hoping that some will be saved from the everlasting separation from God that is Hell.

Anonymous said...

I just think on the Absolution from Evening Prayer (1928 BCP): "Almighty God... who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live..."

I'm not qualified to judge "Purgatory" (comforting idea but where is it Biblical?), or "universalism" (comforting but not sure how Biblical it is, despite some NT verses), but I have two points of personal discomfort with capital punishment:

1) That repentance may ensue with time. (Noting that I've been told that impending execution "focuses one" on the essential matters -- no disagreement there.)

2) The sorry state of our (American) judicial system, as established by all the folks on death row suddenly being released due to DNA evidence -- AFTER the system has exercised the "all due caution" we are told that's always employed on capital cases, and it has found them guilty. By any measure of quality you care to employ (Six-Sigma or any other), this system is wretchedly dysfunctional which should leave one wondering about all the non-capital criminal cases. How many guilty have gone free and how many innocents have been locked up? (My guess for both is "too many", but I am not putting forth a metric for what is "too many" vs "acceptable" -- that is another, and maybe nastier, argument.)

poetreader said...

1. What saddens me is not that Saddam is in Hell. I don't know that and can't. What I can say is that I saw no evidence of repentance, and that the appearance of his death leads me to fear that that is his fate. We all deserve Hell, and without Christ it would be our fate. This appearance is what saddens me greatly.

2. What else saddens me is that men once again found it necessary to take a human life. Though a case can be made for capital punishment, no case can be made for Christians rejoicing (as many have) in such a thing. "Love your enemies," is what He had to say about that.

3. Purgatory is not, in any traditional teaching, a second chance at salvation, but a cleansing of those who are saved, yet not ready for entire bliss. Some sort of intermediate state is implied by Scripture and thoroughly accepted by Tradition.