Back

Vol. IV, June 1998

 

Instrument of God's Justice (cf. Jdg 5,23)


Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Jesus said to the Apostles who were with him from the beginning of his public life, "The Holy Spirit will bear witness to me: and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning" (Jn 15,26-27). In a similar way, this can also be said about the holy Angels; we reflected already upon the word: "I call heaven and earth to witness" (Dt 4,26; see January '98).

1. The holy Angels are with God from the beginning; they are considered to be related in a special way to the Holy Spirit, and they bear witness, as we saw in the last reference, the holy Angels are witnesses of the Majesty of God before man (cf. Josh 5,14). They are special servants of the Holy Spirit who "will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment" (Jn 16,8), for the Angel of the Lord said, "You have not obeyed my command!" (Jdg 2,2). In the next text which refers to the holy Angels, "the Angel of the Lord" acts as a witness of the justice of God: "Curse Meroz, says the Angel of the Lord, curse bitterly its inhabitants because they came not to the help of the Lord" (Jdg 5,23).

2. We might never expect an Angel of the Lord to curse anyone. We commonly associate 'cursing' with enmity, hate, vengeance, malediction and condemnation. These are anything but love, mercy and forgiveness, attributes which we appropriate to God and His followers.

a) We feel inclined to exclude such a text from Sacred Scripture, or at least to hide it silently, saying: such words are not compatible with the notion of a merciful God as we see Him today. We have the idea that such attitudes mainly belong to the Old Testament, to a mentality of justice, if not even to paganism. To curse would be an unchristian reaction. Such ideas are comprehensible, but still, we should see them in the proper light; we should be careful as they might undermine the traditional teaching concerning the inspiration of all the books accepted in the biblical Canon. If we judge in this way, some people could even be led to doubt the Divine inspiration of Sacred Scripture as a whole. We should also bear in mind that God already warned the people in the Old Testament, forbidding them to add or to take anything from His words (cf. Dt 4,2; see Jan.'98).

b) But the objection to such a phrase still remains, especially when it is pronounced by an Angel. Does not Sacred Scripture reveal to us: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 Jn 4,16)?! We accept and correctly believe that the Angels live in such a close union with God that they cannot but love in all their actions. So the question is, how is it possible for an Angel to "curse ... and curse bitterly"? Do we have to resort to other interpretations which see in this Angel a mere human, sinful creature, (as did Procopius, who interpreted the Angel to be the High Priest, or Cajetanus, who saw in the Angel Deborah) and for this very reason do not have to take the words too seriously? But there are others who do see in this "Angel of the Lord" a real Angel; Abulensis and Rubertus even think that it is St. Michael, the prince and protector of Israel according to Daniel (cf. ch. 10-12). This brings us back to the same difficulty.

c) Now, to totally exclude the possibility of a good Angel pronouncing a curse with the argument that the mercy of God would have to be understood thus - that there remains no room for the justice of God, seems to be evidently wrong, "For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteous deeds" (Ps 11(10),7). The conclusion of this argument would be an unconditional "forgiveness", which ultimately is not forgiveness but an approval of everything as being good. Such a practical denial of any objective criterion for discernment and even for an objective truth cannot be the basis for a judgment of God and his Angels. Such a relativism is unworthy of God: it is an unrealistic view of the reality and does no good to anyone! It offends the sense of justice; it is ultimately a comfortable but uncharitable and destructive indifference: it condemns everyone to objective and real misery and is, in the final analysis, the opposite to and the most horrible offense of true love (cf. John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, 42, 46, 54-61).

d) Real forgiveness is quite different, it is an act of mercy and only possible on the basis of truth and objective reality with each human being seen as a part of it. "All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ps 25(24),10). Mercy has to be seen in the threefold context, where the former embraces always the next: God as love and full of mercy; creation as a fact or objective truth and demanding justice; man as a part of it with a free will to correspond to the objective order, and in the measure that he does so or fails to do so, he is holy or sinful. Mercy, then, takes seriously every fault and sin committed against God or man, but offers the possibility of correcting the deviation by an act of free will and of returning to the objective reality and goodness. Therefore, mercy demands the free decision of the sinner; its decisive aspect, however, is the establishment of the objective order, otherwise it will not be more than poor sympathy.

In its highest form, uniting love and truth on the spiritual level, mercy can be practiced only by God and by those who act in His name or for His sake, because He alone is the Lord of the objective reality (cf. John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, 4 and 14; see Cain's own judgment and God's mercy towards him, Gen 4,13-16, or the merciful attitude of Jesus (cf., Jn 18,8), who placed himself before his unfaithful disciples. St. Paul expresses it with these words (Rom 5,8): "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.")

3. There is a real objective dimension in mercy. A physician shows his merciful love by trying to cure the person's sick body and to restore the organism's normal functions; he would be of no help, if he simply declared the sick person healthy or if he sent him away without doing anything at all. Similarly, a merciful father, according to Scripture, corrects his son (cf. Hebr 12,5-11). Then there is the subjective dimension; mercy is only possible and efficacious when the poor sinner is willing to convert to the objective truth. God is objectively willing to forgive every repentant sinner, "God desires all men to be saved" (1 Tim 2,4). But mercy can be efficacious only in response to the desire of the sinner.

We see this in many examples. Jeremiah spoke to Israel about God who "will rejoice in doing them good," and he transmitted also the Lord's word, "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm" (Jer 31,41 and 17,5). St., Peter preached, "Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3,19), but he could not save those who lied "to the Holy Spirit", Ananias and Sapphira (cf. Acts 5,3-11).

Now, the same we observe with the Angels, in their imitation of Christ: they learn patience and comprehension for sinners (cf. Hebr 4,15; 5,8); they rejoice over every "sinner who repents" Lk 15,10). Therefore, they make every effort to lead sinners to repentance and conversion. According to St. Louis de Montfort they exclaim, saying: "Be careful not to forfeit the crown which is marked out for the cross you have received ... Fight bravely ... and you will receive an eternal kingdom" (St. Louis de Montfort, Letters to the Friends of the Cross, 58). Nevertheless, they never consider themselves authorized to forgive offenses against their Lord and God (cf. Ex 23,21)! They will assist at the final judgment and execute it (cf. Mt 25,31 ff and 13,41-42.49-50), as they had executed sentences of God in the past, like that against David or Zacharias (cf. 2 Sam 24,17 and 1 Lk 1,20).

Finally we may have to recall that a judge does not do anything by himself! A judge publicly pronounces a decision or judgment on an individual person; through this, it is manifested in its objective and true horizon, in its real dimension; he adds nothing to it. Through the sentence pronounced by the judge, the decision of the individual assumes a public, official character. It is, therefore, wrong to accuse a trustworthy judge of his verdicts, for they are the result of what the sinner had decided before in secret. This is even more true of God and the Angels who will never condemn anyone except if the person absolutely wants it that way.

4. Dear brothers in the priesthood, let us not proudly correct the divine Revelation but let us proclaim it as its docile disciples. Considering the trustworthiness of the Angels, let us humble ourselves and examine our conscience about our judgment:

  • Have we been authentic interpreters of the Will of God before man?
  • Do we judge in the light of the eternal destiny or try to please man?
  • Do we see through the laws to the Lawgiver and his intentions?

 

Through a responsible, circumspect fulfillment of our prophetic ministry, we can even obviate many difficult situations where we would have to pronounce severe sentences of God! Let us verify:

  • Do we preach to the people about the greatness, holiness, beauty or goodness of God, so that they feel urged to re-orientate their life, turning more and more away from creatures and back to the Creator, from sin to virtue, from the ego to God?
  • Do we preach about the glory of heaven and about the eternal blissful goal of human life, so that they may be attracted to do good and avoid every evil?
  • Do we clearly explain to the people the commandments of God, so that they are enabled to make the right decisions in conformity with God's holy will and may never be subject to any condemning sentence of God?
  • Do we avail ourselves of every possibility in order to make them familiar with God, to convince them of Christ's thirst for their souls and of the help of the Holy Spirit, whose help is offered them at any moment?
  • Do we offer them sufficient opportunities for accusing themselves before God in the sacramental confession, so that they will be converted and have their sins forgiven when God calls them to give account?

 

Let us make every effort to be instruments of the true mercy of God, so that none of those entrusted to our pastoral responsibility will ever have to fall under the condemning sentence of God.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC