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)

 

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)

 

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