Monday, 23 September 2019

Psalm 79- Impecatory Psalms

Bible scholars call Psalm 79 an Imprecatory Psalm. The Imprecatory Psalms are a group of psalms that invoke judgement, or curses on enemies. They are among the more uncomfortable and difficult to process. I’ll read a few examples for you. 

From today’s Psalm 79:6-7-
Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name! For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

From Psalm 109:8-9, 17-18-
May his days be few
may another take his office! May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow!
He loved to curse; let curses come upon him! He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him! He clothed himself with cursing as his coat; may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones!

And from Psalm 69:22-25
Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually. Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents.

And from Psalm 137:1, 8-9
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion….

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!
These are uncomfortable words. And yet, they are in the Bible, so we have to try to understand what we are to do with them.

To our modern ears, they are especially hard to hear because of how Jesus has taught us to deal with our enemies. He teaches us to love our enemies, not spit curses at them. So, there are some who think these psalms don’t have a place in our worship services because they reflect a different age that dealt with enemies in a way that wasn’t informed by Christ. For this reason, when these psalms come up in our lectionary, they are often heavily edited to remove the uncomfortable bits.

It is important to remind ourselves of what the pastor Eugene Peterson said, 
“Psalms don’t pray as we should, they pray as we are”.
 It is easy for us to look at the psalms from our comfortable pews and judge them as terrible. … But we should look at them when we are being sued by a neighbour. Or when we have been raped. Or when our child has died because of a drunk driver. Or when a rebel army has attacked our village and killed our family, and stolen our little boy to be a child soldier. … That is when we should look at these psalms. The “Psalms don’t pray as we should, they pray as we are”. Sometimes everything in us calls out for vengence and the destruction of those who have hurt us.

Our Psalm was probably written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem by an enemy army, probably the Babylonian empire. The most holy place in all Judaism, the temple, has been desecrated. The dead were not given a respectful burial, which is very important for the Jewish people. Instead their loved ones were left in the open to become food for crows and wild dogs, which is particularly disgraceful and dishonouring.

If we always pray “as we should”, then we are not acknowledging where we are. We aren’t recognizing our darkness. Sometimes we have to admit how we feel and not how we think we should feel. Ignoring our darkness will not remove it. … Offering it to God will start transforming it. Sometimes that is where our call for justice starts. It starts with the painful recognition that something terrible has happened and we lament, and rage, and call for justice to be done. We start with what we are feeling. … We don’t have to stay there, but we need to recognize it.

The Imprecatory Psalms are the cries of those who have been wronged- those who have felt deep injustice. These are honest and painful words, but they include God in their desires for vengence. They don’t feel they need to get go out and give their rage to their enemy, they offer it to God, in all their darkness and honesty. They give God their cry for vengence. They leave their anger with God, rather than pouring their wrath on the person they are angry at. … As uncomfortable as these psalms are, we would do well to immitate them in our own anger and desire for vengence. Giving it to God is often the first step in healing the anger of the wrong that has been done to us.

These Psalms also recognize that there is real injustice and real wickedness in the world that needs to be confronted. Sometimes there is change that is required in the world, and the Psalmist is crying out for that change. The injustice and wickedness are real and they call for God to deal with that in a real way. We can sometimes be in danger of ignoring that need for real change. John Calvin taught that wickedness requires punishment. So these psalms ask for that punishment that justice requires. Change is truly needed in the world and these psalms recognize that. …

The church has often read these psalms in a deeper way than we are used to reading. We often read the Bible the way we would read a newspaper. We read too quickly and without taking time to meditate on what is being said. The Church often saw multiple layers in these psalms. The Catholic Theologian Peter Kreeft has said, 
“the cursing passages cannot, of course, be used by Christians unless we interpret them spiritually and remember that ‘we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places’ (Eph 6:12). We must hate sin, as the psalms and psalmists do; but we must not hate sinners, even if the psalmists did, failing to distinguish the two. Everything in Scripture is for our instruction, but not everything is for our imitation.”
For example, when the Ancient Christians read about dashing little ones against the rock (Ps 137), they didn’t imagine killing the child of an enemy nation. They read that to mean taking tempting thoughts, while they were still small, before they developed into sinful habits, and dashing them against Christ, the rock.
Origen: “…give up to destruction all their enemies, which are the vices, so that they do not spare even the children, that is, the early beginnings and promptings of evil. … for ‘the little ones’ of Babylon (which signifies confusion) are those troublesome sinful thoughts that arise in the soul, and one who subdues them by striking , as it were, their heads against the firm and solid strength of reason and truth, is the person who ‘dashes the little ones against the stones’; and he is therefore truly blessed.”

