Does God Show ‘Wrath’?

News: Commentary
by Paul Murano  •  •  April 7, 2020   

A Thomistic look at the Wuhan virus question

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There have been quite a few articles written lately about whether the Wuhan pandemic is a chastisement from God. I would like to add a little Aquinas and Church teaching to the question, making some important distinctions and highlighting a Catholic understanding of the nature of God and the nature of man.

Before directly tackling the question, first a few philosophical points must be considered:

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, c. 1545 by
Herri met de Bles

God Is Pure Act

This means, unlike His creatures, there is no potential in God. God is immutable. He does not change. His Essence is infinite and eternal Being. As Aquinas says, His essence is His existence. God is not subject to creaturely change through time and space. He created time and space, and transcends it. God simply 'Is' (Ex 3:14). He is the fullness of Being, which is Love (1 John 4:8).

So when Scripture speaks of God getting angry, or learning things or changing His mind, the inspired writer uses language that enables us to understand the mystery of God's eternal essence, love, unfolding in our lives, and this includes perfect justice and mercy.

For example, the eternal justice of God applied to His creatures often looks like wrath to us. That's because we are sinners. We see this perception illustrated particularly in the language of the Old Testament.

God Is Love

Love is the eternal essence of God's Being. Like water gives wetness, God gives love. As a reflection of the Creator, creation inherently exhibits His love and goodness. Love has real meaning — independent of our perceptions and desires. Yet, when we are affected by God's love it sometimes takes the form of suffering, which can seem like a chastisement. It is not unreasonable to see it that way, if understood as God permitting what is ultimately for our own good. It is God's infinite love playing out in the lives of sinners.

God Is Logos

This is one aspect in the Christian understanding of God that distinguishes it from most other religions. God is not love in a subjective sense, as in exercising will without reason. His love is congruent with absolute truth (John 14:6).

When we are affected by God's love it sometimes takes the form of suffering, which can seem like a chastisement.

In chapter one of John's Gospel, the eternal Son is called the Word, in Greek Logos, meaning reason, truth or objective rightness. Terms for the sciences are often suffixed by –ology for this reason. Logos is, and enables the created intellect to see, reality as it is.

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Unlike polytheistic and Muslim understandings of God, He is not a God of voluntarism; He cannot command in a way that contradicts objective reason, His own nature and goodness as inherent in the created order. He can never love evil or call evil good. For example, God cannot one day decide and declare that from now on lying, stealing and adultery will be "good" and generosity, charity and chastity will be "evil."

So when it seems God acts arbitrarily or without the fullness of goodness, it is our limited and skewed perception of His perfect love, which is unfolding in us and for us.

Original Sin

God particularly loves His image on earth (Genesis 1:27), human beings. By His grace, we would have been protected from all natural disasters, diseases, illnesses and accidents, had we obeyed God in Adam. Now, by our natural weakness due to the wounds of original sin inherited in our nature, we are susceptible to all the above.

"The Fall of Man" c. 1616 by Hendrik Goltzius

In this respect, the sufferings we endure in this life find their cause and genesis in sin, original and actual. The wages of sin is death, St. Paul says (Romans 6:23). Yet, in our fallen state, we can now utilize this suffering that God permits due to our sins and offer it to Him for purification and atonement, for ourselves and for others. Many saints found this exciting.

Suffering Becomes Our Medicine

Since the fall of Adam, there is no salvation without suffering.

Sin makes us imperfect, ontologically (our being) and morally. While Christ paid the price on the Cross of its eternal consequences, we must cooperate with His grace. He opened the door to God; with His help we must walk through it.

We all have disordered selfish desire, and we have all acted on it. No one is innocent. Therefore, two things are true: 1) We deserve punishment, and 2) Punishment purifies us. There's an old adage that applies here: Suffering makes you either bitter or better, depending on your attitude.

The consequences of every sin, evil and injustice that we meet in this world are indirect expressions of God's love, His justice and mercy, and these are opportunities for atonement, without which there is no happiness. In His positive will, God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), and in His permissive will He allows us these opportunities for a second chance.

Miracles Occur But Are Not the Norm

The love of God unfolds usually through the natural order that He has established. It is His prerogative to transcend those laws if He wills, but it is not His ordinary way of relating to man.

God permits us to experience the consequences of our actions, which at times includes suffering. As the extended body of Adam throughout the world, it includes war, famine, disease, illness and injustice.

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains.

It is God's permissive will that allows us to experience sin's consequences, so that, as the body of Christ, we may unite them with Jesus on the Cross for the atonement of sins and salvation of souls. In this sense, God's chastisement is love, and our humble acceptance for expiation is our response of love back to Him.

Is the Virus Chastisement From God?

Yes — in the sense that all illness and injustice are chastisements from God, i.e. opportunities for us to atone and turn back to Him with our whole heart.

C.S. Lewis

This is the only way to personal happiness and subsequently to world peace. If God did not allow chastisements like these to occur, He would not love us. What good parent allows his child to mire in self-imposed misery without trying to help? Sometimes pain is the only way to get our attention.

C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains." With all the sin prevalent today — with the ongoing, worldwide holocaust of the preborn; Western societies giving in to abominable sexual deviancy and gender confusion; and addictions and suicide rates skyrocketing while hope diminishes — this pandemic is a golden opportunity for us to get on our knees and surrender to God. Despite our stubborn hearts, there is no alternative to joy and the fullness of life, which is the end and purpose for which we are all made.

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