28 August 2011

Drought and Punishment

One of my dear members had been using Starck's Prayer Book to pray for rain, and was surprised to find herself praying:  "We must indeed acknowledge before Your holy countenance that we have fully merited such hard punishments with our persistent disobedience toward Your commandments, with our base ingratitude toward Your many blessings, with our appalling misuse of the bounties You have showered on us.  Yes, we are forced to confess that You would do us no wrong at all if You would afflict us with even more grievous punishments for our many transgressions."  She asked me:  "Is that right?  That drought is punishment?"

Though we confess in the Confession that we deserve "temporal and eternal" punishment, it is common to think that with God there is no more punishment.  But the entire Scriptures bear witness against this.  No, our loving heavenly Father still visits temporal punishments upon individuals, peoples, nations.  I always point to the thief on the cross.  He had his sins forgiven - glory be to God! - and yet still he died for his crimes as a thief upon a cross.  God removed the eternal punishment, but not the temporal.

It remains one of the reason that "fear" means fear in the explanation to the commandments:  "we should fear and love God so that..."  Fear his temporal punishments.  He may indeed withdraw His blessings and let us live with the consequences of our deeds at times.

And yet.... Yet we must be clear on this:  in Luke 13, our Lord warns us against making the horrific conclusion when we see a tragedy that the people who suffer from it were "worse sinners."  His conclusion wasn't that "God doesn't do that."  His conclusion was:  "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."  So let us beware of ever looking at the suffering of others and declaring them worse sinners; rather, let us receive any and every chastisement from our beloved heavenly Father as a call and opportunity to repent, to turn.  It's never a message of repentance for "them" - it is always an invitation to repentance for "us."

Hence the prayer in Starck - where we perceive in a drought the call of God to repent, to turn, to remember that He alone is the source of the rain on which we depend, indeed that He is the Giver of every good gift.  And so it ends with great hope:

"O Lord our God, we hope in Your goodness!  Let us live before You and spread abroad Your praise.  Hear our prayer, and we shall be heartily thankful for Your mercy, and shall exalt Your name as long as we live, here in time and hereafter in eternity.  Hear us, dear Father in heaven; for You alone are our God.  Hear us according to Your faithfulness that never ends, according to which You have promised us comfort and help in every trouble.  Hear us for Your own sake."

You see, we believe that though we surely deserve such punishments and far, far worse, that God in His grace may well mitigate the temporal chastisement, and so we pray to Him with boldness.  One of the most neglected parts of our Symbols actually confesses:  "Afterward [after being clear on the free nature of justification that comes before works], even we concede that the punishments by which are chastised are soothed.  This happens by our prayers, by our good works, and finally by our entire repentance, according to 1 Cor. 11:31, 'But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.'" (Ap V:147).


Pr. H. R. said...

And let us not forget: death is *the* temporal punishment to end all others. This is the real problem with purgatory: it doesn't take death seriously enough.


Anonymous said...

Would it be good to remember that in the psalms there are laments that the wicked appear to prosper and the righteous appear to go unrewarded in this temporal life?

We end up walking by faith and not sight in this life?