While St Faustina’s vision of the Divine Mercy overflows with the love and boundless compassion of God, it is equally articulate about God’s wrathful judgement. In what sense can we say that God is wrathful, and how does his wrath connect with his mercy?
Would a good God send anyone to hell? Many object to the idea of God as no more than an “invisible moral enforcer” and it is legitimate to do so. Such an idea of God is primitive and immature.
Nevertheless, there is an aspect to God which we call his wrath, and his wrath is associated, paradoxically, with his mercy. Too often, however, when the wrath of God is discussed we are given a picture of a petty and petulant tyrant–a spoil sport of the worst kind. This is not what God is like. He isn’t angry with wickedness the same way our fifteen-year old is angry, so he refuses to tidy his room. God does not slam the door and stamp his foot. Neither is God angry the way we are when we don’t get our way. He does not sulk, dish the ice and then pretend nothing is wrong. If God is angry with the wicked it is not because he is an arbitrary and babyish tyrant who loses his temper when is disobeyed.
Instead we should see God’s wrath as linked with his justice. We must ask those who are uncomfortable with the idea of God’s wrath whether they are ever upset at blatant injustice in the world.
Do they not get angry about corrupt politicians and financiers who get away with their crimes? Do they not feel righteous anger at the fat cat banker who has been ripping people off legally his whole life and dies peacefully in his bed surrounded by his family and friends? Do they not get annoyed by the dictators and genocidal maniacs who slip away and retire to their beach hideaway?
We think of God being angry in a selfish way, but what if, instead, God’s anger is the sort we feel when we hear of a young boy being abducted, raped, killed and chucked into a ditch? What if God’s anger is the sort of anger and revulsion you feel when you see a young African woman whose hands have been cut off by rampaging soldiers, and who cannot cuddle the child those same soldiers gave her when they raped her? What if God’s anger is the disgust you feel when you hear of a dowager who leaves her vast estate to her poodles, in a world of starving children? When you hear such news don’t you respond with an element of rage as well as disbelief, horror and grief? Aren’t you righteous to do so?
God is angry at the wicked in the same way. He sees the everlasting beauty of goodness, the vibrant potential of each human being and the stunning radiance of his creation and when it is soiled, trampled, raped and chucked into a ditch by humanity’s folly, greed, stupidity and violence he is full of fury, frustration, sorrow and compassion.
Does that mean God would cast someone down into hell to be tortured forever? Perhaps this too, can be seen the other way around. Is God too good to send someone to hell? It could be that God is so good that he gives everyone exactly what he or she wants. If we have spent our whole lives pursuing love, goodness, beauty and truth, then after death we may get exactly what we always wanted and find ourselves in a land where love, goodness, beauty and truth are as natural and abundant as light.
On the other hand, if our whole lives are spent in an insane flight from all that is good, beautiful and true, then perhaps God in his goodness will also give us exactly what we always wanted; and that would be existence in a madhouse with no exit where love, beauty, goodness and truth were unknown: an existence in the outer darkness with gibbering maniacs like ourselves.
God’s wrath, therefore is simply the other side of his mercy. In his mercy he loves and has compassion on the suffering world. Part of this boundless mercy and compassion is righteous anger at the evil ones who have perpetrated the horror. Their punishment is also part of his mercy for, despite his anger, he would have them repent and live in his light. The damned, however, will see his light and life and despise it. For them his mercy would be a torment and to be with him forever would be everlasting torture.
To put it more simply, it may be that the redeemed will experience God’s mercy as everlasting bliss while the damned experience that same mercy as everlasting torment.
Fr Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is The Romance of Religion–Fighting for Goodness, Truth and Beauty. Visit his blog, browse his books and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com Fr. Dwight Longenecker Website: www.dwightlongenecker.com Blog: Standing on My Head