(Sorry I have been away a bit. I had a great visit to Nashville earlier in the week and am enjoying my visit to Atlanta, which will culminate with a talk this evening. I will have pictures and some discussion of the Nashville visit up later tonight or in the morning. I am learning as I go how to pace these things. In the future, I will take a full day of down time between travel to cities – both so I can catch up with email and keep current with posting – and to keep the fatigue level down. They were only expecting 20-30 people at the Nashville talk…but 60 showed up. They were wonderful people…and I met a few regular readers here…Cecilia, Kati and Fran. But also, Susan Skinner, who writes the marvelous Veil of Veronica website, is from the Nashville area and came. In fact, the Parish that hosted me is the parish where the Veronica for whom she named her website came from. For now, I have this lovely guest post from our own Ellen Neufeld – who you will know better as EllenChris. Ellen, by the way, is hosting and coordinating my visit to Albany next month. – CJ)
By Ellen C. Neufeld+ FHC
It is becoming more and more obvious to everyone that the world is getting darker by the day. Like the People of Israel in ancient times, we want God to act – to stop the evil and purge the earth of sin. We may find ourselves crying out for the “Day of the Lord” to come swiftly, sooner than soon. But, what is it that we are asking for? We are warned by the Prophet Amos:
Woe to you who desire the Day of the Lord!
Why would you have the Day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light. . .
. . .Is not the Day of the Lord darkness and not light
and gloom with no brightness in it? (Amos 5: 18 & 20, English Standard Version)
Does this mean that we are to be terrified of God? Should we then prefer to be allowed to get away with our own evil and sins so that we will not suffer under the hand of a wrathful God? Not at all. We need to understand the Wrath of God in its genuine meaning. I would like to offer an experience I had as a child as a little parable to help us to understand what the “Wrath of God” actually means.
When I was about four years old my family lived in a neighborhood where the houses were very close together, separated only by a driveway and a little grass. The family who lived next door to us was large and very noisy. The oldest son was about eight or nine years old at that time, big for his age and a bully. One day for no reason I could ever think of, he grabbed me, threw me face down on the ground and jumped on my back as hard as he could with both his knees. When I got my breath back I ran home screaming and crying, badly hurt. My father went next door and told the boy’s mother (whom we will call, “Mrs. D.”) politely but firmly never to let that happen again.
A week or so later I was out in our front yard playing when Mrs. D. came out of her house with her two youngest children. She learned over them protectively and pointed at me, “Stay away from her!” she hissed. “Ooh, she’s a witch! She’s bad! She’s a witch.”
I was used to grown-ups being truthful, so I pondered this information with some confusion. What did this mean? Very soon after this happened, my father came home from work. I asked him to help me understand: “Daddy, why am I a witch? Am I really bad?”
My father looked shocked. “Where did you get that idea from? Why do you think that?”
“Mrs. D. told me I am a witch and I’m bad.”
The look on my father’s face was terrible. He knew I would not make up something like that as a lie. He got up from his newspaper and grabbed my hand. He stomped across the two adjoining lawns with me running to keep up. My strong, calm father was shaking like a leaf; I felt his hand trembling as he held my small hand in his. He roared at Mrs. D’s door, “Come out here!” She came out; my father was furious. This woman had accused his daughter of evil; she had hurt his little girl with a lie. “Don’t you ever, EVER, tell my daughter she’s a witch. Don’t you ever say ANYTHING like that to her ever again!!” Mrs. D. had the good sense not to say anything at all at that point. We stomped back home, and he held me on his lap until we both stopped shaking. My father saved and comforted his child. Whenever I think of the “Wrath of God,” this is the picture which comes to mind.
While excusing itself from any kind of wrong-doing, our culture accuses God of being angry and unfair when He addresses evil with truth. The word, “punishment” has come to be understood to mean the arbitrary and essentially unfair infliction of pain. Punishment is not seen for what it is: the arrival of the natural consequence of evil and the necessary removal and prevention of all that has been hurtful or wrong. It is a kind of breaking of a badly set bone so that it can heal straight and true. A better word than punishment is the word so often used by Our Lady in many of her apparitions: “Chastisement.”
In its root chastisement actually means cleansing or purification. It conveys a sense of discipline for the sake of producing virtue and goodness. Understood in this way, we can see that the intention of the one doing the chastising is the good of the one on the receiving end. Without chastisement wrong choices continue and bad behavior is allowed to flourish. In this circumstance people are hurt and damaged, and even the perpetrators of evil themselves are left to live in darkness and misery. Genuine chastisement, which is the good intention of our Good God, cleanses, purifies and sets right what had been wrong. “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12: 6, ESV).
The Prophet Malachi makes this clear when the people of his time asked, “Where is the God of justice?” by answering, “Who can endure the day of His coming, and who stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like a fuller’s (bleacher’s) soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. . . and refine them like silver and gold” (Malachi 2: 17 and 3: 2 & 3, ESV). God’s purpose is to cleanse, purify and make things right. He cleanses and heals us so that we can shine brightly.
My father was full of wrath on the day we visited Mrs. D. He showed what was probably the most purely righteous and honorable anger and indignation I have ever seen in my life. A small child had been wrongfully abused by an adult who should have known better, and he was not about to let her get away with it. He set things straight. Neither she nor any of her children ever said or did anything hurtful to me or my family again. The wrath of my loving father protected me, neutralized all threat of harm and just maybe taught Mrs. D. something about parenting. He comforted me and made me safe.
In the passage from the Prophet Amos, quoted above, we also hear: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5: 24, ESV). The Day of the Lord is not to be desired out of some kind of perverse glee at seeing all the bad guys get their just due. The Wrath of God is nothing to trifle with; we are warned not to call it down upon others out of our own sense of self-righteousness, thinking that we are exempt. When James and John wanted Jesus to hurl lightning bolts down on a town which had rejected Him, Jesus pretty much told them to calm down and get over themselves. When people ask me about how God might chastise those people who are sinners, I always answer that He will have to start with me. God is not angry at us, but against evil itself on our behalf.
We need to understand that His intention is our greatest good. Throughout the holy scriptures written down by the prophets, God continually invites repentance and offers restoration and healing. Especially in the later chapters of Isaiah we hear over and over again of the full and beautiful restoration that He promises His people. “In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you; but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. . . My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and My covenant of peace shall not be removed” (Isaiah 54: 8 & 10 ESV).
I look forward to the day when everyone who repents and turns to God, purified, healed and restored will sit on Daddy’s lap, comforted and safe always.