The Blandness of Hell

Psalm 78:11
They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.

Reflection: The Blandness of Hell
By John Tillman

Hell, to C.S. Lewis, is a bore.

In his work Seeing Hell through the Reason and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Douglas Beyer admires Lewis’s improvement on the typical portrayal of Hell as more interesting than Heaven.

“One of Lewis’ remarkable achievements is that his writing reverses this [the portrayal of Hell]. His vivid imagination pictures Hell with less fire and torture and more dreariness, boredom, and grayness. He makes us see it as not only a place suitable for the Hitlers and Charles Mansons of this world, but a distinct possibility for ‘respectable’ people like us. He does this without making Hell the least bit interesting. Heaven, on the other hand, is a place of rich variety in contrast with the dull monotony of Hell.”

Hell is not only monotonous in its blandness but is not designed for the human mind. Beyer continues:

“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.”

Hell is a place of stagnation and sameness. Heaven is a place of creativity, art, celebration, and love. Hell is merely selfishness made manifest in the extreme.

Those who go to Hell, do so on their own. God lays no hand upon them—merely pushes the door open for them to enter and politely allows them to close it behind.

“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.”

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

In Heaven, we are drawn closer to God and there find joy and the communion of the saints. In contrast, Hell is a place of self-exile in which the only thing to grow closer to is the misery that we brought with us. When Sartre said “Hell is other people,” he was too broad. Hell is our self alone.

Prayer: The Greeting
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 33 (Listen – 4:53) 
Psalm 78,1-37 (Listen – 7:12)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 34 (Listen – 2:59) Psalm 78,38-72 (Listen – 7:12)
Numbers 35 (Listen – 4:41) Psalm 79 (Listen – 1:50)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Choosing Hell
All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. Those who seek, find. To those who knock, it is opened.

Read more about The Gospel is an Uprising
Christ portrays himself as a violent thief, breaking into the house of the strong man, Satan, destroying his defenses, and plundering his possessions.

Radical Amazement

Psalm 77.18
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

From John:
Once again, we will look back at a post highlighting Jewish scholar, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel was instrumental in the efforts of the civil rights movement, working alongside Christian pastors who stood for the cause and is an important theological voice for Christians to be familiar with.

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 Greeting
Blessed is the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my prayer. — Psalm 28.7

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

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

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Beyond the Mystery is Mercy
The sense of the ineffable, the awareness of the grandeur and mystery of living, is shared by all men.

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/beyond-the-mystery-is-mercy/

Read more about The Sense of the Ineffable
Awe is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding, insight into a meaning greater than ourselves. The beginning of awe is wonder, and the beginning of wisdom is awe.

Beyond the Mystery is Mercy

Psalm 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.

From John:
In the next couple of days we will look back at some posts highlighting Jewish scholar, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel was instrumental in the efforts of the civil rights movement, working alongside Christian pastors who stood for the cause and is an important theological voice for Christians to be familiar with.

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: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “So always treat others as you like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets.” — Matthew 7.12

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

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

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Saved by Mercy
But one must face the fact: the power of Evil in the world is not finally resistible by incarnate creatures, however ‘good’; and the Writer of the Story is not one of us.

Read more about Prayer for Older Brothers
One son was humiliated by his own scandalous behavior.
One son was humiliated by his father’s scandalous grace.

A Prophet in a Golden Age

Psalm 74. 7-8
They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
   they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!”
   They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.

Reflection: A Prophet in a Golden Age
By John Tillman

Asaph was a contemporary of David and was writing psalms for worship both during David’s reign and afterward, under Solomon.

Asaph was not only a poet. Asaph performed music as well. He was a percussionist, often noted as playing the cymbals and it is likely he played multiple instruments as was appointed chief over all the musicians creating and performing for worship in the Temple.

Asaph is also a prophet. Psalms were often considered to be written as prophecy. Jesus described David’s psalmody as being written, “by the Spirit.”

