Rushing to Hell

All Hell is smaller than one pebble of [the] earthly world.

―C.S. Lewis

Scripture: Psalm 78:11

They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.

Reflection: Rushing to Hell
By Steven Dilla

Hell is distance from God; heaven is intimacy with him. It is a mistake to talk about hell as a problem in need of a solution—as if each of us has been left alone to earn our own way out of such desolation and hopelessness. The reality, as unsettling as it may be, is that humanity finds itself rejecting the solution to hell which has already been provided—Christ himself.

“The doors of Hell are locked on the inside,” C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain“:

I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of Hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man ‘wishes’ to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.

In his work Seeing Hell through the Reason and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Douglas Beyer summarizes, “The saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all. To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter Hell, is to be banished from humanity.”

Yet because of our pride and brokenness we reject not only the place prepared, but the One who prepared it. Beyer sees this theme pervasively in Lewis’ work. He concludes, “Lewis depicts the damned as rushing insistently into their hells, despite the efforts of God to persuade them not to.”

Christ is God’s magnificent effort—not only to persuade, but to sufficiently meet every need, answer every longing, and fulfill every hope. It is in Christ that we find not merely the solution to our greatest problem, but also everything we need to thrive in life and flourish for eternity.

“The blessed,” Lewis concludes, “forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.”

Prayer: The Request for Presence

Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 33 (Listen – 4:53)
Psalm 78.1-37 (Listen – 7:12)

 

Radical Amazement

Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

―Abraham Joshua Heschel

Scripture: Psalm 77.18

The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

Reflection: Radical Amazement
By Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

Among the many things that religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder. The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted. Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.

Wonder or radical amazement is the chief characteristic of the religious man’s attitude toward history and nature. One attitude is alien to God’s spirit: taking things for granted, regarding events as a natural course of things. To find an approximate cause of a phenomenon is no answer to his ultimate wonder. He knows that there are laws that regulate the course of natural processes; he is aware of the regularity and pattern of things. However, such knowledge fails to mitigate his sense of perpetual surprise at the fact that there are facts at all. Looking at the world he would say, “This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalms 118:23).

As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.

Awareness of the divine begins with wonder. It is the result of what man does with his higher incomprehension. The greatest hindrance to such awareness is our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental cliches. Wonder or radical amazement, the state of maladjustment to words and notions, is therefore a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of that which is.

Radical amazement has a wider scope than any other act of man. While any act of perception or cognition has as its object a selected segment of reality, radical amazement refers to all of reality; not only to what we see, but also to the very act of seeing as well as to our own selves, to the selves that see and are amazed at their ability to see.

*Abridged and adapted from Between God and Man and God in Search of Man by Rabbi Hershel J. Matt.

Prayer: The Request for Presence

Open my eyes, that I may see the wonders of your law. —Psalm 119.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 32 (Listen – 5:22)
Psalm 77 (Listen – 2:12)

 

Beyond the Mystery is Mercy

We do not deify the mystery; we worship Him who in His wisdom surpasses all mysteries.

―Abraham Joshua Heschel

Scripture: 75.2-3

At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity. When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.

Reflection: Beyond the Mystery is Mercy
By Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

The sense of the ineffable, the awareness of the grandeur and mystery of living, is shared by all men, and it is in the depth of such awareness that acts and thoughts of religion are full of meaning. The ideas of religion are an answer, when the mystery is a problem. When brought to the level of utilitarian thinking, when their meaning is taken literally as solutions to scientific problems, they are bound to be meaningless.

God’s power is not arbitrary. What is mysterious to us is eternally meaningful as seen by God. There are three attitudes toward [this] mystery: the fatalist, the positivist, and the Biblical.

To the fatalist, mystery is the supreme power controlling all reality. He believes that the world is controlled by an irrational, absolutely inscrutable and blind power that is devoid of either justice or purpose.

A tragic doom is hanging over the world, to which gods and men alike are subject, and the only attitude one may take is that of resignation. It is a view that is found in various forms and degrees in nearly all pagan religions, in many modern philosophies of history (history as a cycle of becoming and decay), as well as in popular thinking.

The positivist has a matter-of-fact orientation. To him the mystery does not exist; what is regarded as such is simply that which we do not know yet, but shall be able to explain some day. The logical positivist maintains that all assertions about the nature of reality or about a realm of values transcending the familiar world are meaningless and that, on the other hand, all meaningful questions are in principle answerable.

