God’s vengeance

In Prayerbook of the Bible (1940), Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

God’s vengeance did not fall on the sinners, but on the only sinless one, the Son of God, who stood in the place of sinners. Jesus Christ bore the vengeance of God, which the psalm asks to be carried out. Christ calmed God’s anger against sin and prayed in the hour of the carrying out of the divine judgment: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know they are doing!” No one other than he, who himself bore the wrath of God, could pray like this. That was the end of all false thoughts about the love of a God who does not take sin very seriously. God hates and judges the enemies of God in the only righteous one, the one who prays for forgiveness for God’s enemies. Only in the cross of Jesus Christ is the love of God to be found. 

So the psalms of vengeance leads to the cross of Jesus and to the love of God that forgives enemies. I cannot forgive the enemies of God by myself, only the crucified Christ can; and I can forgive through him. So the carrying out of vengeance becomes grace for all in Jesus Christ.

Battling against God for God

In Prayerbook of the Bible (1940), Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:

The Psalter has rich instruction for us about how to come before God in a proper way in the various sufferings that the world brings upon us. The Psalms know it all: serious illness, deep isolation from God and humanity, threats, persecutions, imprisonment, and whatever conceivable peril there is on earth (13, 21, 35, 41, 44, 54, 55, 56, 61, 74, 79, 86, 88, 102, 105, and others). They do not deny it, they do not deceive themselves with pious words about it, they allow it to stand as a severe ordeal of faith, indeed at times they no longer see beyond the suffering (Ps. 88), but they complain about it all to God. No single human being can pray the psalms of lamentation out of his or her own experience. Spread out before us here is the anguish of the entire Christian community throughout all time, as Jesus Christ alone has wholly experienced it. Because it happens with God’s will, indeed because God alone knows it completely and better than we ourselves, therefore only God can help. But then, all our questions must also again and again storm directly against God. 

There is in the Psalms no quick and easy surrender to suffering. It always comes through struggle, anxiety, and doubt. Our confidence in God’s righteousness and, indeed, in God’s good and gracious will, is shaken, for it allows the pious to suffer misfortune but the godless to escape free (Pss. 44, 35). God’s ways are too difficult to grasp. But even in the deepest hopelessness, God alone remains the one addressed. Help is neither expected from other people, nor does the sufferer in self-pity lose sight of God, the origin and goal of all affliction. The one who suffers sets out to battle against God for God. God’s promise, God’s previous redemptive deeds, the honor of God’s name among all people, are again and again held up before the wrathful God. 

Jesus offers the perfect worship service

In Prayerbook of the Bible (1940), Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer emphasizes what I sometimes forget: worship is sacrifice. Since no human, in his sinful condition, can offer a perfect sacrifice, only God can appease God—through the “voluntary, sinless sacrifice” of his Son. The modest and imperfect sacrifices that I bring to church are acceptable only because of what Jesus Christ did for me.

God has promised to be present in the worship service of the congregation. So the congregation conducts its worship service according to God’s order. But Jesus Christ himself has offered the perfect worship service, in that he fulfilled all the ordained sacrifices in his own voluntary, sinless sacrifice. In his own person Christ offered God’s sacrifice for us and our sacrifice for God. For us there remains only the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in prayers, songs, and in a life lived according to God’s commands (Ps. 15, Ps. 50). So our entire life becomes the worship service, the thank-offering. God wishes to acknowledge such a thank-offering and to show salvation to those who are thankful (Ps. 50:23). These psalms wish to teach us to become thankful to God for the sake of Christ and to praise him in the congregation with heart, mouth, and hands. 

Heaven is a city and a Body

In the tenth chapter, “Heaven,” from The Problem of Pain (1940), C. S. Lewis writes about the polyphonic choir of worshippers in heaven.

Each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all blessed creatures for one another, the communion of the saints. If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note. Aristotle has told us that a city is a unity of unlikes, and St. Paul that a body is a unity of different members. Heaven is a city, and a Body, because the blessed remain eternally different: a society, because each has something to tell all the others—fresh and ever fresh news of the “My God” whom each finds in Him whom all praise as “Our God.” For doubtless the continually successful, yet never completed, attempt by each soul to communicate its unique vision to all others (and that by means whereof earthly art and philosophy are but clumsy imitations) is also among the ends for which the individual was created.

Heaven is the secret signature on the soul

8c1f4bf88da510999d9082ede5d58043.jpg

Medieval missionary discovering the point where heaven and earth meet from The Atmosphere, by Camille Flammarion, 1888.

In the tenth chapter, “Heaven,” from The Problem of Pain (1940), C. S. Lewis explores a profound question: Is heaven the desire behind desire? At first, it seems heaven is irrelevant to Lewis’ apologetic task until I realized that tantalizing glimpses of heaven empower perseverance of the saintsno matter what painful ordeals we undergo. Heaven does not kill our pain on earth but it offers the best palliative care.* The passage below may be my favorite in the entire work:

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw—but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported. Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of—something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

This signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you, you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre “looked to every man like his first love,” because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

Palliative care is a specialized system of treatment which aids in reducing the pain and/or symptoms and/or stress of chronic or acute illness. Palliative care aims not only to improve the quality of the life of the patient but also of his family. Palliative care can be administered at any time of illness. Palliative care supplements and enhances the primary course of treatment of the disease.

Is heaven a bribe?

In the tenth chapter, “Heaven,” from The Problem of Pain (1940), C. S. Lewis writes:

We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man’s love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition; seeks to enjoy its object.

Sloth is laziness about love

In her chapter, “Sloth: Resistance to the Demands of Love,” from Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, philosopher Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung writes:

In a nutshell, to be slothful is to be opposed to the joy we should have over being united with God and committed to him in love. Instead of rejoicing at God’s presence in us, the slothful chafe at it and resent the claims that God’s love makes on them. Rather than being willing to dedicate themselves to developing  and deepening the relationship, they resist its demands. Although sloth can appear asymptomatically similar to chronic depression, it is not a matter of brain chemistry, but rather a habit of the heart. Sloth is not primarily a feeling: it is a well-entrenched and willful resistance, even as love is fundamentally a choice. 

***

Spiritual battles take place on may fronts. Sometimes bodily pleasures or bodily weariness do make us more susceptible to sin. But in the case of this vice, the battle is first and foremost waged within our hearts. In sloth, we are literally divided against ourselves. We were made for relationship with God. If we are slothful, we have chosen to reject that relationship as the way to find fulfillment and chosen to try to make something else do its work instead. We are trying to make ourselves content with being less than we really are. 

***

Sloth cannot be defined as laziness, since slothful people often pour great physical effort and emotional energy into the difficult task of distracting themselves from the unhappiness of their real condition. 

***

Sloth is the vice of those who want the security of God’s love without the real sacrifice and ongoing struggle to be made anew.

***

Because it’s ultimately about love – accepting God’s love for us and the cost of loving him back – sloth earns its place among the top seven vices. Human beings are made for love. To resist it is to deny who we are. In her reluctance to die to her old self, the person with sloth chooses slow spiritual suffocation to the birth pains of new life and spiritual growth. She can’t fully accept the only thing that would ultimately bring her joy. She refuses the thing she most desires, and she turns away in revulsion or bored distaste from the only thing that can bring her life. In the perversity of her sin, she prefers sorrow to joy, emptiness to fullness, restlessness to rest. 

***

The slothful are inwardly unwilling to be moved; they are stuck between a self they cannot bear and a self they can’t bear to become. 

***

Sloth can thus show itself in the total inertia of the couch potato or the restless distractions of endless activity. Somewhere in between these two symptoms of vice is a holy Sabbath rest for the heart that has given itself utterly to God, a heart overjoyed, not oppressed, by the thought that “love so amazing, so divine, demands my self, my life, my all.” 

The slothful person ultimately insists on his own way, his own will, his own self-made pseudo-rest. His lack of commitment speaks of an unwillingness to surrender himself to God. It is this resistance that roots the vice of sloth in pride. Unlike other forms of sorrow, grief, or even depression, all of which can be mistaken for sloth, this capital vice results from a choice not to commit oneself, a refusal to give oneself wholly to God and then stay the course. It is the antithesis of Mary’s “yes” at the annunciation, a “yes” that finds her faithful to the end, standing at the foot of the cross. The slothful person tries to find happiness while evading the daily demands of self-giving love. He prefers his own diligent efforts to make himself happy with shortcuts and quick fixes. He chooses to avoid the onerousness of love’s demands by putting them off and trying to find fulfillment some easier way. By doing so, however, he cuts himself off from the possibility of fulfillment and happiness. And so, says Gregory, sloth eventually brings one to despair.