We expect good things from our choices and actions — in turn, when things don’t go as expected we may blame God. Are we experiencing God’s wrath when things go wrong or are we hurting because of our own choices — collectively and individually?
My first car was a 1967 Chevy Impala. It was already old when I bought it; but the price was right and I really needed a car. Or so I thought. This tank of a car got me from point A (Dickinson, ND) to point B (UND) well enough.
After my second year in college, I was offered an internship with 3M in St. Paul, MN. This experience gave me a birds-eye view of chemical engineering jobs while also allowing me to finish my degree. So I drove back and forth between UND and 3M for 3 years — a semester at a time.
Driving this tank of a car around the big city was very different from driving in small towns. Over time, the car seemed more curse than blessing. Let me explain. The ’65 Chevy didn’t have windshield washers; but, it did have the wipers! However, the wipers are useless when navigating busy, salted, slushy freeways during rush hour. Semi trucks continually spewed road grime onto my windshield making them opaque — at its worst. Even the best windshield wipers couldn’t wipe away salty mud resulting in an obscured windshield.
My attitude toward the car turned downward; I began to feel that it was a curse. Picture yourself driving on a busy freeway at night during rush hour when the roads are messy and suddenly you run out of windshield washer fluid. Most of you would immediately pull off the road and fill up your windshield fluid. Right? But what if you didn’t have a tank or fluid?
I didn’t give up but chose to improvise. I secured a plastic squirt bottle with a long, skinny spout from my engineering lab, filled it up with washer fluid and sat it on the passenger seat close beside me. Each time the windshield got blurred over, I would lower the driver’s side window three-quarters of the way down [hoping to avoid getting splashed on by the traffic], stuck my left arm out of the window as far as it would go, and began squirting washer fluid onto the windshield over and over again until a peephole emerged on the windshield. While driving 55 MPH with only my right hand. Today, driving while holding a cell phone seems easy-peasy by comparison — but it has been outlawed for good reason: safety. Imagine if I had ever encountered a state trooper while squirting my windshield in heavy traffic!
The improvisation was half-baked (imprudent) from the start. It took a whole lot more fluid that I expected on any given trip to clear the dirty windshield. The process had to be repeated over and over — way too many times — on any given trip. And driving was pretty scary with one hand and low visibility.
How does the example of my car begin to explain the wrath of God? First, let’s consider the number of faulty conclusions, assumptions and expectations I made from start to finish. I bought a car that wasn’t properly equipped for freeway driving whenever the roads were wet. I failed to understand the significance of having a car without windshield washers. I failed to take into account the consequences of driving in heavy traffic while it was snowing. I also didn’t consider the road effect of salt and snow. Chemical engineering students ought to know better — right?
Poor choices, actions, decisions, improvisations, and considerations can come with a heavy personal price. When that happens we often begin to blame God rather than self. When we think that God is punishing us, we ought to first consider the path we took toward these end results. It’s true, God created the universe that is ordered by natural law. We can try and defy His natural laws, but with consequence. The ancient prophet Sirach warned us:
If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them. Immense is the wisdom of the LORD; mighty in power, he sees all things. The eyes of God behold his works, and he understands every human deed. He never commands anyone to sin, nor shows leniency toward deceivers. (Sirach 15:15-20; emphasis mine)
We have been warned. Our natural choices will appear as fire, when they are wrongheaded. It will seem as if the wrath of God has been delivered to us personally. Maybe, we didn’t deliberately choose wrongly — or maybe we did. Either way, God’s natural laws apply. Each action [the result of a choice]will naturally produce an opposite reaction. Most of the time we are pleased with natural law; but, we often fail to understand that it applies to our whole being as well.
Let’s use a few examples. The more we ignore God’s call to love others authentically, the more we will want to avoid facing God — just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. Being turned out of the Garden must have felt like the wrath of God had descended on them. Having to work for a living after having it made in the Garden surely is the wrath of God — right? Death certainly feels like God’s wrath — right? The why of the punishment is what they [and us]failed to grasp time and time again.
When we stop, think, pray and listen, we will definitely learn to stop driving blindly through life. We will begin to understand the why of life. We will be given opportunity to turn back toward God. Sirach’s warning will always help us choose life — water — rather than fire — death — if we listen to it.
If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them. (Sirach 15: 15-17; emphasis mine)
Oddly enough, we sometimes make choices knowing that it will not end well. For example, every now and then, I still wish I owned that car. After all, it would be a classic by now! When I mention that to Dave, he just looks at me with a confused expression. Perhaps he is wondering how can I ever forget the misery index the car created for me. By the way, the car also lacked air conditioning, cruise control, seat belts, and AM/FM radio!
We have to want what’s good for us, not what’s bad for us. Dave knew it before I did and finally was able to persuade me to sell the car to a coworker who collected old cars. The every-once-in-a-while feeling that I should have kept the car makes me wonder how many other times I have failed to listen to good judgment just because … I was too prideful, stubborn, hard-headed, or selfish.
Have you felt like you have ever experienced the wrath of God? Did you resolve that anger by turning to prayer? God already knows our moody choices and decisions; we just have to recognize them ourselves so we can move toward God rather than away from him. We also have to help our children understand natural law through the eyes of faith. We are called to give our children the best version of ourselves so they learn to put on personal virtue. Finally, we are called to teach them that the wrath of God is more than likely our (and their) own undoing. He loves us no matter what — do we love Him in return is the question.
Copyright 2020 Linda Kracht