Saturday, December 8, 2018

"Their fists are clenched...their eyes fast shut"

In God's Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms, Ben Patterson considers all of the Psalms in order, with commentary and suggested prayer from each. I came across Psalm 36 there today and (those who know me understand) reference to C.S. Lewis attracted my attention. Patterson:
In C.S. Lewis's insightful fantasy The Great Divorce, the residents of hell are given the option of taking a bus trip to heaven to look around a bit and decide whether they'd like to stay on. They may if they wish, but practically no one wants to. Heaven is so real and hell so false and insubstantial that, compared to hell, even the grass of heaven hurts their feet.

There is a surprise at the end of the tale. Hell, at the beginning of the story, was so vast, some of its residents lived light-years away from one another. But after the narrator leaves hell, he is shocked to discover that it was actually no bigger than a tiny crack in the soil of earth, so small it had to be pointed out with a blade of grass. Dumbfounded, he asks his guide for an explanation:
"Do you mean then that Hell—all that infinite empty town—is down in some little crack like this?"

"Yes. All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly-world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste."

"It seems big enough when you're in it, Sir."

"And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good. For a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat upon the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouths for food, or their eyes to see.
This psalm's description of the wicked in verses 1-4 is another way of saying that a lost soul is "nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself." Such people's blind conceit and deceit, their preoccupation with doing wrong, are evidence that each of their souls has imploded on itself.
Transgression speaks to the wicked  deep in his heart; 
there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
He plots trouble while on his bed;
he sets himself in a way that is not good; 
he does not reject evil. 
(Psalm 36:1-4 ESV)