Going through Hell

Today’s scripture: Psalm 11 (NRSV) (The Message) (KJV) What might God be saying to me?

My thoughts (Keith Phillips):

A hospice patient whom I visit regularly when I was a Hospice Chaplain was convinced that America was going to hell in a bucket. He had such a wonderful attitude otherwise: he recognized his terminal condition, he practiced his religion routinely, and he was generous and kind. But he was convinced, like the protagonist in this psalm, that “The bottom’s dropped out of the country; good people don’t have a chance” (v. 3, The Message).

There have been times when I have easily despaired. I make plans, but then life happens; and I can guarantee that it never happens the way I planned. As a matter of fact, all too often it’s quite the opposite, so I keep a quote on the refrigerator for quick reference: “It is far too late and things are far too bad for pessimism.” The foundation for that hope is the psalmist’s reminder that “God hasn’t moved to the mountains; [God’s] holy address hasn’t changed. [God’s] in charge, as always,…” (v. 4, The Message).

And I love the next verse: “[God] tests the good and the bad alike” (v. 5, The Message). It’s the appropriate corollary to Jesus’ statement in the Sermon on the Mount, that “[God] makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45, NRSV). We would be fools to think that God gives only that which we perceive to be good. God gives to all of us abundant blessings, and God gives to all of us times of testing in order that that we may grow in grace.

No matter what the universalists say, I believe that we human beings can fail God’s test and that there are grave consequences for our failure. “Fail the test and you’re out, out in a hail of firestones, drinking from a canteen filled with hot desert wind” (v.6, The Message).

But (and this is the but of grace) God’s great pleasure is humanity’s salvation, bringing us through the wilderness, providing a way out of our despair. “God’s business is putting things straight; [God] loves getting the lines straight, setting us straight” (v. 7a, The Message).

Maybe my hospice patient was right. I don’t know. Maybe America is going to hell in a bucket. But if so, it well may be a test which God’s people would be wise to take seriously, to become God’s instruments of salvation, transformation, and peace, and thereby provide divine light for our path into the future.

Thought for the day: As my pastor said in a recent sermon, “When going through hell, just keep walking.”

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the suggestions on the How to Pray page.