Ambrose: “…dash all corrupt and filthy thoughts against Christ…”
 They saw that their true enemies were the destructive systems of humanity, the devil, and their own inner desire to sin. These were what destroyed humanity. These were what drove their neighbours to betray each other. These were what led armies to destroy cities. The battle was not against flesh and blood, there were forces behind all these injustices and cruelties. To deal with them truly is to deal with them at their root. 

These parts of Scripture can make us feel uncomfortable, but the Bible is about real life. It is written by people who have dealt with all the circumstances human beings deal with- including tragedy and injustice and the desire for vengeance. God asks us to bring it all to him. God doesn’t want us to put on a mask as we approach Him in prayer. He wants us as we are. We are his beloved children and how we feel is how he wants us to come to him- even when we are at our darkest. AMEN

“The enemies referred to here are enemies of the cause of God, who lay hands on us for the sake of God. It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict. … therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge. …The prayer for the vengeance of God is the prayer for the execution of his righteousness in the judgment of sin. … I myself, with my sin, belong under this judgment. I have no right to want to hinder this judgment. … God’s vengeance did not strike sinners, but the one sinless man who stood in the sinner’s place, namelt God’s own Son. … that was the end of all phony thoughts about the love of God which do not take sin seriously. … Only in the cross of Jesus Christ is the love of God to be found. Thus the imprecatory psalm leads to the cross of Jesus and to the love of God which forgives enemies. I cannot forgive the enemies of God out of my own resources. Only the crucified Christ can do that, and I through him. … I leave the vengeance to God and ask him to execute his righteousness to all his enemies… ” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, 16 September 2019

Psalm 14- Foundations for the moral life

Our psalm starts by saying,

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’”.
We have to look at this a bit closer because on the surface it seems to say that atheists are not intelligent, which we know is not the case. There are many intelligent atheists, just as we know there are many intelligent believers. Richard Dawkins is a brilliant biologist and an atheist. Francis Collins led the human genome project and is a Christian.

One such intelligent atheist was the German Fedrick Nietzsche who lived from 1844 to 1900. He was skilled in many areas, but he is primarily remembered as a philosopher. He once wrote a kind of parable called ‘The Madman’ and I would like to read a bit of it for you.

“Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: ‘I seek God! I seek God!’--As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? -- Thus they yelled and laughed.”“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God?’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him--you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all … has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” “Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. ‘I have come too early,’ he said then; ‘my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men…’” (The Gay Science, Section 125).
He is saying something very important. In the parable, the atheists who the madman is talking to are making fun of the man for looking for God. They seem to think life can go on fine without God. The madman thinks they are deluded and don’t realize the full consequences of the death of God.

Nietzsche is an atheist. He believes that modern society has "killed God”. What he seems to be saying is that the idea of God no long holds power in the minds of western humanity as it once did when people shared a relatively common idea about God and what God expects from humanity. So, for him, western humanity has killed the idea of God. …

But, he doesn’t see this as a moment of triumph. He sees this as a moment of terror. What will society do when it loses its foundation? What happens when the anchor that holds society is gone? … He says it is like the earth becoming freed from the gravitational pull of the sun and spinning away from the solar system. He describes the earth as getting darker and colder as it drifts aimlessly into space without a divine plan and without a divine comforter to carry us into the next world after death. It gets darker because we no longer clearly understand right and wrong, and the meaning and purpose of life. … Nietzsche sees the removal of God from society as the removal of a foundational part of society. A foundation supports the building that sits on top of it. If the foundation is removed there are consequences for the building. If your house has a crack in the foundation your house could be in trouble.

If we look back at our psalm we read,

“They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. … 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one”(v1, 3).
Now, we don’t want to say that atheists are not moral people. Atheists can be very moral people. And sometimes Christians can be capable of doing some very nasty things. … What I want us to think about is that the psalm draws a connection between belief in God and morality. Belief in the existence of God, who creates the universe with an in-built morality makes for a better foundation for moral behavior. There are clearer reasons for morality. Looking at another human being and valuing them because they are made in the image of God is a powerful moral idea. That is a powerful foundation for a belief in Human Rights, for example.

Here is the issue. Is morality like the law of gravity? Or is it like rock and roll? Gravity is true for all cultures all the time. Rock and roll is a musical taste that was created by members of the society and enjoyed by members of the society, but there are people that don’t care for it much and aren’t expected to have to listen to it. No one can ignore gravity without serious consequences.

