There Is No Wrath in God
[Note: This story is extracted from Nil Guillemette's "All the Days of our Life - God Tales For Young And Old (Volume 21)". All illustrations are original drawings by my talented niece Yang Lin.]
Charming young Alison had three distinguishing traits. The first of these was a great fear of God. Now we are not talking here about the quality expressed in the old fashioned expression "God-fearing,” which means: devout, pious. Nor are we referring to the oft-quoted biblical phrase: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). For indeed, in the Bible the word "fear” denotes a love full of respect; the persons who "fear” God always take him and his word as the basis of their actions. No, Alison’s fear of God was of a completely different nature. Quite simply put, she was afraid of God, and especially of God’s anger.
So much so that she had nightmares about God’s anger and would wake up in a cold sweat. How she had gotten to be so afraid of God’s anger, she didn't know. But she suspected it had to do with a nanny who had taken care of her when she was a little child and who was a "brimstone and fire" Christian, always threatening Alison with God's wrath whenever she became unruly. And thus she had grown up with a haunting dread of God’s anger.
Her second distinguishing trait is that she loved chocolate with a consuming passion. In fact, she could never pass in front of a candy store without dropping in to buy at least a chocolate bar, if not a whole box of chocolates. Unfortunately for her, though, her stomach became queasy after a few mouthfuls of chocolate. And so, common sense would have dictated that she ate sparingly of that delicacy. But she often refused to listen to common sense. The mere sight of chocolate would prove so overpowering sometimes that she would just wolf down the stuff, regardless of its subsequent ill effects. After these excesses, naturally, she was as sick as a dog for two whole days-with all kinds of adverse repercussions on her studies, her schedules, her self-respect. For indeed, Alison was terribly ashamed of these interludes of gluttony. She knew perfectly well that gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, which are the source of all sins, and therefore that God could only look with disapproval on her chocolate sprees. In fact, because of her innate fear of God, she imagined after each one of her lapses that God was angry at her. And this thought, of course, made her so miserable that she was tempted after that to seek some solace in another bout of chocolate gorging. Thus she was caught in an endless spiral of despair.
Alison's third characteristic was that she loved cats. Cats of any size, shape, colour or breed. As a consequence of this, she had always owned one or more cats at any given time of her life. The last one she had, a tabby answering to the preposterous name of Horace, had been killed on the street by a speeding vehicle. Recently, she had just acquired two twin kittens, a female named Mick and a male named Mack. Alison doted on them, spending hours playing with them or simply watching their capers and frolics. Now, like all newborns curious about the world around them, the kittens would naturally want to feel, smell and taste everything. One of their habits was to nibble at the various potted plants disposed all about Alison's house. That didn't do much good to the plants, of course, but it wasn't a big problem because the kittens would eventually grow out of that habit.
What was a matter of greater concern for Alison was that Mick and Mack also nibbled from a bouquet of artificial geraniums-the only imitation plant in the whole house-and got sick every time they did. Naturally Alison tried her best to wean them from this bad habit, but without much success. And so, every now and then she would find Mick and Mack retching miserably or even vomiting uncontrollably after an episode of geranium nibbling. Of course, quite instinctively, her heart would then go out to the poor things and be filled with compassionate distress. She always hoped, too, that this latest crisis would prove decisive and that the kittens would have learned their lesson once and for all. Alas, they never seemed to. The lure of the artificial geranium was apparently just too strong for them to resist. There would always be another sequence of silly nibbling followed by painful vomiting. And, each time Alison would feel pure agony at the sight of her piteously sick kittens.
Needless to say, the girl had a lot of other attributes and features making up her personality. But these three were by far the most outstanding ones: a great fear of God's anger, а passion for chocolate, and a special fondness for cats. Now most people would doubtless see no connection between these three character traits. And maybe there really wasn't any. But God, who in his great love for Alison wanted her to outgrow her fear of him, decided to connect the three and thus achieve his purpose. He did this through a dream he sent one night to the girl.
In that dream Alison suddenly saw a splendid shaft of light appear to her and speak to her. It vaguely resembled a male figure.
"Greetings and peace to you, Alison," it said. "I am Gentel, an angel. I have been sent by God to cure you of your fear of him.”
Now, since all this was happening in a dream, Alison didn't find it at all strange to be thus addressed by a heavenly being. She just marvelled at the angel's beauty and felt a great desire to please him.
"Oh, I'd love to be cured of my fear!” she immediately exclaimed. “But how do you plan to do that? After all, when God gets angry, it's not like when a blackbeetle gets angry, is it? Because God is God almighty, the all-powerful One, whereas the blackbeetle is a puny little thing which can't hurt you much, even if it gets angry. But when Absolute Power gets angry at you, don't you have every reason to fear the worst?"
Upon hearing these words, Gentel seemed to smile.
"I understand what you are saying," he said, "and your reasoning is impeccable. However, your conclusion is false.”
"It is?" she asked in dismay. "Why so?"
"Because,” he answered, "it is based on a wrong premise.”
“What?" she exclaimed, "are you saying that God is not all-powerful?"
"No," he replied, "I agree with you there. What I am saying is that there is no wrath in God.”
At this, Alison felt no end of amazement.
“No wrath in God?" she echoed in helpless wonder.
“None whatever," Gentel repeated.
