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LET’S TALK ABOUT THE WRATH OF GOD! July 20, 2007

Posted by Fr. Felmar Castrodes Fiel, SVD in Bible Animation, Personal Message, Vocation Story.
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I remembered a comic strip in one magazine before. It featured Satan complaining, “Nakakainis na ang mga tao! Pag nagkakasala sila, lagi na lang ako ang sinisisi!” (Translation: I am already irritated with humans! If they sin, they always blame me!) His black angel heard him and consoled him, “Master, wag kang mag-alala. Pati Diyos sinisisi rin nila.” (Do not worry master, they also blame God.)

This illustration simply tells us that man and woman, since time immemorial, while being created in the image and likeness of God, have the natural tendency to put the blame on others in the wrong doings they have committed. The story of the Fall, for example, tells us of Adam passing the responsibility of eating the forbidden fruit to Eve: “The woman whom you put here with me – she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” (Genesis 3: 12). Eve, on the other hand, also passed the blame to the serpent when asked by God why she did such a thing: “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.” (Genesis 3:13).

I find St. Paul’s assertion about the “wrath of God” a very beautiful expression on explaining the relation between human freedom and consequences of human sinfulness. In his Letter to the Romans, he stressed, “the wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness…Therefore God gave them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts.” (Romans 1:18, 24). In the hand-out entitled What Does St. Paul Mean by “Wrath of God”?, Sr. Bernie Dianzon clearly pointed out that Paul’s use of the expression was not derived from his “knowledge of the capricious activities and vindictive emotions of the gods of Greek mythology.” Rather, the term “wrath of God” was employed to mean the “experience which we bring upon ourselves by our wrong choice.”

This is very enlightening. It becomes all the more clear to me that man or woman should not blame Satan or God for the misfortunes brought upon by wrong choices in life. Every choices man or woman decides or acts upon have their corresponding consequences. Man or woman is free, and if he or she chooses to do good, it has its corresponding consequences. If he or she decides to be otherwise, he or she will also merit the consequent part of the package. In this presentation, it is very clear that freedom is preserved and misery or “wrath of God” only comes in as inevitable by-product of the abuse of freedom. In every wrong action, there is a corresponding miserable reaction.

Interestingly, the Old Testament is pregnant with experiences of “wrath of God.” The second chapter of Lamentations talked about the Lord’s wrath against Zion. Jeremiah 25 talks about 70 years in Exile. Ezekiel 25 strongly prophecies against foreign nations. The opening salvo of the Prophet Zephaniah is about the day of doom.

However, the Old Testament did not end with the “wrath of God.” At the end of every destruction is a promise of restoration (Haggai 3: 14-15; Micah 5: 9-14; Amos 9:14). God allows this “wrath of God” but for a reason. “In their affliction, they shall look for me” (Hosea 6). This is so “ that you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” (Amos 4:17). Wonderful!

I discovered that the Letter to the Romans where Paul talked about the “wrath of God” followed this beautiful dialogue of destruction-restoration theme:

DESTRUCTION

RESTORATION

Humanity Lost Without the Gospel (1:16-3:20)

Justification Through Faith in Christ (3:21-4: 25)

Humanity’s Sin Through Adam (5:12-14)

Grace and Life Through Christ (5:15-21)

Sin and Death (7:13-25)

Children of God through Adoption (8:14-17)

Thus, I certainly agree that Paul goes in the same line when he discussed “wrath of God.” It is clear he is telling there is a way out of God’s wrath. Sandwiched between destruction-restoration theme is Paul’s discussion about the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love (Romans 51-11). Coincidence? No. I believe it was intentionally put there to serve as the heart of the “wrath of God” discussion”:

But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more than, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath.[1]

For that reason, Paul exhorts that our use of freedom must be based on love. We have our model of freedom in Christ who freely choose to die in order for us to merit salvation. This is also tantamount to say that the authentic meaning of human freedom is sharing in the freedom showed by Christ. In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, he asserts, “you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.” (Galatians 5:13). He declares it again in his Letter to the Ephesians, “Be imitators of Christ and live in love” (Ephesians 5:1).

The encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor of Pope John Paul II clearly points out that, “only the freedom which submits to the Truth leads the human person to his true good. The good of the person is to be in the Truth and to do the Truth.”[2] Thus, by deciding to “take the other road”, the person “knowingly and deliberately transgresses and offends God gravely in a grave manner.”[3] Thus, whatever actions the human person must have done, he or she must be responsible to it, including its horrendous consequences.

Alas, this “wrath of God” can even penetrate the mainstream of society. It has also its social dimension. Because of the people’s wrong choices in life, it necessarily affects all the others. As the Filipino saying goes, “Kung ano ang nararamdaman ng kalingkingan, siya rin ng buong katawan.” Whatever the thumb feels, it is also necessarily felt by all the others. The great biblical theologian Dianne Bergant in our theological symposium related to us how deliberate wrong actions affect all the others. She said that there are people who deliberately made wrong choices of cutting trees. Yet, when the fury of nature comes., e.g. great flood or typhoons, everybody in the community is affected.[4] That is to say, we are interconnected and we necessarily have to take good discernment upon our choices because failing to do so creates imbalance in the web of life.

This calls us to be critical of our actions so as to create life-giving relationships instead of initiating selfish decisions which may bring division and destruction to the people and all creation around us.

On the other hand, our painful experiences as a nation brought upon by “series of selfish choices and wrong decisions” is something we cannot do away with. But we can approach it in the light of God’s promise of restoration. In that way, we struggle to live each day with hope and love. We view them not as doors to hate but rather rooms for greater faith.


[1] Romans 5: 8-9 [NAB].

[2] Veritatis Splendor, 84.

[3] General Catechetical Directory, 62.

[4] Dianne Bergant, “Integrity of All of Creation: The Basis for Contemporary Theology and Spirituality,” theological symposium delivered at the Divine Word Seminary of Theology, Tagaytay City. 20 July 2004.

JO5L0051

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Comments»

1. Daniel - July 20, 2007

Interesting, somewhat funny, worth reading🙂

2. Mark - July 21, 2007

I thought free will was what is was all about. That’s why I can deal with Christianity better now than when I was younger and couldn’t understand such subtleties.

3. Brian - July 21, 2007

I’m impressed by your blog post, cited in your discussion-starter. It’s not often that I run into someone who has read the Veritatis Splendor encyclical letter, and is able to quote from it intelligently. (I haven’t read the whole thing myself, alas!)

Your point, that free will leads to consequences (I hope that’s a fair summary), is one that I agree with.

How many others do is a good question.

This was a very good discussion topic.

If you have it available to you, you might be interested in “Brother Astronomer” (Guy Consolmagno, McGraw-Hill, 2000). It touches on a belief referred to in the above comic’s third panel, and is a “good read.”


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