When God Destroys – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Luke 19:41-44

Eight years ago this month is when my conversion started. Sort of. “Conversion” begins at each person’s beginning, and ends somewhere between here and eternity. But eight years ago, I was 19, and not terribly interested in someone dressed as I am right now sagely dismissing my crisis.

I had reached a breaking point. I was out in the middle of the night, wandering the college campus, anxious and confused. I’d had a basically hostile attitude toward religion for several years, but my own sense of being, of purpose, the great “why?” echoing along the canyon walls of human hearts…my old answers just weren’t working anymore. I could no longer justify my existence through my own happiness, because why should I care about my own happiness? Everything was empty, and death was not far from my thoughts.

Out of desperation, I prayed. To no one, or anyone, I prayed. I tearfully offered my uncertainty, my instability, my weakness, hoping for something to alleviate it. Some assurance from heaven, whoever’s version of it existed. And what I got was…nothing. No warmth, no light, no angelsong. Cold, dark, silent nothing. But this Nothing was greater, more powerful, than anything I’d experienced up until that point. I felt broken. I felt destroyed. I felt like a demolished city, burnt to the ground. And it was horrifying. And it was good. Because the abject admission of weakness and vulnerability I encountered in this experience was the great clearing of the brush, the great pouring out of old and perishing things. I was shattered, and I was made new.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus issues a half-warning, half-lament, to the city of Jerusalem. “Had you only listened!” But they didn’t, and so Jesus tells of impending destruction, enemies at the gates, leaving no stone untoppled. This idea of violence and destruction as a result of sin often doesn’t sit well in modern ears. It can be especially galling to see such religious violence play out across the pages of Scripture and championed as a good and righteous thing. We like a creative God, but a God who destroys, or commands destruction, is perhaps less attractive.

Following in the example of Jesus, however, we can take the old stories and give them new life. We can learn to appreciate them not just as the unfolding drama of a particular people of the Levant, but more: we can see them as our own, giving common language to the universal human experiences of inner tumult, inner upheaval, even inner violence in relation to God. Many stories of the ancient Jewish people have a theme of righteous destruction and violence to purge the land of idols and the altars of false gods. Perhaps surprisingly, this has become a great comfort for me. Not out of bloodlust or an inflated sense of my own righteousness, but actually, the opposite. If I cast my gaze inward with this destruction in mind, I find I have new language to approach my experiences of pain, of sadness, of anger, of disgust. I can begin to process these experiences, wondering where the pain is coming from, with a question: which idol is being overthrown here?

I am full of them. And so many of them seem to be not obviously evil or hideous things at all, but rather, good and beautiful things that, for all their goodness and beauty, are still not God, and so cannot give life. Good thoughts and feelings, good relationships, good work, good social and political and religious causes, good values and principles…all of them good! And in their goodness, we’re perhaps even more susceptible to make idols of them. But idols cannot save, and when we build up our inner altars and temples to them, we place our hopes of eternity in things that cannot match that hope, and we experience great pain, and there is strife in the city.

“Had you only listened!” There is remarkable resonance with today’s Gospel reading and the earlier episode, where Jesus stands outside the walls of Jerusalem and laments at how long he has desired to lovingly gather up that city in his arms, upon his breast, near to his heart, but now they were forsaken. These laments of Jesus are poignant, because we might expect that he has thus abandoned the city, abandoned all of us in our inner Jerusalems, washed his hands of us so that we might be destroyed. But no. Destruction comes, but we are not abandoned. Though he wished to gather us into the love of his heart in happiness and good cheer, that has passed. Destruction comes. So Jesus, in the great crescendo of everything the Incarnation was, is, and ever could be, enters into that destruction with us. He goes first! Like the high priest, who dons the breastplate with each of the 12 tribes’ names written on it to enter the Holy of Holies and make atonement, Jesus does indeed gather us up into his bosom. And in the destruction of our idols, our falsehoods, of all that would consume us utterly, he is there, making atonement, ever-interceding for us. He has known destruction. He has known desolation. He has known the thousand deaths we are called to die. He still knows. And on the cross, Jesus shows forth this knowledge, offering his whole being, even to the gates of death, as the Way of life.

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  1. Suzanne Haraburd on November 4, 2020 at 08:33

    “When … we place our hopes of eternity in things that cannot match that hope, and we experience great pain, and there is strife in the city.“— This has been true for me. I could not see what, if anything, lay ahead during those years of destruction, during which I was facing my co-dependency. It was agony. God helped me to see it through. Thank you for putting this experience in perspective.

  2. Diane on November 4, 2020 at 05:27

    Some years ago I came across a (writing? poem? nether?) doesn’t really fit these descriptions. But it was called “The Judas Tree”. It struck me so – brought tears to my eyes and still does to this day. Judas – the betrayer of Jesus. And, of course, after the betrayal, Jesus descends to Hell, and says to Judas that he first must rescue Judas. Made such an impression on me (and still does). Jesus – the betrayed – and the supreme forgiver!

  3. Corinna on November 3, 2020 at 22:33

    I found this so moving that I shared it with my vicar at Midday Prayer. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. From distant New Zealand (praying for your nation today)

  4. Blake Leyerle on December 11, 2019 at 11:48

    A lovely homily. Reading your words, I am reminded of Origen’s great meditation on the drowning of Pharaoh in the Red Sea. He was drowned, the late 2nd-3rd century theologian noted, “but not lost.” For nothing and no one could (or can) be lost in a system in which God is “All in all.” Such a compassionate vision: one that assesses honestly but always leaves room for (inevitable) redemption. Thank you Br. Lucas.

    • -suzanne robinson on November 4, 2020 at 05:21

      Thank you Blake Leyerle ~ “Drowning ‘ but not lost,'” resonates deeply from my experience of being pulled
      out, by an unseen hand and force, from beneath the roiling waters of Mother’s Beach, Nantucket, where I was surely drowning. “Drowning’ but not lost. ” “For nothing and no one could (or can) be lost in a
      system in which God is “All in all.” Thank you Brother Lucas, Thank you Blake Leyerle.

  5. Julia Huff on November 29, 2019 at 18:54

    We truly have the most gracious, merciful God of all! Your explanation of the battles within us and the LORD redeeming us over and over…much like needing to be born again daily! The emptying of us allowing Him to fill us anew. Knowing He goes before us into the battles and stays with us through them…Amazing Grace!
    You sure do gleam great information and turn it into a great lesson that gives understanding.
    Thank you Brother Lucas!!

  6. Love, Mom on November 29, 2019 at 08:45

    I’m so sorry you had to experience that Br. Lucas. I’m very thankful that our loving God is always available for us, especially in our times of need. And I’m extremely grateful that you heard his call and are now able to share your stories of His Saving Grace with others.
    Keep doing what you’ve been called to do, you’re good at it.

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