As long as a Catholic remains in a state of grace, he or she need not fear divine wrath, since "God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9). Yet Scripture speaks of something called "God's Discipline". What exactly is this discipline and how can we reconcile it with God's love?
Well, we don't have to reconcile it, because Scripture already has. Hebrews 12:6 states "For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives". God's chastening is a result of his love for us, even as a human father's love can be shown by discipline when necessary.
This does not condone child abuse; child abuse is destructive, Christian discipline should be constructive and benign. God disciplines us to help us, not hurt or destroy us. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).
Divine chastening may be necessary if we have unconfessed sin in our lives. Or it may merely take the form of denying us something which God knows would be harmful to us. Whatever form it takes, though it may not be pleasant at the time, it is actually a proof that we are God's children and that our Heavenly Father loves us dearly.
Scripture tells us that justice is one of God's perfect attributes. But how does it relate to Divine Love and Mercy? In his second encyclical, Rich in Mercy, Pope John Paul II discusses the relationship between mercy and justice:
(in Scripture) mercy is...contrasted with justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound. Even the Old Testament teaches that, although justice...in God signifies transcendent perfection, nevertheless love is "greater" than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice--this is a mark of the whole of revelation--are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by meaning the salvation accomplished by Our Lord in His mercy (Ps.40:11; 98:2f; Is.45:21; 51:5,8; 56:1). (1)So God's justice is a result of Divine Love, conditioned by and serving it. The word "justice" even became synonymous in Scripture with God's salvation.
This bring up an interesting subject: we know that towards the unrepentant Divine Justice takes the form of punishment. But what bearing does Justice have on the life of a child of God in Christ?
Since God's adopted children are not appointed to wrath, they will not end up in hell. But they will have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ and give account for their works (2 Co 5:10). We often hear this judgment portrayed in a negative light; we will lose rewards according to our failures and sins. Although this is true, there is another side to Divine Justice which is rarely, if ever, mentioned.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, spoke of this aspect of God's Justice:
I know one must be most pure to appear before the God of all holiness, but I know too that the Lord is infinitely just; and it is this justice, which terrifies so many souls, that is the basis of my joy and trust. To be just means not only to exercise severity in punishing the guilty, but also to recognize right intentions and reward virtue. I hope as much from the good God's justice as from His mercy (2)The very same Justice which punishes the wicked will reward the salutary acts of the righteous. God would be quite unjust to not recognize the Spirit-inspired good deeds of His children; as unjust as if God allowed the guilty to go unpunished. If we are filled with divine life and walk in the Spirit of Grace, we need not fear God's Justice, but like the Little Flower we can be as confident in it as we are in Divine Mercy and Love.
Romans 8:1 says "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus". Reborn into the family of God, imbued with divine life by grace, we now live according to the Spirit (vs. 4). Thus none can condemn us. "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies" (vs 33). God the Father has made us righteous in His Son, so how could He condemn us? Jesus Christ is our righteous Advocate with the Father; His Death and Resurrection has made us holy children of God, cleansed our sins and given us a share in the divine nature. The Spirit of Adoption within us cries out "Abba Father" (vs 15), aids our prayers and helps us live and grow in grace (vs 26). The Presence of the Spirit within us is proof that we are children of God.
"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!" (I Jn 3:1). "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1:7). We are redeemed, possessors of eternal life. Christ Jesus is our Righteousness, our slavation, our Way, Truth and Life. We are not children of wrath, but beloved children of our Father God. Though God may occasionally discipline us for our stubbornness and unrepented sin, this is but further proof of His love. He is still gentle and merciful and willing to forgive and cleanse us. We don't "earn" this treatment, it is all GRACE - a free gift of God. Grace is the result of God's infinitely generous, unconditional Love; a love that will spare nothing to save us - not even Itself.
What better way to thank Our Lord but to accept His love and love Him back? Though our love is smaller than His, all God asks is that we give all our love to Him: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might" (Dt 4:6). Though we have comparatively little, if we give it all, like the widow's mite (Mk 12:41-44), when we give out of our finite "poverty" we are giving all, and thus repaying Divine Love which has given its All to us.
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