Unless there is some kind of foundation that gives rise to moral truth that is beyond human beings, then all moral values are mere opinion and social fashion. “That’s true for you but not for me” is the common slogan. … If there is a God, or at least the idea of God, then we at least have the thought that there is something beyond human beings that we should conform to. Nietzsche said that there was a common moral foundation in the West in the idea of God, but when we let go of that foundation we spin away from our center like the earth spinning away from the sun. … Perhaps the society will find a new foundation for morality, but there is no guarantee it will look anything like the morality the West has known in the past.

Our psalm is concerned for faithful people who are taken advantage of. They are people mistreated by people who are powerful "atheists", but not in the sense that they deny God in an intellectual way. In fact, they might be religious people. But, by their actions, they deny that there is a God who will hold them accountable. That person is the fool. The powerful oppressor might claim there is a God, but they don’t act like it. Judging by the way they treat people, especially vulnerable people, they seem to think there are no consequences for mistreating people. In our psalm, these are the

“the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread … [who] would shame the plans of the poor” (v4, 6).
The idea that we will have to face God when our lives are over and answer for how we treated others can be a powerful idea in the minds of would-be tyrants. Who knows what kind of horrors were averted because a would-be tyrant believed they would be judged by God. … I would say a tyrant without the thought that they will be held accountable for their life is a much more dangerous person. Which tyrant would you rather live under?

The Psalm tells us that it is a foolish assumption that the powerful will not be judged. The psalm says,

“5 There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. 6 You would shame the plans of the poor, but the Lord is his refuge. Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad” (v5-7).
The Psalm tells us that God takes sides. He is on the side of the vulnerable against the oppressor.

The Ancient Church would see Christ as the oppressed poor, who is crucified by the powerful for doing nothing wrong, but only for speaking truth. But, even from the cross he spoke forgiveness, even on those who were killing him 

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing”. 
Foolishly, they don’t really know. Their assumptions are all wrong. They are fools who deny God. They don’t realize they will be held accountable. … 
And isn’t that all of us sometimes? Don’t we sometimes neglect to think about God’s reality? Don’t we sometimes treat people as if we won’t be held accountable for our mean comments? … 
 But even in that moment, when Christ is nailed to the cross, we see the profound grace of Christ. He is willing to forgive even without their desire to repent. "Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing". While we were lost fools he sought us out to give us what we didn’t realize we needed. The accusation against him still stands- He “welcomes sinners and eats with them”, and he welcomes us sinners to his table today.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Psalm 139- being fully known

The Psalm we are looking at today is Psalm 139. This is one of the most loved psalms. We turn to it when we need God’s comfort, and it is often requested for funerals. It is a Psalm that highlights God’s constant attention, and His persistent presence.

The Psalm begins,
“1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.”
The Psalmist (maybe King David) is contemplating God’s attention on his life. His knows if he is sitting, or standing, or laying down. … Not only does God know the physical outward actions of the psalmist, God also knows his inward movements. God is aware of all his thoughts and every word before it is spoken. … It’s hard to imagine being more intimately known than this.

This might be comforting, but it might not be. … In the Garden of Eden after the first humans ate of the forbidden tree they hid from God. They didn’t want to be fully known. … Sometimes we are ashamed of who we are. We dislike our personality, or our appearance. We are embarrassed of our financial situation, or a handicap. Maybe we are ashamed of something we have done that we feel is beyond forgiveness. … This can lead us to put on a kind of mask as we pretend to be someone else- to try to meet the expectations of others. We hide parts of ourselves we are ashamed of. We try to present an image of ourselves as having it all together. We don’t want to show weakness. We don’t want people to know if we struggle with depression, or if we have a problem in our marriage. So, we hide. … Sometimes we not only hide our true selves from others, but also from ourselves. We can try to escape ourselves. This can lead to addictions as we try to numb the pain of our shame. St. Basil the Great has said,
“In truth, to know oneself seems to be the hardest of all things. Not only our eye, which observes external objects, does not use the sense of sight on itself [the eye doesn’t see itself without a reflection], but even our mind, which contemplates intently another’s sin, is slow in the recognition of its own defects” (Homilies on the Hexaemeron 9.6).
Sometimes we can’t handle God seeing us, because that means we have to see ourselves, and we are ashamed of what we see.

The psalmist seems to understand this feeling. His reaction to the idea of being so fully known is to seek where he could hide.
“7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol [the place of the dead], you are there!9 If I take the wings of the morning [East] and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea [West],10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night”,12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”
Just as Adam and Eve hid from God to try to avoid His penetrating sight, so we can be tempted to hide from God. … But, where could we hide? Up to Heaven? Down to the place of the dead? East to where the sun rises in the morning? West, across the Mediterranean Sea? Maybe some dark cave? … No, the psalmist realizes. There is nowhere we can go to get away from God. That can be an overwhelming thought. 

