Whenever bad things happen -- a flood, earthquake, or the current pandemic -- the inevitable question arises for many: is God punishing us? Is this God's wrath?
This calls to mind a talk I heard Dr. Scott Hahn give a few years ago, at a conference for priests. We were looking at St. Paul's letter to the Romans; and as he went through the particular passage (Romans 1:18-32), I was struck by something that seemed so obvious once he said it, namely: that God's wrath is not to send punishments, but rather, to leave us be.
Here's the passage with key ideas bolded:
The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.
Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper. They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know the just decree of God that all who practice such things deserve death, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Do you see it? God's wrath isn't to send disasters and trouble, but simply to let us have what we want: we become "vain" in our reasoning; our minds become "darkened." And we foolishly go slavering after all the evil things we want. "God hands us over"! Paul says it three times.
This turns upside-down our usual thinking, doesn't it? When everything is going along so swimmingly -- the economy roaring, people getting more prosperous and having more food and leisure time than ever -- we say, look, God is blessing us! And, in a sense, that's true; but look at it through the lens of this reading: if these things are happening (as they have) to a nation that is promoting abortion, pornography, sodomy, denying God's design of male and female, and increasingly absorbed by greed, sloth, wrath, gluttony, lust, envy and pride -- maybe it's something else?
Maybe it's God's handing us over? Maybe it's wrath?
By the way, this accords with the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, who explains that one of the punishments for sin is that we want that sin even more; particular sins, when repeated, lead to vice, and that is a punishment. It's the same idea.
So if the good times were wrath, then what is the coronavirus?
It is a mercy! Howso?
Because while continued good times let us go to sleep, trouble can wake us up. Maybe we will sleep away anyway; nevertheless a wake-up call is a sign of love.
This is a point I make all the time in the confessional: if you are wondering if God loves you, your presence in the confessional tells you the answer; he would not have stirred you up to come here if he did not love you.
“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards (Hebrews 12:5-8).
It seems to me that the trials our country and our world are facing sound more like the Hebrews passage. What do you think?