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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Chastisement and Mercy

How can Unchanging Love not chastise those who, if not corrected, will destroy themselves? It is true that disaster stings the good and bad alike, and that the suffering of grave evil is not simply the result of a moral failure - not individually or collectively.


Both innocent and guilty suffer death and tragedy strikes without regard to our achievements - meritorious or ill. Reality is too rich and complex for a simplistic approach to such a difficult and painful question. Yet, it is also true that evil is related to the mystery of sin - a miserable absent love that ought not be, but that has come as unintended consequence unleashed in human history and in every heart. God is not indifferent to this evil and has taken our side against it. He also knows that even a good man sins and needs correction if he is to stay good.


In chastisement, the tender concern that Christ Crucified reveals only acts in accord with itself: a divine punishment, an admonishment from on high, heaven's correction - all of these are simply the same superabundant kindness, but in relation to those who act against it and meant with the same divine philanthropy that summoned humanity out of nothingness. It is not a matter of shaming and blaming, as if God were an abusive parent, but extreme love acting in an extreme way to prevent an terrible evil. Running away from Love's Truth leads to folly's loathsomeness ... it is to prevent us from being frozen the the fire of self-hatred that the Lord acts in history to help us come to our senses.


When we suffer, it is good to ask ourselves how God is present and what He may be revealing in a difficult circumstance. The Judge of the Living and the Dead inconveniently disrupts the enchantments of boorish satisfactions. When we suffer, the scales fall our of our eyes and we notice what previously we too easily overlooked. God allows sometimes overwhelming difficulties, not to diminish us, but that we might discover His hidden presence in ways that we did not know could be possible. In finding this hidden presence, our dignity and noble calling is realized. Here we discover, despite our complaints, that He never upsets any other order than that of our own shrill discordance.


Made to resonate in peals of joy echoing in love's undying hymn, we are spellbound by a dirge of deafening accusation and anxiety. Thus, He chases false mourners away only so that we might know a new joy. He pushes over tables of greed and manipulation, driving out those who would commercialize that which ought never be bought or sold. If his anger is disquieting, this is because our own unquestioned conventions numb us to the dehumanizing shock of material bondage. We need to feel shocked by the indignity that we suffer or we may never discover the greatness that we are meant to know. Thus the Lord shakes the depths of our piety to unveil how prayers limited to the profitable, comfortable, and respectable lack the freedom that true worship requires.


God's desire that we might know true worship gives reason to believe that what sobers and humiliates may disguise dire warnings that our sacred purpose is at risk. If left unchecked, a flight from Love's light can lead to an irrevocable refusal even to the point that one finds kindly warmth an eternal torment. Such is the power of human freedom. We can, if left unaided, define ourselves against the purpose for which we were summoned into existence. If we live within a well insulated artifice of illusion, the Creator knows that such walls are too constricted for those who bear His Image and Likeness.


If such a terrible possibility hangs over us, so too the cruciform reason for our hope. The Holy Mighty One gains nothing when we run away into darkness. It gives the Crucified King no pleasure when we refuse the mercy of the Father. He has already taken the form of a slave, emptied Himself and suffered death - how could He be satisfied if we were lost? If only disaster can sober us, loving Providence pulls back one blessing for the sake of another. Thus, the Lord permits even catastrophe, bringing down nations and whole world orders, let alone our own prodigal ways, if doing so will bring even just one of his children to his senses. A deeper prayer animated by Fire from Above and a new trust born from the heart of the Trinity allow for this sacred purpose, obstacles is not worthy of our dignity are overcome, and what once seemed impossible to hope is freely given.



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