Divine Mercy Sunday Question: What is God’s ‘Anger’? Is He more ‘Just’ or ‘Merciful?’
(From an article by Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.)
First, let's try to clear away any clouds of confusion. Let's start by defining what God's anger is not, and could never be. Holy Scripture and the Catholic Tradition do not mean by God's "wrath" and "anger" that He has a bad temper that needs to be appeased before He can be merciful to us, or that He "feels" angry with us at times, and needs to be "calmed down" by our repentance! God does not have changing feelings or attitudes. If there are passages in Scripture that seem to imply that He does, these need to be understood as metaphorical ways of speaking about God's total opposition to evil and total support of all good. The First Vatican Council stated clearly that God is "almighty, eternal ... infinite in intelligence, in will, and in all perfection ... absolutely simple and immutable ... of supreme beatitude in and from Himself."
"Immutable" means unchangeable, in that He radiates every "perfection" at every moment, and dwells in infinite "beatitude" or, in other words, infinite joy. This also means that God does not have a strict and vengeful side to His personality that needs to be "bought off" before He can be merciful to us. God has no "sides" to His character at all. Hard as this may be for us (as finite creatures) to understand, God is always infinitely perfect in every way, perfectly merciful AND perfectly just in everything that He does. In fact, all his perfections are manifest in His every action.
Now that we know what God's anger is not, let's try to define what it is: the divine perfection of "justice," a justice by which He permits the self-destructive effects of sin and evil to run their course, thereby rendering to the sinner his due. In other words, God's "wrath" means that if we are stubbornly evil and impenitent, He will permit our sins to have their inevitable destructive (and especially self-destructive) effects upon our bodies and souls. It's all there in the first chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. If we insist on going our own way, following the "I did it my way" philosophy (made famous in Frank Sinatra's hit song!), then God's anger means that He will respect the freedom He gave to us, and say to us, in effect: "OK, do it your way, if you insist. I will not compel you to turn away from your sins and be sanctified. But if you do decide to 'do it your way,' you will have to experience the rotten fruits — the self-destructive effects — of the path you have chosen, both in this life and the life to come."
For those cruel and cold-hearted souls who remain stubbornly impenitent and who resist God's grace to the end of their lives, God's anger takes the form of the "eternal punishment" of sinners, which simply means that He allows them to turn their backs on Him and live forever in their self-chosen exile from the light of His countenance. That is why the catechism defines "hell" as essentially "a state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed" (1033). As Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, explained in the book Pillars of Fire in My Soul: The Spirituality of St. Faustina (Marian Press, 2003): God is totally opposed to all evil, and sends His lightning bolts to oppose it (so to speak), yet we cling by our sins to the lightning rod of evil, and then complain that He is a God of wrath!
(Fr. Robb speaking now): To sum that up, one could simply say: “God allows consequences. And those consequences will eventually ‘right the ship,’ if the ship is off course.” We know that the joy of the Gospel message is that it is God’s desire that all be saved from separation from Him (hell). All it requires is that a soul turn to Him in repentance and seek Divine Mercy; A blow to our pride, but a small price to pay for true peace and joy and eventually eternal life. Happy Divine Mercy Sunday!
May the peace of Christ be with you always!