The prophecy of destruction that this psalm describes would have seemed highly unlikely when it was written. During the lifespan of Asaph, The Temple was never remotely close to being under any threat similar to the ones mentioned in verses four through eight. It would be hundreds of years before the Babylonians laid waste to Solomon’s Temple and hundreds more before the Romans destroyed the Temple Jesus visited in Jerusalem.

Some, for this reason have questioned the authorship, saying that likely it was written later by a descendant or merely “in the style of” Asaph. But when we already ascribe prophetic power to the psalms in general, there is no specific reason to doubt the prophetic nature of this psalm.

Prophecy seems to run in Asaph’s family. It is one of Asaph’s descendants who speaks up to King Josiah in a moment of crisis with a prophecy from the Lord about invading armies of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites.

Asaph was a prophet, a poet, and a creative leader living in the golden age of the kingdom Israel and a golden age of the worship of God in the Temple. David’s works are largely autobiographical. Asaph’s seem to be focused on the fate and faith of the entire country in times ahead.

Despite living in some of Israel’s best years, many of Asaph’s works contain laments about the destruction of Israel or the Temple. Even in times of blessing, prophets can see the roots of sins that will bear bitter fruit in the future.

We need the warnings of the prophets no matter what our circumstances. It doesn’t matter if we live in a golden age or in one we wish could be restored to its former state, the warnings of the prophets are for us.

May we never trust in the power of a king. Even the greatest kings of Israel were sinners, guilty of great injustices.
May we never groan at the messages of prophets. Especially when they tell us something that we don’t want to hear.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 30 (Listen – 2:20) 
Psalm 74 (Listen – 2:34)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about How to Read Prophetic Judgment
We blunt the point of prophecy’s spurs when we avoid the probability that we are the ones a prophecy is about. We miss the point of prophecy entirely when we weaponize it to attack others.

Read more about Lamenting Our Detestable Things
Idols are an expression of our desire for control and self-reliance. They are fueled by our selfishness and self-importance.

Greed and Envy

Psalm 73.2-3
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
   I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
   when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Reflection: Greed and Envy
By John Tillman

The psalmist, is thrown into doubt and pushed to the limits of his understanding by the inequality he sees in the world.

Inequality is a double-edged sword.

One edge is called envy. It is dulled from overuse and makes up for being unsharpened with a harsh, serrated edge. It saws at its victims rather than slices them.

One edge is called greed. It is sharp and quick, and drips with an anesthetizing coating. It slices to the bone, yet victims hardly feel pain. Most don’t realize they have been wounded or don’t realize its severity.

The psalmist is cut by the edge of envy and the wound grieves him. How can God be just if wicked people are so prosperous? How can God be caring if those he loves suffer? But as he pursues God in worship, he comes to understand the other side of the sword.There are traps here for all of us.

The trap the psalmist escapes is to mistake stored up justice for absence of justice.The wealthy who ignore the poor are not escaping justice and we are not responsible or qualified to carry out justice.  We are not to eat the rich, but the bread of life.

The trap for the wealthy, is to think that we are not that wealthy, or that the poor are not that worthy. After all, those richer than we are should do the heavy lifting of caring for the poor, shouldn’t they? And too often we think that poor is a synonym for lazy. We think we are prudent, not greedy—responsible, not cruel.

(And as to whether the poor are undeserving, there could not be a more apt description of us, when Christ gave all he had to cancel our debt of sin.)

Psalms like this have, at times, been used to shush protesters. “Don’t be so angry. Just preach the gospel and rely on God.” This pie-in-the-sky kind of cold comfort ignores one of the frequent commands of scripture—that the powerful must care for the weak and God will hold them to account.

May we humbly seek the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is in Christ that we will find the compassion to overcome our cynicism and the generosity of spirit to overcome our jealousy and greed. And may we never doubt God’s goodness based on earthly evil.

When men doubt the righteousness of God, their own integrity begins to waver. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. — Psalm 103.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 29 (Listen – 5:05) 
Psalm 73 (Listen – 2:56)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about In Denial about Greed and Power
If there is anything that can still be shocking in today’s world, it is that we still don’t fully admit or understand the destructive nature of the sins of greed and power.

Read more about Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts
Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, that will surface during fasting.

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