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Covid-19 Punishment of God?

Featured Image: Does God discipline His children? Photo credit:

Recently, a friend of mine sent me two reflections on the current covid-19 crisis.  These reflections put this crisis in the light of God’s mercy while being somewhat apprehensive, I thought, about the idea of God’s punishment.  These reflections left me dissatisfied.  Was something out of focus?  Why is it so hard to talk about the punishment of God?  Why are we so negative about punishment to the point that today punishment has become forbidden?  Abandoning Scripture’s images of God’s punishment and anger, have we now become so enlightened that we understand God merely in terms of love and mercy?  What am I supposed to preach in these times?  After all I am supposed to preach God’s word and not my own, as He says through the prophet Isaiah “my thoughts are not your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8)

In Psalm 89 we read:

“If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my ordinances, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandment, then I will punish their transgression with a rod and their iniquity with scourges, but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness,”. (Psalm 89:30-33)

This passage of Scripture gives us a good insight into how to understand and how to preach about the punishment of God, “I will not remove from him my steadfast love”.  In that sense the two reflections, I mentioned above, can be seen positively. But the psalm clearly also talks about God’s punishment.  This is not just Old Testament thinking. In fact, this morning at Mass I was struck by what Jesus says in the gospel “anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: the anger of God stays on him”.(John 3:36). Scripture and thus Church teaching, in imitation of Jesus, should teach about God’s anger and punishment, but always in the context of his love and mercy.

Today we have so much trouble thinking of a punishing God. One of the reasons, especially for the elderly among us, is the memory of the hellfire and brimstone sermons, where purgatory and hell were the main gospel message. Another reason is the violence and abuse of punishment in families and society so much so that the law had to step in to protect children and people.

There is a wonderful experience I had when living with a family where the father regularly spanked his children.  The neighbour got alarmed and hearing the cry of one of the boys called for the police, who dutifully came to investigate.  He interviewed the boy, asking “Does your father spank you and does it hurt?” The boy answered “yes, officer! (grabbing his butt) You don’t know how it hurts!”.  The officer, thinking he had come upon an abuse case, inquired further “But does your father love you?” To the officer’s surprise the boy responded saying, “Oh, officer, you don’t know how much my daddy loves me!”  Needless to say, the police officer left family with a smile, blessing them as he went.

Whilst in no way wanting to encourage the use of corporal punishment this story nevertheless illustrates how punishment and love are indeed necessary bedfellows.

We find it difficult to reconcile punishment with the idea of God’s love.  As a result maybe of the fire and brimstone sermons, we fear that talking about Gods anger and punishment will turn people away from God and the Church, while we are mainly concerned putting Him in a good light so that people are attracted to Him. Like in advertising, you present good news rather than bad news.  We tend to mould God according to our idea, a product of our intellect.  A punishing God does not fit into the puzzle we want to make a loving God. We worry that unless God is “nice” he won’t appeal, forgetting that to be “loving” he has at times to be firm.

It is important to see that God is so much greater than our ideas about Him who can only be understood with the heart.  God has revealed things about Himself in the Scriptures, but the greatest manifestation of who He is has been given to us in Jesus when he poured God’s love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5) The mystery of death and resurrection, punishment and deliverance, can only be appreciated by the heart.  God’s mystery is too great for our thinking.  He would no longer be God if I understood and could explain him.  All I can and must do in front of this mystery is “admire His greatness and omnipotence.”  The moment I understand and can explain the apparent contradictions, there is no mystery anymore, and with that my god is no longer God.  Prayer and meditation is “entering into this admiration in awe, calling out Oooh! Aaah!”.

God is our Father. He is a loving Father.  Indeed, Scripture defines Him as “God is Love”. (1 John 4:7) It is in this context that we need to see God’s anger and punishment.  What loving father does not at times have to punish his children because he loves them.

Let us see what Hebrews teaches us:

“Have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.”  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them.  Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:5-11)

Thomas Aquinas wrote eloquently about this question.  

It is my firm conviction that the Covid-19 crisis should be understood in this light.  Our Father in heaven wants to spare his children from evil.  There is no repentance without his punishment. There is no change of life without pain. Just as a trainer will not achieve success without the painful training and exercise that success demands, our lives and society will not change for the better. Rather than focusing our preaching on God’s love and mercy, these times call us to proclaim the Covid-19 crisis as God’s punishment (never outside the context of his love and mercy).  Therefore, we need to preach “repentance”, that is, calling people, both individually and communally, to change for the common good of the world.

 In this Covid-19 crisis, we are aware that something essential must change in the way we do things in this world.  We can say that until this crisis we were unabashedly, albeit maybe unintentionally, engaged in the degradation of our society.  As it went, we were wrong.  I do not even have to mention things by name – exaggerated waste and tourism, overcrowded refugee camps, widening gap between rich and poor, drug- sex- human-trafficking, violence, pollution, fraud etc.  Seeing all this, why is it so difficult to see this crisis as God’s punishment?  God wants to fight the evil, the harm we do to ourselves and bring us back to what brings true life and happiness.  In several places around the world – Fatima, Medjugorje, Japan, