by Roberto de Mattei
DOES GOD REALLY “PUNISH” THE WORLD?
In March 2011, during the monthly column that I wanted to Radio Maria, I proposed a reflection on the “mystery of evil”, which was inspired by the earthquake-tsunami that had then hit Japan. My considerations aroused a flood of controversies, even reaching a collection of signatures to ask for the resignation from the office, which I then held, of Vice-President of the National Research Council.
In the following years, natural disasters and collective misfortunes have multiplied and the reflection on the meaning of these events has become dramatically topical.
Free us from hunger, plague and beauty, Domine: plague, war and hunger, as the Rogations remind us, are scourges that the Church has always united, indicating them as divine punishments for the public sins of nations and their rulers.
Holy Scripture tells us that, as punishment for King David’s sins, God sent him the prophet Gad, who offered him to choose between three punishments: three years of famine, three months of war or three days of plague. David answered Gad: “I am in great distress! Well let us fall into the hands of the Lord, because his mercy is great, but may I not fall into the hands of men» (Samuel, 24,14).
David, comments the historian Josephus Flavius, «he demanded a punishment that was common to King and subjects, a punishment in which there was equal cause for fear, saying, first of all, that it was much better to fall into the hands of God than into those of an enemy. Hearing this answer, the prophet reported it to God, who therefore sent disease and pestilence to the Jews; they died, but not all in the same way, so that the disease could be easily identified; but while a single evil was rampant, there were innumerable causes, real or apparent, which did not allow it to be identified».
Flavius Josephus himself, describing the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, explains to us how among all the punishments «hunger is the greatest of all sufferings, and nothing it destroys more than respect: what under other conditions is the object of consideration is treated with contempt when there is hunger».
However, those who attribute to God only natural punishments, such as plagues and earthquakes, and not those that derive their origin from human vice and wickedness, such as wars and famines, sometimes artificially provoked, such as the one that Ukraine suffered, are deceived. by Stalin.
In reality, nothing that happens is taken away from God’s will. It is a dogma of the Catholic faith, proclaimed by the First Vatican Council, that God takes care of everything, even the smallest thing, and leads it to its end. This concerns not only the goods, but also the evils in the world, all of which come from God, except sin.
The history of the world, like our life, therefore moves according to two dimensions: a natural one, founded on the use of reason and freedom by man; the other supernatural, based on the continuous presence of God in human affairs. In fact, nothing happens that is not ordained by God for our good and for the glory of him, who is the end of the created universe. Divine Providence is the hand of God which operates over time what the Divine Mind of him has thought and willed from eternity.
Instead, it happens that many Catholics, instead of seeing the hand of God, insist on seeing the hand in men, rejecting the idea of God who punishes in history. To explain this blindness, St. Paul recalls the words of theExodus «I will harden Pharaoh’s heart» (Rom. IX, 18).
«When God blinds and hardens – explains St. Thomas Aquinas in his Commentary on St John – one must not imagine that he instills malice, nor that he pushes towards sin; but only that He ceases to instill grace».
For this reason, in the most confused hours of history, we must ask for the grace of having God’s wisdom to enlighten our steps.
«You do not have the wisdom of God, but that of men» (Mt. 16:23): Christ answered Peter, as he had made the prophet Isaiah say to the people of Judah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways» (Is. 55.8).
Pope Pius XII, recalling these words, dedicates a beautiful part of his Radio message of June 29, 1941 on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul to the eternal and impenetrable designs of God: «All men are almost children before God, all of them, even the deepest thinkers and the most experienced leaders of the peoples. They judge events with the short-sightedness of time which passes and flies irreparably; Instead, God looks at them from the heights and from the motionless center of eternity. They have before their eyes the narrow panorama of a few years: God instead has before him the universal panorama of the ages».
Nothing happens in history that is not willed by Divine Providence and God uses natural disasters, wars and revolutions to punish the sins of nations which, unlike individual men, live on the horizon of time and have no destiny in the future. ‘eternity. How can we deny that the modern world, steeped in sin, deserves a great collective punishment? Isn’t it true that in Fatima, in 1917, Our Lady announced a terrible punishment for humanity if she did not convert, returning to respect for the divine law?
The message of Fatima is not an apocalyptic narrative of human origin, but a divine announcement, recognized by the Church. The scenario that Our Lady opens with her prophecy fills the heart not only with fear, but also with hope. God is infinitely just, but his last word is always that of mercy. This is why we face the difficult days that certainly still await us with fear, but also with immense confidence.
St Augustine says: «Are you afraid of God? Save yourself in his arms». It is Our Lady herself who invites us to take refuge in her arms with those words full of mercy and hope which dispel all fear: «Finally my Immaculate Heart will triumph».
*with kind permission of the Author we reproduce theIntroduction of the book Does God punish the world? The Catholic faith in the face of the mystery of evil (Faith & Culture, Verona 2022, pp. 5-10)
The Catholic Faith in the Face of the Mystery of Evil – Roman Correspondence