St. Augustine says,
“Where will you go? Where will you flee? … If you wish to flee from him, flee to him! Flee to him by confessing, not by hiding from him. For you cannot hide, but you can confess” (Homilies on 1 John 6.3.2)
So, instead of hiding, we have to find a way to endure the gaze of God. To endure the gaze of God is to face yourself with incredible honesty… , which is what we do in confession. And that is why confession can be so scary, especially when you do it with someone else. For that reason people will often seek out a priest they don't know in a different city so they can confess in anonymity. … I can’t remember where I read this, but someone once said that “saints are those who endure the gaze of God”. Saints are those who learn not to run from the gaze of God. They stay and endure it. … 
I often pray with an Icon of Jesus. In the picture I use Jesus is looking straight back at me. He is looking into my soul in a way that I know there is nowhere I can hide. And if I have had a day where I have been less than who I think God wants me to be, it can be hard to look into those eyes. … It’s not hard because I think he’s angry at me. … It’s hard because of the sheer intensity of being known that deeply and honestly. … If we don’t turn away, God’s gaze will purify us. That gaze will cause us to see ourselves honestly and deal with who we are.

When the psalmist stops running he sees that God is not to be feared. He reflects on God’s intimate care from the very beginning. He says,
“13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
The psalmist sees himself as a creation of God- amazingly and wondrously made- as amazing as an orchid, a nebula, or the Northern Lights. Even before he was born, he was known to God. He is intricately crafted by the creator of the universe, and all his days are appointed by God.

We can sometimes misunderstand the gaze of God as a source of harsh judgement- as if God watches us just to catch us misbehaving. Instead, the psalmist seems to begin to see himself as a creature that God takes delight in. God watches the way a loving parent watches their child play. They love them and take delight in watching them explore the world. … Jesus says,
“6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).
… As he learns of his Creator’s loving care, the psalmist responds,
“How precious to me are your thoughts O God!” (v17).
He comes to appreciate God’s searching thoughts, rather than trying to escape them.

There is a strange part of the psalm near the end. It asks God to kill those who speak against God. He says, 
“Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?” (v21).
 … It’s pretty hard to hear when we have been shaped by the teachings of Jesus that tell us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27-36). … This part of the Psalm is an ancient way of declaring loyalty. … It's pretty human. Isn’t that an automatic emotional reaction when a close friend tells about a fight they had with someone? Don’t you automatically say, “What?!? I can’t believe they did that! What an idiot!”. It is a declaration of loyalty to hate those who hate our friend. … 

This is an example of a psalm that isn’t necessarily meant to give us moral direction, rather it is pointing to a kind of emotional reality. We are observing the movements of the psalmists inner life. Don’t take this as an instruction for us to hate, but an observation of a very human way of declaring loyalty. … 
This is where the ancient Christians would often turn to very symbolic ways or reading. They wouldn’t see this hate as being towards a human being, but towards vice. Love virtue and hate vice, they would say. Hate sin (especially your own). That is the true enemy of God that should be hated with a perfect hatred.

The psalmist moves from trying to hide from God’s penetrating gaze to accepting the presence and knowledge of God. And then at the end of the psalm to inviting God’s insight. He says,
“ 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the ancient way everlasting!”
God’s knowledge and searching gaze isn’t to condemn him. It is to guide him- to remove falsity and lead him into the everlasting way. …

The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ makes this very personal. It is one thing for God as spirit to know us, but to come to us to live as a human being, to struggle as we struggle, to feel our pain helps us see God in a new way. In Hebrews we read,
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
He too, experienced the temptation of life as well as death and descended to the realm of the dead, as all human beings do. But, he also ascended to the right hand of God the Father. And churches face East, symbolically expecting him to come back like the rising sun.

May we flee to God rather than away from God. May we see that God’s ever present gaze is not to catch us and condemn us, but is the observation of a loving parent that loves us so much He can’t take his eyes off of us. AMEN

Monday, 2 September 2019

Psalm 81- O Israel, if you would but listen to me

Our Psalm today is Psalm 81. It begins with an exhortation to sing and shout for joy to God and play musical instruments as a part of a feast day.

What the ancient Israelites didn’t seem to forget in their writtings, but we often seem to, is that when we worship, we are doing this for God. We come to God with our voices and instruments and we aren’t singing for our own pleasure, but for God’s. So, when we think, “oh, I like this song” or “oh, I don’t like this song” we should really be asking is, “is this a song appropriate for worshiping God?”. And what is probably even more important is, “is my inner attitude at worship pleasing to God?”

