Monday, December 27, 2010

The Wrath of God

Q -I had a question on something that an atheist friend brought up, and I had heard it before. It concerns the "Wrath of God" on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. How can a loving God be seen as having done that. I tend to see it as just a natural occurrence, and Christ later said how those Jews that had died in the collapse of a structure were no less guilty than anyone else. Anyway, if you have any thoughts or could point me to any books, I'd appreciate it.

A - Thanks for the question! The first thing we need to understand is the progressive way that God has revealed his nature to us. I have frequently heard about the difference between "the Old Testament God" and "the New Testament God" as if there are two different gods. But, this is certainly not the case. There is one God who has slowly revealed his nature to humanity through the ages. The complete understanding of God's mercy can only be seen in God's son, Jesus, giving himself up for us.

God cannot change. But, our understanding of Him certainly can.

We must also remember that while God is merciful, He is also just. If we so choose, we can live a life apart from His love and if we die apart from that love we will certainly have earned eternal punishment. In fact, Jesus warns of hell more than he talks of heaven. We could call this a "tough love" approach. Just as a parent has to teach a lesson the "hard way" sometimes, because the children just won't listen to reason, so God has had to deal with His children throughout time.

With this in mind, it might be the best way to understand what happened with Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember that God sent two angels to look for those in the cities who were righteous. Those righteous people (Lot's family) were spared. Thus we should see the text to be just as much about God's mercy as we do it being about judgment. When the people sought to have sex with the angels it sealed their fate(by their unrepentant and sinful attitudes).

I hope this helps.


bullschuck said...

See, God wouldn't be merciful if He weren't also just. Mercy implies that you deserve something else, some punishment or judgement against you. It's not considered Mercy to give someone what they deserve. To pay taxes is just and correct of me, but not merciful. To forgive someone for killing a family member is not just, but it is merciful. So inherent in the concept of mercy is justice. Additionally, the God we serve is not a fluffy cotton-ball of a deity who can't bring himself to discipline us, or an old doddering fool of a deity who doesn't know what's really going on. He's the Creator of all, volcanos in addition to dandelions, hurricanes in addition to bunny rabbits, and IMHO there are still times that He brings out the old thunder and lightning and takes someone out. And he deals with violence and injustice on a daily basis, especially the violence and injustice that we remember each time we go to Mass. For it was because of our sins that the sacrifice of Christ was a Sacrifice. If our sinfulness wasn't great, if we didn't need a mighty Sacrifice to atone for our thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions, then the Passion of the Christ would have been a G-rated movie. He is merciful because He is perfectly just, not despite it.

Last, please don't make the mistake of making God so small as to only have the emotional depth, the vision, or the wisdom of a human being. We don't know love like He does. To say that He doesn't seem loving because He doesn't act in a certain way only shows that we know less about Love, or that we don't see the entire picture. You might as well say that water isn't as wet as we'd like it to be.

Mike the Geek said...

Okay, I know I'm a bloody Prod, but it strikes me that the "wrath of God" is what the doing of God's will seems like to those who align themselves against it. I leave part of my property wild for the critters, and I keep part of it mowed and usable for people. If a field mouse decides it wants to nest in the part I keep mowed, then it's going to view the next mowing as the "wrath of human." I'm not angry with the field mouse, I'm just maintaining my property - but it sure looks like wrath to the mouse. When God tends His property, it can sure look to me like He's pouring out His wrath. in reality, I'm the one that's put myself in harm's way.

On the other hand, I could be full of it...