In the otherwise fairly mediocre comedy movie “Bruce Almighty,” the main character, Bruce Nolan, has what might be described as a bad day of biblical dimensions. In a final explosion of rage against what he sees as an unfair God, he cries out to heaven: “Fine! The gloves are off pal! C’mon, lemme see a little wrath! Smite me, O mighty smiter!” God — played by the ever-reliable Morgan Freeman — can only observe, “Now, I’m not usually one for blasphemy, but that one made me laugh.”
The exchange, obviously shallow in the way that Hollywood manages with unerring skill, is nevertheless a useful expression of the perception many people have even today of God. It is a perpetuation of the belief that God — specifically God as He is found in the Old Testament — is a vengeful, cruel, merciless and rather temperamental figure. This false caricature is cast in even starker contrast when compared to the God of the New Testament, who is usually described as loving and forgiving. The apparent contradiction is often perpetuated in modern religious circles. Think about the immediate declarations by some people that every natural disaster is God’s wrath punishing various people, groups or entire countries for their sins.
The challenge of why God seemingly allows evil and suffering will be the subject of an upcoming feature in The Catholic Answer, but in this issue Carl Olson answers the question, “How do we reconcile the apparently differing descriptions of God and His words and actions found in the two major sections of the Bible?”
It is an important question, especially as the false caricature discussed here is regularly used by atheists such as Richard Dawkins to discredit religion in general and Christianity in particular.
The answer that Carl gives, of course, is that there is only one God, and he does a great job not only of proving that, but also explaining what the passages that describe God as wrathful really mean. To be able to defend the truth of God is not just an obligation of sensible Christians. It is our duty as believers who want to be worthy to call Him Father. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this in a general audience earlier this year: “God is a Father who never abandons His children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, pardons and saves with a faithfulness that surpasses by far that of men and women, opening onto dimensions of eternity. ‘For his steadfast love endures forever,’ as Psalm 136  repeats in every verse, as in a litany, retracing the history of salvation” (Jan. 30). TCA
Matthew Bunson, D.Min., M.Div., is editor of The Catholic Answer and Senior Correspondent for Our Sunday Visitor. He is a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and a professor at the Catholic Distance University. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.