The psalmist reminds the people that they have been commanded to joyfully celebrate the feast days. He says it is a “statute”, a “rule”, and a “decree” which was given to them when they were rescued from slavery in Egypt. In Hebrew poetry repetition is a way of giving emphasis. For our psalm to say, “statute”, “rule”, and “decree” is to place an exclamation point in the psalm drawing our attention to the command of God given to the people when they were rescued from slavery in Egypt.

Of course, the Exodus was the most powerful image for the identity of Israel. Their rescue from slavery and deliverance into the Promised Land was constantly present to them. It wasn’t just something that happened to their ancestors. It happened to them. Even now, when the Passover is celebrated in Jewish homes a child will ask “why is tonight different from other nights”, the elder will say, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm”. The idea is that their existence is bound up with the lives of their ancestors. They, in a way, were alive within their ancestors. If their ancestors were not rescued they might still be slaves. So, their present state is dependent on the rescue of their ancestors and so in a sense it happened to them.

For the ancient Christians, the Exodus was also a powerful image. They saw the escape from Egypt as an escape from lives enslaved to sin. The Promised Land was symbolic of the spiritual life with God. The Exodus was a symbol of all human lives. We are born into a world that is polluted by sin and evil. The grace of God has reached out to us to rescue us and bring us to spiritual freedom- to life with God. Baptism was seen symbolically as a passage through the Red Sea- from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ.

When the people of Israel had been released from physical slavery, they still had to be released from the slavery that grabbed hold of their hearts. While in the wilderness they grumbled against Moses and yearned for Egypt. They needed to be cleansed of the Egypt that lived within them, so they were given the commands of God to cleanse them and guide them into freedom.

Likewise, as Christians we are given the commands of Christ and the wisdom of the Scriptures, not to enslave us to a law, but to cleanse us of the sin that still lives in our heart, and to show us how to live in freedom with God. It’s not enough to be saved outwardly we have to be saved inwardly as well. We have to be taught to want the right things if we are to be truly free.

Think about someone addicted to heroin. If they are allowed to have what they want they will remain enslaved to heroin. The Israelites were addicted to Egypt. They were brought out of Egypt, but they had to be given the way to break the addiction. … Humanity is addicted to sin. It is not enough to be given heaven, we have to learn to want it.

Imagine someone who is full of pride, anger, and lust. What does heaven look like for someone like that? Would they even enjoy it? wouldn't their pride make the worship of God and he glory of the saints unbearable? … Do we expect that God will just remove all those character traits? If God did, who would they be? Would they even be them anymore?  … God can open the way to life with God, but we also have to learn to want it.

In the book “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis he says, 

“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.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, ch 9, p 75).
 It is a chilling quote. He is saying that in the end, we will all get what we want. Where will 'what we want' lead us? … Like the person addicted to heroin, will we be led into a self-destructive place. Or, we will learn to want the things that truly lead us to eternal life with God.

God speaks in our psalm, 
“Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” (v8); “But my people did not listen to my voice” (v11); “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. [What was their punishment? To get what they want!] Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways” (v12-13); “He would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (v16).
This is an uncomfortable teaching. … What if getting what we want is actually the worst thing for us? … The teachings of Jesus, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they are leading us to become heavenly people. And that starts now, not just after we die. We are to become people who are so full of heaven, that heaven would be the only appropriate place for us.

That is what baptism is about. It is about turning away from all that would destroy us. And at the same time turning towards all that would save us. We place our trust in Jesus. We claim him as our Lord, and that means he has the ultimate say over our life and our decisions. Anything less is to deny him Lordship over our life. It is to deny him access to a part of us that needs to be healed. …

There is a part of us that resists. I notice it within myself. There is a part of us that doesn’t really trust God with our life. We will trust God with our death, but when it comes to our life we often have doubts. The Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said: 
“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?” (Kierkegaard’s journals).

I hear that quote very personally. Why do I sometimes doubt God with my life? Why do I think that to give all of me over to Jesus would ruin me? Why do I hold that tiny piece back? … It’s that original lie told in the garden- “you can’t trust Him you know. He’s trying to keep you from something good”.

All the while God is yearning for me like a parent reaching out for their addicted child- “Don’t choose the drugs. Choose me. What I want for you is so much better than what you want for yourself.” … God is constantly acting on our behalf to save us from what we want that would destroy us. The Cross breaks the power of Sin, and the Holy Spirit lives within us granting us the power to choose rightly. He gave us the sacraments to empower us. We are still called to walk in the ways of God and call on God to work inside us- to do His divine surgery. 

Lord, grant us ears to hear, and help us to will what you will. AMEN.

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