Redeeming Judas

Unrelated to the post below, Canada observed a day of mourning for the tsunami victims yesterday. I did not know about this until early today, and I feel rather bad about that.

The disaster continues to occupy the efforts of dozens of countries, and pledges of support are now into the millions, thanks especially to the Australians (who have really stepped up) and to the Germans. The number of dead has started to level off below 200,000, but extreme challenges remain. And as if the region hasn’t taken enough, a cyclone has started to form near Sri Lanka.

Keep following the South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog for more news.

Judas, as you know, is the apostle who betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver. According to Dante, you’ll find him in the lowest circle of hell. I’ve never understood that judgement.

You see, Judas repented. When he realized what he had done (which, incidentally, led directly to Christ’s crucifixion and the redemption of humanity), he went back to the authorities and told them that he’d convicted an innocent man. He begged them to let Jesus go. When they refused (for their own political reasons), he threw down the pieces of silver, which were collected and used to buy the potters field, to use to bury dead strangers.

Judas repented, and any true and complete repentence given before death is sufficient to allow you into heaven. Ask the second of the two thieves crucified alongside Christ. Whereas one spat at and derided Jesus for not using his power to bring them down from their crosses, the other said that he had deserved his fate because of the life he had led. He asked for forgiveness, and Jesus gave it. The second thief knew he’d lived a bad life and was truly sorry for it. He knew he didn’t deserve forgiveness, but the Lord gave it to him anyway.

On the other hand, Judas despaired, and he hung himself. Suicide is a mortal sin, even if the motivations for it are understandible. So, from where I’m sitting, if Judas is in hell, it’s not because he betrayed Christ, but because he despaired over it and killed himself.

This has never struck me as fair. My mother says that Judas is one compelling argument for Purgatory. She was raised Baptist and is now an Anglican. She is not supposed to believe in purgatory.

I’m going to tell you a story now, and I want somebody to tell me who wrote it. It’s not mine; I heard it quoted by an Anglican priest during a sermon years ago. I’m under the impression that it’s by Madeleine L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time and many books about theology). I don’t remember the whole text, so I’m going to paraphrase.

Judas awoke at the bottom of a deep pit, surrounded by damp and darkness. Overwhelmed by regret and despair over what he had done, he lay on his back and cried. He cried for years and years. The tears just would not stop.

Finally, after many years had passed, he stopped crying, and he lay on his back, staring up at the darkness. It was then he realized that he was not in complete darkness, but that high above him a light shone, as dim as a star in the sky. He spent more time, years, contemplating that light, before he finally decided to take a closer look. He got to his feet.

The walls of his pit were slippery and smooth. His feet could not find purchase for long, and more often than not he would slip and fall back to the ground, sometimes from a great height. At one point, he had managed to claw and maneouver his way close to the light before his footing gave, and he fell all the way back to the bottom of the pit. He lay there and cried for years more.

Finally, he got up, and climbed the walls of the pit. He managed to hold on until he reached the light, and he passed through the light. He found himself in a hallway, at a door to a large dining room with a huge table, set for supper, seated for thirteen people. Twelve were at their seats.

At the head of the table, Jesus stood up, indicated the remaining chair, and he said, “come, Judas, sit with us. We could not begin without you.”

Who wrote this? I would greatly appreciate it if somebody told me. I’m betting it’s an Anglican. Our church has been dialing back on the fire and brimstone of Hell, turning into a vision of nothingness or, in the case of C.S. Lewis, a version of Purgatory (see The Great Divorce). Redemption through repentence — true repentence, not one motivated out of fear or pain but from understanding the damage your sin has caused — is always possible, even after death.

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