The awareness of mystery was common to all men of antiquity. It was the beginning of a new era when man was told that the mystery is not the ultimate; that not a demonic, blind force but a God of righteousness rules the world.

The theology of fate knows only a one-sided dependence upon the ultimate power. That power has neither concern for man nor need of him. History runs its course as a monologue. To Jewish religion, on the other hand, history is determined by the covenant: God is in need of man. The ultimate is not a law but a judge, not a power but a father.

*Excerpted and abridged from God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. —Psalm 96.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 31 (Listen – 5:52)
Psalm 75-76 (Listen – 2:33)

 

Prayer of a Dying King

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!

―David

Scripture: Psalm 72.20

The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.

Reflection: Prayer of a Dying King
By Steven Dilla

The spectrum of David’s life is remarkable—from impoverished shepherd boy to king of his nation, from the security of God’s anointing to eking out each day as a political refugee. And here, in Psalm 72, we see his final song to God.

There are four themes worth noting in his concluding psalm: David’s longings for his son, kingdom, legacy, and God. Each word seems to be chosen as much with faith as with seasoned confidence:

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!

May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!

May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

It is here we see the completion of David’s spiritual transformation on earth. No longer does he simply sing of how things ought to be. Now David’s songs call forth a reality that shall be—even while fulling embracing the complexity and pain of what is.

This transformation, Walter Brueggemann argues, follows two transitions. The first is from a orientation around the principles of faith to the disorienting depths of seeing evil succeed against those principles in our world. In modern terms, this is the transition that happens when pain and suffering stretch us beyond the elementary answers and pleasantries of cultural faith.

It is impossible, Brueggemann writes, to return to the simplistic stage of orientation once life has fallen apart. The only two choices are to lose faith or grow into a new orientation—this second move brings a person to a more robust and nuanced way of understanding God and the world.

David’s weeping and longings in the Psalms, then, become the template for our own spiritual transformation—though transformation through pain is counter-cultural. Brueggemann concludes:

Where the worshipping community seriously articulates these two moves, it affirms an understanding of reality that knows that if we try to keep our lives we will lose them, and that when lost for the gospel, we will be given life. Such a practice of the Psalms cannot be taken for granted in our culture, but will be done only if there is resolved intentionality to live life in a more excellent way.

The Call to Prayer

Search for the LORD and his strength; continually seek his face. —Psalm 105.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 28 (Listen – 3:51)
Psalm 72 (Listen – 2:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 29 (Listen – 5:05) Psalm 73 (Listen – 2:56)
Numbers 30 (Listen – 2:20) Psalm 74 (Listen – 2:34)

 

Justice and Mercy

If you want to change the world, who do you begin with, yourself or others? I believe if we begin with ourselves and do the things that we need to do and become the best person we can be, we have a much better chance of changing the world for the better.

―Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Scripture: Psalm 71.4

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.

Reflection: Justice and Mercy
By Steven Dilla

“Gradually it was disclosed to me,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted, reflecting on his time as a prisoner in The Gulag Archipelago “that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.”

It is not that Solzhenitsyn wanted to ignore injustice—nor did he extend some sort of blind forgiveness for the atrocities of the Bolsheviks. “It is unthinkable in the twentieth century to fail to distinguish between what constitutes an abominable atrocity that must be prosecuted and what constitutes that ‘past’ which ‘ought not to be stirred up.’”

Yet even if it were prosecuted, Solzhenitsyn knew, eliminating evil involved far more than tamping down its expression in the modern world:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

How similar we find the voice of the Psalms—crying out for God’s justice, pleading for God’s mercy. In Scripture we not only hear the psalmists cry out for God’s vengeance, but we see God exact his anger toward evil.

And yet, in a stunning response to our cry for mercy, God directs his anger toward himself. The wine of justice is pressed from the fruit of mercy. Anything less might satisfy our desire for retribution, but leave us longing for the hope and grace we need for this day.

Solzhenitsyn, like the Scriptures, charges us to move forward—to speak up—and to cry out for the justice our world needs:

In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future.

When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

—Matthew 5.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 27 (Listen – 3:08)
Psalm 70-71 (Listen – 3:29)

 

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