"But-but-what about those passages of the Bible which state that God's anger flared up, for example, when the Hebrews built a golden calf as an idol?"
"That was only an anthropomorphism, the attribution to God of a human behaviour, a mere way of speaking. It meant that God and idol worship are absolutely incompatible, that God loves his human children so much that he would never want them to degrade themselves into adoring an object. And so, by means of this crude reference to anger, the Bible is stating at bottom that God is pure love.”
"Then why doesn't it just come out and say it plainly?” she objected.
"Because the authors of those passages did not yet know, at the time they wrote those early books of the Bible, that God is pure love and there is no wrath in him. It was only with the coming of Jesus, God's beloved Son, that this was made clear. He never spoke of his Father's anger, only of his love.”
Alison pondered on these words for a while. Then she thought of something.
"Yet,” she objected, "even after the coming of Jesus, some of the authors of the New Testament, Paul for example, still mention the wrath of God.”
"True,” Gentel replied, "because all the religious words available to them at the time referred to a violent God. Even so, they usually give a new meaning to those words. Take, for example, the word justice. Well, Paul assimilates God’s justice to a merciful intervention that makes his children holy. He also speaks of God’s wrath, but only to point out that the result of this wrath was the coming of the Saviour. In other words, that wrath is merely a face of love. No, Alison, as I have said, there is no wrath in God in the sense in which you understand wrath.”
"Are you really sure?” she persisted.
He smiled again.
"Yes, I am. The last word on the matter was said by the apostle John, who wrote after all the others and had had time, therefore, to reflect more deeply on the person and message of Jesus. And what he wrote before dying were the three small words which are the key to the universe: God is love.”
Alison was understandably quite moved by Gentel’s words. Something, however, still kept her from accepting them without any reservations. Now the angel, who could easily read her puzzlement in the way she still frowned, wanted desperately to help her overcome her fear of God’s anger. So he searched his angelic mind for a means to convince her. This time, however, he knew that more theoretical considerations would simply not do, since they had already failed. No, it would have to be something very near home, something taken from Alison’s life perhaps. Finally, just as he concluded a prayer asking for God’s inspiration, he found what he was looking for.
"Listen, Alison,” he said with a special urgency in his voice, "suppose your two kittens Mick and Mack became suddenly endowed with intelligence and freedom, and therefore would be able to understand what you tell them. What would you say to them?”
Naturally the girl was a bit taken aback by the angel's question. Nevertheless, she needed very little time to come up with an answer.
"Why," she said laughingly, "I'd tell them I love them-I'd tell them to enjoy life and be happy. Let's see, what else? Oh, I'd tell them to stop nibbling at the artificial geranium, if they don't want to get sick all the time.”
"Very good,” Gentel said. "Now imagine that Mick and Mack, even though they know your will now, would resist for a while the temptation of eating from the geranium but would finally give in and become terribly sick. Would you be angry at them when you'd see them vomiting their guts out?”
“Oh no! They're so pitiful then!” she cried out.
"You mean you would not punish them for disobeying your express order?” the angel insisted.
“Of course not!” Alison blurted out. "I'd think that their sickness is already punishment enough. Naturally I'd grieve over their silly lack of self-control and I'd hope that they'd learn from their mistakes. But I certainly wouldn't be mad at them. I'd feel-compassion, Sorrow, sadness; but not anger, absolutely not.”
The angel seemed to relax. Obviously, he was gratified at Alison's reaction.
"Well, my dear Alison," he said with a hint of teasing lightness in his voice, “the same thing happens when you disobey God, wolf down a ton of chocolate, and suffer from acute indigestion afterwards. God is certainly not angry at you then, since there is no anger in him. He is merely compassionate. Naturally, he still wants you to obey his commandment and avoid gluttony. Not because he wants to spoil your joy of living. On the contrary, it's because he does not want you to be sick, since that would spoil your joy of living. His commandment is a means of protecting you from indigestion and misery, nothing more. And, if you really choose to go against his commandment, he certainly does not want to punish you, since your indigestion is already punishment enough. He feels an infinite regret for your choice and an infinite pity over your suffering-but no anger whatsoever."
Thus ended Alison's dream. She was abruptly awakened by Mick and Mack, who were licking her forehead and cheeks. Somehow the two kittens had escaped from their night pen and had climbed on her bed while she was sleeping.
When Alison realized what had awakened her, she smiled happily. The night's dream was so vivid in her memory that she could still hear Gentel's voice echoing his liberating words: "There is no wrath in God.”
Now, however, for some obscure reason she believed them. And that belief felt like the beginning of a new life, the thawing of ice after a long winter, a glorious sunrise after an endless night.
Impulsively she seized the two kittens and pressed them to her cheek for sheer joy.
"Listen, you two," she murmured to their ears, "there is no wrath in God. None whatever. Do you understand? So! Rejoice with me." Then she chuckled and added as an afterthought: “However, be that as it may, that geranium is still off limits, my friends, okay?"
“We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God in them. Our love is brought to perfection in this, that we should have confidence on the day of judgment; for our relation to this world is just like his. Love has no room for fear; rather, perfect love casts out all fear. And since fear has to do with punishment, love is not yet perfect in one who is afraid.”
1 John 4:16-18
“We offend God only to the extent that we harm ourselves.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles III, 122