Emmitsburg Council of Churches

od’s Just Anger—Emancipation or Emasculation?

Father John J. Lombardi

Last week, Joe, a local bus driver told me a story about a little boy who was terrorizing the bus. Well, nowadays, buses have videotape cameras on them for such proposes. The boy’s parents wouldn’t believe Joe’s story, so the videotape was shown to the family. Result: conversion. The boy, as Joe demonstrated, changed from frenetic frenzy and teen terror to a seeming straight-jacketed and contrite composure.

This story illustrates a form of fear of just punishment. If we fear a punishment—or a discipline, we will likely change; without any of this we will probably not change—there’s no incentive; we like our “comfort zones”.

Today, some claim we are “downsizing divinity”—taking the Biblical and traditional steam, anger, punishment, wrath and overall omnipotence out of God, so as to “re-create Him in our own image.” We may call this a form of “emasculation”—taking the power and energy out of God.

Today we may forget and forego the “fire and brimstone” of Religion and God, and one-sidedly promote “light and peace”. This reversal of religion—we may call it an annoying anthropomorphism--(which means to give God human qualities) is powerful (who doesn’t want an easier life and malleable god?), and pervasive today (in our schools, churches, preaching and teachings). We choose more a God of Love than a God Who is a Just Judge; we want God as Shepherd rather than a God of retribution; we prefer a Lord of Peace versus a God of anger; we would rather emphasize His unconditional Love rather than His Holiness and Sovereignty. In the readings from today’s Mass and Holy Bible, we find many other biblical qualities, and elements of our Sacred Tradition, which are politically and spiritually incorrect: mention of evil, darkness, destruction, burning (houses) “laying waste”, “anger of the Lord,” and so forth: many of these images, believe it or not, come from the very lips of our Beloved Savior (see also the Sermon on the Mount for other “fiery images”).

As a recent headline of a New York Times article said, “Jesus was a Warrior, Too.” He knew, and teaches, that we are in a spiritual battle, and that only when we—like the Jews in the Old Testament—hear and fear just- punishments, anger, and, yes, even wrath, will we change. God is not interested in us feeling good, He is anxiously concerned in us being good, becoming holy.

God’s just anger in II Chronicles 36, illustrates this. The Jews were failing, four-hundred years or so, before Jesus--they were “re-failing,” even rebelling against God. And so God sent prophets, the Law and Commandments, Moses, Kings, Arks of Safety, whales to save prophets (Jonah), He sent talking mules (in Balaam’s case), pagan messengers—in the end, He sent His only Son--all these variations: Why? Because He wanted the Jewish people to embrace Him and turn away from evil,, especially the worship of idols and false gods. The Jews were rejecting God and His Covenant—its that simple. And so God sent His anger to awaken them: like each of us personally, Israel and Judah needed loud alarm bells (invading armies, anger, punishments) to shake out of sinful slumbers.

This is God’s form of chastisements: “For whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Hebr. 12:6). God does this disciplining on a “national scale” when sending, to Israel, Babylonian armies to pillage and Neo-Babylonians (as in the present case) to overtake and occupy Judah-Israel—all to promote conversion. The Lord even allows the destruction of the Temple (the most beloved place of Yahweh-God and the Jews); they are even sent into exile (don’t some children get “time out” these days, or sent to “the corner”?). God did not want this but allowed it, and even made it happen.

This disciplining thru tough love is not an aberration in the Old Testament; it is almost normative—human nature is rebellious and dense. Think of these stories about God, Mankind and His punishments: the Original Sin of Adam and Eve and their exile; the Flood in response to mankind’s wicked ways; The Tower of Babel and disarray of babbling speech; the rebellion of the Hebrews, worshipping of the golden calf, and God’s ensuing forty-year sentence to wander in the desert; Cain killing Abel and Cain’s “drifter-exile” condemnation; the continued “adulterating idol worship” of the Jewish people, even after great prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos, their rebellions against God’s commandments, their rampant Mammon-worship and maverick-materialism, and their subsequent chastisements thru invading armies, plunders, and, ultimately, eventual exile of them into pagan lands away from Jerusalem: in all this God’s primary concern, though, is not abrasion but amendment and conversion, eternal life and the Covenant.

