After Anger

Yahweh’s plans are beyond humankind’s ability to comprehend, as they are more than the sand of the sea. They are like a dream; but, unlike a dream, God’s love is real.

―Willem A. Van Gemeren

Scripture: Psalm 85.4-5

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

Reflection: After Anger
By Steven Dilla

“The Lord goes from anger to anger,” theologian Willem A. Van Gemeren quips of the Psalms, “It seems as though [Israel] can do nothing to please him.” Some today would dismiss the anger of God in the Hebrew Scriptures as an outmoded view of the divine—as if the concept of God became more palatable by the first century C.E. Yet there seems to be more going on.

The ancient authors of Scripture drew from their environment, something Van Gemeren is sure to acknowledge:

The portrayal of Yahweh’s anger reflects the Near Eastern understanding of the fury of a king when his will is not obeyed or when his vassals rebel against his sovereignty. God’s anger is provoked by acts of omission, rebellion, subversion, or disobedience and is more than an emotional outburst.

Ancient political structure, however, was not the only driving force behind the ancient Israeli emphasis on God’s anger. Van Gemeren continues:

The psalms often reflect on anger. This preoccupation may seem abnormal to us, but anger is a theological concern. The psalmists invite us to deal with anger rather than skirt negative human emotions.

While modern readers may wish to avoid the issue of God’s anger—and, particularly, its effects—the ancients confronted it in order to deal with their own emotions toward a broken world. But they did not stop here. The single question the authors of scripture want to answer is about the effect of God’s anger: is God’s anger generative?

Anger is a secondary emotion. Anger is what we feel after our minds register injustice, loss, grief, and a host of other foundational emotions—and God is presented as no different. His anger is spurred in reaction to the worlds’ injustice, the loss of what humanity is designed for, and the grief he experiences in the pain of his creation.

The authors of scripture rejoice that not only is God’s anger restorative—not only does it generate justice for our world—but it is not his dominating emotion. “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Prayer: The Greeting

Out of Zion, the perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. Let the heavens declare the righteousness of his cause, for God himself is judge.

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 3 (Listen – 4:33)
Psalm 85 (Listen – 1:25)

 

Termination Point

To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being on earth; to enter hell is to be banished from humanity

―C.S. Lewis

Scripture: Psalm 79.2

They have left the dead bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the sky, the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.

Reflection: Termination Point
By Steven Dilla

For the authors of scripture, heaven’s physical description comes secondary to the reality of heaven as the locus of God’s goodness, mercy, and grace. In the same way, hell’s location is secondary to the reality of hell as life apart from God.

“Damnation is the state of the human soul when it is cut off from God, and salvation is the state of the human soul when it is united with God,” explains Douglas Beyer. “It isn’t imposed on us by God from the outside, but arises from the nature of what God is.” (Beyer composed a wonderful summary of C.S. Lewis’ understanding of hell, from which many of Lewis’ quotes this week were drawn.)

Hell is the termination point for those who cut themselves off from God and are finally left with no other options. We see this supremely in the personification of evil—for whom hell was designed. “Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament,” C.S. Lewis writes in his Preface to Paradise Lost. “Certainly, he has no choice. He has chosen to have no choice. He has wished to ‘be himself,’ and to be in himself and for himself, and his wish has been granted.”

We underestimate how rejection of God builds until it consumes. In The Great Divorce Lewis reflects, “It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no ‘you’ left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”

Prayer: The Cry of the Church

O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 35 (Listen – 4:41)
Psalm 79 (Listen – 1:50)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 36 (Listen – 2:15) Psalm 80 (Listen – 1:58)
Deuteronomy 1 (Listen – 6:27) Psalm 81-82 (Listen – 2:36)

 

Choosing Hell

The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

―C.S. Lewis

Scripture: Psalm 78.52-53

But God brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the wilderness. He guided them safely, so they were unafraid; but the sea engulfed their enemies.

Reflection: Choosing Hell
By Steven Dilla

“Hell is the greatest monument to human freedom,” C.S. Lewis contends. Although the idea of hell is contentious in modern society, it is difficult to dismiss—our desire for justice demands punishment for the wicked. This tension is not new and symbolism found in the Psalms offers help reconciling a loving God and the idea of hell.

The sea was a place of terror for ancient people. Without modern maps, weather prediction, or the possibility of rescue, everyone knew someone who went out to sea and never returned. For Hebrew writers, the sea was a symbol of evil—one which God would destroy in the end.

The sea engulfing the enemies of God is one of evil meeting its full end. The ancient Egyptians brutally enslaved God’s people, callously disregarded God’s words, and relentlessly pursued Israel after their divine liberation. Evil’s consumption of itself was the natural crescendo of their wickedness.

The authors of scripture want us to read the story of the Exodus as our story. Jesus’ insistence that he is revealed in every scripture means that we can’t reject the idea of hell until we find Christ in our understanding of it.

Of those who reject the idea of hell Lewis asks:

What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what he does.

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘THY will be done,’” Lewis observes in The Great Divorce. “All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek, find. To those who knock, it is opened.”

Prayer: The Request for Presence

In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help. —Psalm 69.15

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

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 34 (Listen – 2:59)
Psalm 78.38-72 (Listen – 7:12)

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)

 

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