Tuesday, March 5, 2013

And Who Decides?

Hellboy: What are they?
Demon: Misspent lives. Not the great monsters, but the common damned.
Hellboy: And who decides who's damned?
Demon: Each man's soul is his own. How he chooses to spend it...
That is for each man to decide for himself.
- Hellboy in Hell #2
by Mike Mignola
Look at that Mignola art! Look at it!

So, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola is back with pen in hand drawing a new Hellboy series. And it is glorious. Initially, I admit not being that big of a fan of his artwork. But it has definitely grown on me to the point where I flat out love it and can't imagine the Hellboy universe drawn in any other style. But then, I never quite imagined how hell would look drawn in Mignola's style.

See, Hellboy died and has gone to hell. Spoiler! Well, the series is titled Hellboy in Hell, so that pretty much gives away the whole dead and in hell plot point. As Hellboy is being led through this version of the underworld, he comes across a sea filled with tiny fish begging for help. His guide explains these are the souls of the damned, and fault lies solely with the damned.

If you ever read graphic literature looking for content to spark a theological discussion, this would be a pretty decent source. According to this, a person's eternal resting place is determined by his or her own actions. It seems to be a rather works based salvation (or lack thereof). Of course, this hearkens the endless debate of free will versus predestination or fate.

Do we have the free will to serve and love God? Has God always known, and therefore already decided, who will be saved and who will be damned? Is there anything, is there nothing, that we can do to be saved?

There are extremists on both sides. Some say God absolutely allows free will, because what is love if not a choice? Others say absolutely God has predestined all, for God knows all things and has always known and decided our eternal fate.

But doesn't that mean God has created some people, surely many people, with the intent of damning them? How is that love? The response I've heard usually follows along the lines of we should be thankful God chose to save anyone at all.

On the other side, the objection to free will is that it limits God. How can we choose (or even, gasp, earn!) our salvation and still maintain that God is omniscient and all knowing? The answer tends to have something to do with a vague idea about a God of possibilities.

But what does the Bible say? Well, like most issues, you can vehemently argue each side with quotations from Scripture. According to Paul, salvation is a gift from God. We have no say in the matter:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. [Ephesians 2:7-9 NIV]
 James, however, takes a notoriously alternative (or at least additional) stance on the matter:
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? [James 2:20 KJV*]
Now, James doesn't say salvation only comes about by works, or that it comes about at all by works. Instead, it is more that faith is inseparable form works.

But really, you can argue either side. And many do. And some are even quite nasty about it. So what is the answer? Free will? Predestination? Well, according to the pages of Hellboy the answer lies on the side of free will. But then, Hellboy is not strict Judeo-Christianity but a mixture of a multitude of mythologies.

Actually, Judeo-Christianity is a mixture of a multitude of mythologies.

Shh. Don't say that. We get uncomfortable when you say such things.

Anyway, should you look for a quick answer to vexing theological issues that have been debated for millennia in a Hellboy comic? Probably not. But apparently it's a good place to begin a discussion and start asking questions.

*I don't usually use the King James Version for any scholarly work (is a blog about comic books scholarly?) but sometimes the artistic side of me wins out and I just prefer the dang poetic language of the KJV. The NIV's "You foolish person" just doesn't muster the same emphasis and gusto as "O vain man."

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