God is calling and shouting that He wants ( though He doesn’t need anything, for He is sovereign) a just a right relationship with Him and His ways—because, otherwise, mankind will hurt itself. The main sin of Israel—as for all of us—is idolatry and worship of false idols. Whatever God does it is a form of Love: for God is love (I Jn 4). He does not want us to perish (or be condemned or live in darkness (see Jn. 3:16ff). Today we don’t want to acknowledge the tough sayings or attributes of God—His justice and omnipotence, His calling us to self-denial and repentance, His power and righteousness.

Basically, we fear fearing. However, when we “breakthrough” and sense that all His “tough qualities” are really part of His Love—He cannot do anything but Love—then we are released from a servile and immature attachment to false religion and thereby eschew “downsizing divinity”—we acknowledge God’s power and justice—and we will worship all the more for it. God’s anger becomes emancipation… The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses this issue: “God’s almighty power is in no way arbitrary: ‘In God power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom and justice are all identical. Nothing therefore can be in God’s power which could not be in His just will or wise intellect’ “ (#271, and St Thomas Aquinas).

After all, think of these natural situations and analogize to the supernatural: We will change school habits knowing we will get a report card, and, if we still do bad academically, we will possibly change because of the discipline we sense from Mom or Dad. God doesn’t change eternal matters much differently…If we have heart trouble the doctor will command us to change our diets, take medicine and begin exercising—or we’ll die. God and the spiritual life are the same thing—our diets are our lifestyles; our medicine is the Sacraments (St Augustine called the Eucharist “the medicine of eternal life”); and our exercising is asceticism by living a simpler, more spiritual life…And, today, what used to be called “jails” or “prisons” are now called “correctional facilities” —emphasizing the aspect of conversion—just as God does.

Dr Germaine Grisez, professor of Christian Ethics and Morality, here at Mt St Mary’s, writes eloquently: “Punishments are medicinal—intended to discourage persons from self-injury and encourage them to change their lives… Punishment shows sinners what they are doing to themselves… God is angry when His children alienate themselves from Him.” This is so well said—don’t miss the nuances: just-disciplining is healing, medicinal—like a doctor’s cauterization: it burns and heals at the same time. Also, we humans and sinners need discouragement (from sin and hurtful things) and encouragement (to convert). When this doesn’t come thru invitation and love (the higher form of discipleship) then it comes thru God’s Loving Discipline. God has many ways to teach us.

Fr John L McKenzie, in his book, “Dictionary of the Bible,” says that there is a myth: people believe the vengeful God of the Old Testament has been “replaced” and surpassed by a loving and different God—of Jesus in the New Testament. He debunks this clearly by pointing out: Christ shows anger in St. Jn, ch. 2; in Mk 3:5 He shows anger toward the scribes and Pharisees; Jesus is even anger at the crowd for unbelief (Mt 17:17); Christ uses the punishing image of being judged by “works of mercy” in the famous Judgment Scene of Mt 25; and in the parable of Dives and Lazarus Hell in a punishment—and reminder to us—of hurting and ignoring the poor. St Paul meditates on anger and wrath in Rm 2:4, 3:5; and I Th 2:16. And then there is the eschatological anger (at the end times—“The Day of the Lord”—which is a theme of Old Testament prophets) in the Book of Revelation (11:18, 16:1).

So, thru all this, we see that, contrary to modernity’s mad methods—annoying anthropomorphisms-- God is not a dualistic and a “Tough Guy” in the Old Testament, and a makeover of “Fluff” in the New. God is not dualistic or split personality, but this is what many propose, or want: religion is easier, more modern (who, today, wants to make sacrifices to appease a just and punishing God?), and this change makes discipleship more comfortable (I don’t have to worry about following Commandments—they’re only suggestions, anyway).
Like Israel, may the United States as a nation incur God’s just punishments? Why not? As a country with so many blessings and opportunities, this country was founded thru the Mayflower Compact, by Puritan and other Christians fleeing a persecuting and irreligious Europe—to re-form a righteous and just covenant with God.

