Dear Catholic Exchange:
Does God punish for sins or merely withhold protection? Some of the examples I think of are Noah's Ark, Sodom & Gomorrah/Lot's Wife, and the 40-year desert exile.
Peace in Christ!
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes of incapable of eternal life in heaven. This deprivation — hell — is called the eternal punishment of sin (see § 1472, 1874). Eternal punishment points to the fact that as human beings we are radically free to accept or reject divine mercy. We do know that God does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he or she may be converted and live.
In the examples you cited, Our Lord intervened in human history in extraordinary fashion, punishing entire populations. In addition to the punitive dimension, Our Lord used these episodes in salvation history to teach future generations. For example, Noah's ark teaches us about the necessity of Church membership, and the waters of the flood prefigure baptism.
While these "acts of God," like today's natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis, seem to be indiscriminate in their devastating temporal effects, we know that God is a just and merciful Father who judges us individually and according to our own fidelity to the lights we have been given. We entrust the souls of those who die in such disasters to the merciful heart of Jesus.
For more in-depth study we recommend two of the Hearts Aflame Bible Studies, Genesis Part I and Genesis Part II. Also, A Father who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn is an excellent overview of how God gathered and formed His people throughout Salvation History.
United in the Faith,
Catholics United for the Faith
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