It is true that in some things man resembles God, but not in all. So great is the distance that separates them that, instead of imagining that He thinks and acts as men do, we may be sure it is far otherwise.
But people have an idea that it is so and insist that this one, inimitable Being should act according to the fashion of poor human creatures. And from this absurd idea springs forth a number of errors on many matters, and particularly on the subject we are considering. I must confute them, because they prevent that filial liberty, that loving confidence, that sweet familiarity that is so advantageous to us and so pleasing to our God.
First, it is an error to suppose that the King of Heaven is like the kings on this earth, always anxious to preserve His dignity. The monarchs of this world are wont to do all they can to inspire their people with fear and respect, and they show condescension only to the great nobles of their court.
Such, then, they declare is the conduct of the King of kings. He would have His earthly subjects tremble and be as nothing before His presence; and if He stoops from His greatness, it is only with the angels and saints who are in heaven. How little do they who speak thus know the Lord! Nothing can please Him less than this grandeur and pomp in which they clothe Him, because He desires not to be feared but loved; and as St. Peter Chrysologus has so well said, “It is not by power but by love that He desires to reign over His subjects.”
I will add only a passage of St. Teresa to complete what I have said on this subject. This passage is taken from her conceptions of divine love and refers to the gross imaginations of some who took scandal at the loving expressions used by Solomon in the Canticle of Canticles (or Song of Songs). This great saint, after having related an anecdote of a sermon on the love of God, in which the texts quoted from this divine book had amused the audience extremely, adds that this stupid merriment arose because these persons had never paid sufficient attention to the proofs that Jesus Christ gives us of His tenderness, either on Mount Calvary or in the Sacrament of the Altar — proofs much more striking than the words of Scripture. And he who understands them, instead of thinking the Canticle of Canticles exaggeration, will rather find that it falls short of the fervor of divine love. “I conclude, then,” says she at length,
that the most tender and passionate expressions in the holy writings should not surprise you; for what fills me with wonder and raises me above myself is to see that the love of Jesus for us is so great, that the most burning expressions cannot sufficiently set it forth, and that the facts exceed all that can be said. O my divine Jesus, we admire Thee in Thy sacred word; but Thy works are more admirable still, for do we not eat Thy divine flesh in the Eucharist?
They are also in error who take literally some figurative expressions of Holy Writ about the anger of God, and who represent Him to themselves as a terrible Master, who has severity always in His eyes, reproaches and threats on His lips, and a thunderbolt in His hand, so that the very remembrance of Him is painful to them, and they close their hearts whenever they come before Him. Even when their conscience does not reproach them, and they have no cause to fear His wrath, they still tremble before Him.
When the father of a family is violently angry with some enemy, his children and servants fly away in terror from his presence. And this is the idea of their God that the Christians of whom I am speaking possess.
It is true, they say, that we are not guilty of any grievous sin, but He is irritated by the numerous sins with which the earth is covered: He is condemning people in this place and that to perdition; how, then, can we draw near Him with confidence, and be at our ease with His terrible majesty?
No, you could not indeed, if it were really as you say; but I assure you that such an idea is both false and unworthy of so good a Master, and that a man with very little instruction will never fall into it. Each of us ought, then, to look on this idea of God as a lie, and to dispel it diligently from our minds. We should thoroughly persuade ourselves, on the contrary, that the sovereign Lord of all things is neither agitated nor troubled by the sins of His people; that when He threatens and punishes sinners, He does not do so with passion, after the manner of men, but with perfect calmness, and from pure love of justice — like unto laws, says Cicero, which, while they condemn wrongdoing, are guided by justice and not by anger.
Therefore, if we wish to have a true idea of our God, we must consider Him as a Being uninfluenced by human passions, incapable of any perturbation, and guided solely in His judgments by the inspirations of His justice, which is always equitable, pure, and universal. “I will not execute the fierceness of my wrath,” He says to us by the mouth of His prophet Hosea, “because I am God and not man” (Hos. 11:9). And St. John, speaking of His throne, from which went out thunders and lightnings, shows Him to us surrounded by a rainbow, the symbol of serenity — evidently giving us to understand by this figure that even when He pours forth reproaches and threats, or executes His justice, it has no effect upon His immutable peace.
There is certainly nothing rarer or more to be admired among men than a judge who inflicts with a quiet mind and an undisturbed heart the punishment of the law on a criminal, or even a friend, saying to him: “I condemn you, my friend, because the law orders it, and I must obey it; but certainly, if I consulted my own heart, I should greatly prefer to send you away forgiven than to punishment; but as common justice exacts it, do not take it amiss that I comply with it, and believe indeed it is that, and not I, who condemn you, or, rather, it is yourself who have drawn down this misery on yourself.”
After this example, it is easy for each of us to understand how God can unite the exercise of His strict justice with His unalterable tenderness. This surely comes neither from anger nor hatred; and when people call it so, it is because men generally punish only from the impulse of their cruel passions. It is in this sense, says St. Augustine, that we must interpret the words of Holy Writ, where the vengeance of God bears the name of fury and anger. It is in this sense only that we should understand that hatred of sinners that David attributes to God when he says: “Thou hatest all them that do iniquity” (see Ps. 5:7).
We have the proof of this in the book of Wisdom: “Thou lovest all things that are, and hatest none of the things that Thou hast made” (Wisd. 11:25). Thus, then, God punishes sinners, as men punish when they are in anger or hatred; but instead of doing it as they do, from passion, He does it from pure love of the good.
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Fr. Rogacci’s Holy Confidence: The Forgotten Path for Growing Closer to God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.