Thus land was favored with so much and guided by a deep religious—though tolerant—vision, but now it seems plagued by so much; we’ve gone from divine principles to deleterious decadence. Is God chastising us? Again, why not? He disciplined the Jews and Israel—to bring conversion—why would He treat us any differently? The facts and testimony of the Bible, and God’s way of teaching and converting over centauries, have not changed. When we fail to awaken to our sins, offenses and rebellions, God will send, or allow, “national alarm bells’ to remedy our situation: He does not want us to perish or remain in darkness, but wants to save us (again, re-read St. Jn 3:16ff).

What are America’s main sins and failings? The most important, continual and rebellious, offense include: separation from God and denial of Him in the public life (banishment of the Ten Commandments and worship of Americanist and anti-God ways; misuses of technology (in manipulation of pre-born life; euthanasia); materialism (rampant Mammon-worship, favoring things over God and people); abortion on demand and as a right; anti-family policies; aberrant sexuality as a right. Americans need to repent of these ways of life—which are systematically promoted (individual cases are different—they’re always amendable)--God always wants to forgive --He is all merciful.

What do we need today in the face of so much challenge, especially as Biblical Catholics and Christians, regarding God’s just punishments?

First: we need to pray for conversion to God’s ways: intercession of Jonah and Moses saved the people; the intercession of Jesus Christ saves us—imitate Him and them—pray for our country.

Second: hope—this means that, a current problem exists, but there is a way out if we take God’s cures and medicines: He will save us.

Third: trust in the immeasurable riches of God (Eph 2) and that He will have mercy on us. Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the conversion of all to Jesus Christ: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion—Have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Fourth: deeply remember--as Dr Grisez notes, Jesus Christ, though sinless, took on sin and all the punishments we should have incurred, and died on the Cross with all this. Therefore, we receive the fruits of this atonement and punishment in Holy Communion: deeply note the infinite blessings that came from this punishment—extended throughout all time.

We should mindfully and frequently offer up His sacrifice thru the Eucharist (mystically re-presented in our Masses) to re-balance the eternal spiritual equation of the universe, as often as possible… Remember:: Regarding God’s Loving Discipline and Punishments, promote emancipation, not emasculation

Briefly Noted

Confession? In a recent interview with famous Catholic convert, Scott Hahn, said regarding Confession: There are lots of ways of looking at confession, and all of them are valid. You can look at it as a courtroom with a divine judge. You can look at it as an accounting of debts. But I think it's most helpful to look at it as healing -- as health care. Confession does for our souls what doctors, dietitians, physical therapists and pharmacists do for our bodies.

Think about all we do to keep our bodies in working order. We go for regular checkups with a primary-care physician, a dentist, an eye doctor. And no one has to remind us to brush our teeth, take a shower, and pop the pills for whatever ails us. All this is good for us, and it's good for everyone around us, too. No one wants to work beside us if we decide to stop showering.”

Life in Families: I recently went to a birthday party for a friend; it was beautiful and instructive. Firstly, seven members of the family sacrificed time to be there on a weeknight for Jesse’s party. Secondly, after dinner, they went around the table to give him an “honor”—praising him for a virtue or talent, ending with “I love you” or “Happy birthday”. Third: we all prayed a decade of the Rosary before departing…Life is simple and, when you have simplicity and love, you have Life!
Grotto Cleanup:

Meditation: “The eye of contemplation cannot function perfectly except in the state of glory, which man loses through sin and recovers through grace, faith and the understanding of the Scriptures. By these the human mind is purified, illumined, and brought to the contemplation of heavenly things. These are beyond the reach of fallen man unless he first recognizes his own defects and darknesses. But this he can only do by considering the fall of human nature.” +St Bonaventure,

Quote: “A failure to speak the truth because of a misconceived sense of compassion should not be taken for love." Pope John Paul

Bible Readings: 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21. God saves us. 1) God is a divine and uncreated Being, Merciful, and “full of immeasurable riches” (Eph 2). So why wouldn’t you want to know and love Him more? 2) He saves: the name of Jesus means He will save them from their sins. See this Bulletin for reflections on Seven Capital Sins—He will give us grace to over come them: “For by grace (a gift) you have been saved thru faith” (Eph. 2:8)—salvation is a gift of God: He freely gives it because He is Love (I Jn 4:8 );. However, “faith works thru love” (Gal 5:6) and inspires us to do good works of mercy, imitating the Divine Master. 3) God Saves us= the “us” is we disciples- sinners who can become saints

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi