History, law and God

We have become too self-sufficient to feel the need of redeeming and preserving grace.

In light of the controversy over the comments on divine justice by Rev. Pat Robertson, it would be helpful to make a few clarifications. A correct image of God’s justice is crucial because our entire legal system is based upon the Judeo-Christian ethic; the ideals of our Founding Fathers and the foundational documents of our government are based upon that understanding.

God has been portrayed in our era as a kind of indulgent grandfather who approves of us despite our vices, or in the other extreme, in past centuries as a kind of merciless deity as the famous Puritan sermon that spoke of “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Neither view captures the true essence of God, who is a perfect balance of both justice and mercy. To lose sight of either aspect of God’s nature is to misrepresent him.

That God does permit individuals and nations to experience his justice is abundantly clear in the Bible, where the prophets predicted several such punishments. Some examples include the deluge of Noah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 587 B.C., by the Babylonians, the destruction of Herod’s Temple in A.D. 70, by the Romans, etc. God is not mocked forever, and nations as well as individuals are subject to his justice.

In his treatise, “Six Discourses on Natural Calamities, Divine Threats and the Four Gates of Hell,” St. Alphonsus Liguori says “God does not afflict us in this life for our injury but for our good, in order that we may cease from sin, and by recovering his grace escape eternal punishment.” The purpose of these afflictions is an act of God’s love to bring us to return to him.

The suffering caused by terrorists, for example, was not willed but is permitted by God in that terrible freedom we all have to commit sin. Though God abhors every act of wicked terrorism, it still somehow is comprehended in the larger and mysterious divine scheme of things. As Jesus reportedly explained to the saintly nun Sister Mary of St. Peter in 1846, one of the instruments of his justice is “the malice of revolutionary men.” So the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the terrorists of today are unwitting instruments of divine justice. Did Sept. 11, 2001, bring America back to God or are we still in denial that we need him? Did abortion, pornography and rank materialism stop after Sept. 11, 2001, or are they going stronger than ever? Only God could bring any good out of the supreme evil of 9-11.

God is not a wimp nor is he a merciless dictator. He seeks our ultimate welfare, which only is found in a loving relationship with him. Sometimes the only way to reach us is by the loss of our false gods, like materialism. Sometimes we have to lose everything to find God. God’s justice is his last resort in reaching us.

Our Founding Fathers shared these sentiments, as President George Washington said in his first inaugural address in 1789, “We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right the heaven itself has ordained.”

And as President Abraham Lincoln said in 1863 when proclaiming days of public fast in 1863: “Insomuch as we know that by his divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment for our presumptuous sins, to the need of our national reformation as a whole people … But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the need of redeeming and preserving grace; too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

Michael T. Gallagher is a University alumnus. Please send comments to [email protected].