I’ve written a lot on the theme of the Father’s goodness and reconciling that with the seemingly fire-and-brimstone God of the Old Testament. Today will be another one of those reflections haha.
The first reading details Israel’s diaspora in the Assyrian exile. Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and the Jews were scattered. This is a huge blow to this people because to be separated from their homeland was to be stripped of their inheritance. They lived in the land promised to Abraham by God. The land that God freed them from Egypt to acquire. The land that David ruled and brought to such glory. This is the land that proved to the world that Israel is the apple of the one, true God’s eye.
And they lost it.
And why? “Because the children of Israel sinned against the Lord, their God… and because they venerated other gods. They followed the rites of the nations whom the Lord had cleared out of the way of the children of Israel and the kings of Israel whom they set up.”
And so, because “they rejected His statues, … in His great anger against Israel the Lord put them away out of His sight.”
What it sounds like is that God finally got fed up with Israel’s stubbornness. He got sick and tired of telling them what to do and them not listening. He didn’t get His due so He punished the guilty party.
In all of these things, God would have been justified. He would have had every right to punish Israel in such a way for their transgressions.
But I don’t believe that’s what happened.
It is crucial to read the Old Testament through the lens of the new, through the lens of what Jesus reveals about the Father. So what do we know? First and foremost we know that “God is good and that He so loves the world that He gave His only-begotten Son … into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
Does this sound like a God who would cast His children out of His house for not listening to Him? No.
This is what I believe: In a world where free will exists, consequences are necessary. To remove natural consequences from decision-making is to negate free-will. As our readings said, “the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and seer, ‘Give up your evil ways and keep my commandments and statues.’” God did all He could to save Israel from their own destruction. He did not turn His face from them out of anger, but out of respect for the natural order which He had created and which they were well aware of.
In a world of free will, God can only protect us so much. Sin affects the world in real ways. Humanity’s sin is the cause of all disorder in the world: from natural disaster, to tragic illness, to sicknesses of the heart like racism, injustice, abuse, and the like. It is really easy to feel like we’re facing God’s wrath when we’re looking into the eyes of suffering. We reject God because we feel rejected by Him. Truly, God’s heart breaks over this.
You are never rejected by God. The ones you know whose lives are characterized by suffering are never rejected by God. Jesus was not rejected by God. His suffering contained all of ours. So remember that our God is not angered by our sins but rather heartbroken by them. He is heartbroken because He knows that we’re separating ourselves from Him. He warns us to avoid sin not because He doesn’t want us to bruise His delicate ego but because He knows it hurts us more than it hurts Him.
I could say this 1000 times and it would still be important. God’s voice is a voice of tender love. It may challenge us. It may call us out. It doesn’t always feel good. But if the voice you hear in prayer is angry or cruel or any other negative adjective, it is not God.
The devil speaks lies. The devil tells us that we’re not good enough. The devil is the one who punishes us. The devils hates us. He will tell us that we’re suffering because God hates us, but that’s a lie!!! (Three exclamation marks!!!) God never causes suffering, but He sometimes allows it because He knows He can draw you closer to Him because of it.
So if you feel like God is mad at you, talk to Him about it. Ask Him to clarify. Ask Him to show you the good. Ask Him to pour His love into your heart. And then be attentive. His answers might not come right away. They’ll likely come when you’re not expecting. He uses prayer to stretch us, to challenge us, and to help us grow. But always remember that everything He does is out of love. Anything else isn’t God.
-Amanda Benner, Director of Evangelization