The God Days of Summer

It is too hot and too humid. It has too many of the worst things.

August Smith / 6.2.19

It’s safe to say that Robert Capon is not a fan of summer. In his hilarious and profound The Youngest Day he writes concerning the season, “‘Nothing too much,’ said the ancient Greeks; and ever since, wise men have called moderation the key to a happy life. Yet summer is immoderate in everything.” He elaborates:

It is too hot and too humid, too cloudy and too dry; it has too many of the worst things, insects, mildew, head colds, jellyfish, pool parties, two pieces bathing suits, stretch marks, sunburn, jello salads, zucchini quiches, steaks à la charcoal lighter, and cocktails ad nauseam; and it has too few of all the best: civilized meals, quiet evenings, and early beds.

I took offense to this, considering summer at its best is undoubtedly a top-2 season (with autumn being an obvious favorite—Capon agrees). After all, for a spry 20-something like myself it means pool days, money, and tan (i.e., slightly less pale) skin. Who needs quiet evenings when you have a spray bottle of 30 SPF and a dubiously colored pool?

However, when I opened the door of my baking-in-the-sun-all-day car and was confronted with a wave of roughly 5000˚F air, I began to have my doubts. Upon receiving a third degree burn from a seat belt buckle that felt like what I can only imagine the surface of the sun to feel like, I immediately lost any semblance of faith in a benevolent, sovereign God. Capon was right.

Just kidding. In fact, in this chapter our favorite Episcopal priest-turned writer argues the opposite: that an all-redeeming, perfectly loving God made known in Christ is indeed compatible both with harsh summers and their spiritual counterpart: hell. After drawing witty (and surprisingly believable) comparisons between the sweaty season and the lake of fire, he deftly explains why a robust theology of hell is indispensable in Christian doctrine. Check out this quasi-Lewisian explanation from the chapter “The Porch”:

the neat spirit of hell is a championing of the right so profound that it produces a permanent unwillingness to forgive, an eternal conviction that wrong should be prevented whenever possible and punished whenever not, but this it must never under any circumstances be absolved … That is the hell of hell. That’s why it’s presided over by the rightest angel who ever lived. That’s why it’s the least human place in the universe. And that’s why, though earth can sometimes indeed be heaven, it can never quite manage to be pure hell: there is always the chance that out of pure feeblemindedness if nothing else we might just drop the subject of being right.

We ask that God’s will may be done “as in heaven so on earth,” and we follow that by praying to be forgiven only as we forgive. The link we establish between earth and heaven, you see, is a human link and the virtue we attach most immediately to his will is a human virtue: mercy top to bottom, here as there; pardon all around, there as here. Heaven is not the home of the good but of the forgiven forgivers; hell contains only unpardoned unpardoners. Neither place, of course, is inhabited by anything but unpardonable types: it’s just that everybody in heaven, God himself included, has decided to die to the question of who’s wrong; whereas nobody in hell can even shut up about who’s right. Hell is where the finally, unrepentantly righteous and the finally, impenitently wicked have literally forever to enjoy their final, unendable war.

Here’s the good part. Regarding the the fate of the “forgiven forgivers,” he writes on page 89:

Every Sunday, when Christians meet, they break bread and drink wine because they were commanded to “do this in remembrance of me.” Specifically, they gather in special and sometimes opulent buildings–frequently having dressed themselves to the nines–and they proceed, to the accompaniment of expensively produced music and fairly ambitious choreography, to sing and trip their way lightly through the fantastic business of recalling how on a hill far away they once kicked the living bejesus out of God incarnate in Christ. They take the worst thing the human race has ever done and make it the occasion of a celebration. And why? Because the worst thing man did was also the best thing God did. The Friday was Good.

What that suggests to me is that when God remembers evil, he remembers it as we remember the crucifixion in the eucharist: in light of the good he has brought out of it. And because that is such a hilariously positive good compared to the grim negativity of evil, it simply becomes his supreme consideration. Because of the reconciliation brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection, all our infirmities are made occasions of glory: God just recognizes and remembers them as such. Indeed, if I may try your patience just a little, let me lean a bit on the very formation of the words recognize and remember. God re-cognizes our sins: he knows them again from scratch as it were and, seeing us only in Jesus, sees us as his beloved Son. God re-members our iniquities: in his divine knowledge he puts back into a living unity the broken and dishonored fragments of the lives we lost in death and, holding them as Jesus has re-collected them in his resurrection, clasps us to himself.

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4 responses to “The God Days of Summer”

  1. David Zahl says:

    Woah. “the neat spirit of hell is a championing of the right so profound that it produces a permanent unwillingness to forgive, an eternal conviction that wrong should be prevented whenever possible and punished whenever not, but this it must never under any circumstances be absolved…” –> Paging Jeff Mallinson!!

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