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Praise: A Foretaste of the Afterlife

The Lord be with you

Concerning Hebrews 5:7, Luther wrote:

… Nevertheless, this “sacrifice of praise” does not mean that praise with which even a godless person blesses God, as the well-known words in Ps. 48:19 states: “He will praise Thee when Thou hast done well to him.” On the contrary, it means praise in the midst of sufferings, as the well-known words of Is. 48:9 prove: “For My name’s sake I will remove My wrath far off from you (I will not condemn you); and for My praise I will bridle you, lest you perish,” namely, in sufferings and chastisements; that is, when a man in the midst of bitterness of heart and in the agony of death even sings to God, saying (Ps. 119:137): “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and right is Thy judgment.” This is what the thief did on the cross and what David did in Ps. 119:54, when he said: “Thy punishments (that is, my tribulations) have been my songs in the place of my pilgrimage.” Thus Ps. 42:8 says: “By day the Lord commanded His mercy and by night His song,” that is, praise and joy in tribulation. Hence hell is hell not because punishment is there, but because praise of God is not there, as Ps. 6:5 states: “For in death there is no one who remembers Thee.” For God, with His justice, displeases them. Thus heaven is heaven not because joy is there, but because praise of God is there, as Ps. 84:4 states: “Blessed are those who dwell in Thy house, ever singing Thy praise.” For God gives them pleasure, and for this reason they rejoice. Therefore a Christian, as a child of God, must always rejoice, always sing, fear nothing, always be free from care, and always glory in God.

Luther, Martin Luther’s Works: volume 29: Lectures on Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews 176-177

Note that Luther does not say there is no joy in heaven or no misery in hell. However the chief aspect of heaven is being in the presence of God and the chief aspect of hell is the absence of God. The first-fruit of being in the presence of God is praise and the first-fruit of the absence of God is the absence of any and all reasons to sing praise.

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