Fire and Brimstone

On the wicked, God will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous. (Psalm 11:6-7, NRSV)

Is God still righteous if the wicked thrive?

Maybe you’ve noticed that there are children weeping in the streets because their parents have been taken from them–by immigration officials, by gun violence, by war.

Maybe you’ve noticed that there are people raging around the world because the systems that should support their lives have undermined them: governments spend money more readily on teargas than on education, corporations prioritize profit over community, religions love orthodoxy more than understanding.

Maybe you’ve noticed your own spirit, listless and wondering “How long?”: how long will hearts bleed, how long will discouragement weigh down souls, how long until hope is realized.

But still wars are waged and walls are built. Still wealth inequality skyrockets and gun sales surge.

Fire and brimstone aren’t raining down to engulf AK-47s.

Coals are not being stoked by the breath of God to incinerate white nationalism.

Is God still righteous?

One of the most essential classes of my seminary years focused on the problem of theodicy–the question of whether God can be good when evil still exists. Our class texts were the novels of Toni Morrison. The answers to theodicy that we found in Morrison’s novels, if they could be called answers, were complicated and sometimes discouraging. Perhaps God’s righteousness can’t be defended in the face of evil. Perhaps God’s goodness can only be found in part and in fleeting moments.

But finding answers wasn’t really the point. The point was to do the work of seeking them: to gaze honestly at trauma and evil, to look hard for hope, and to dig deep for love and life.

I don’t know if God is still good. I suspect God’s righteousness is tarnished, at the very least. But we’re called to keep searching for it–and searching for one another–through the fire and brimstone.

Sweet Jesus, the world is a mess. The wicked thrive, and violence multiplies. Find within us what we long to find within you: goodness, mercy, and love.

Written for the UCC Daily Devotional

Learn Your Lessons

Gimel
Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.

Daleth
I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.

– Psalm 119:17, 25 (NIV)

Through my earbuds plays the wisdom of Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” about setting boundaries after a bad relationship: “One: Don’t pick up the phone… Two: Don’t let him in… Three: Don’t be his friend…”

One, two, three.

The psalmist prays in an acrostic format, with one letter of the Hebrew alphabet beginning each stanza’s lines: Aleph, Bet, Gimmel, Dalet.

A, B, C.

Given the complexities of the world, given the complexities of our lives, given the complexities of faith as we mature and ask hard questions and wrestle with God: it’s no wonder that sometimes we need simple tools and elementary lessons to keep us grounded.

One, two, three. A, B, C.

In Sunday School when I was a child, the foundational lessons were built into our songs: “One, two, three. Jesus loves me! One, two. Jesus loves you!”

In the days of memorized catechism, it was a series of questions and answers: “What is your only comfort in life and in death? What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” (à la the Heidelberg Catechism)

In Psalm 119, twenty-two letters shape the psalmist’s prayer, but it can also be a string of beads or the fingers of a hand or the hours of the day that help us pray. It can be the simplicity of a rhyme or the faithfulness of a sunset that teaches us of God’s love. It can be an earworm or an alphabet that keeps us honest about our relationships with God and with one another.

So long as we learn the lesson. So long as we keep returning to it, by whatever simple tools we find most useful for the living of these complex days.

A: All that I am is yours, O God.
B: Be present with those who suffer, O Christ.
C: Call us beyond our egos and out into the work of love, O Spirit.

written for the UCC Daily Devotional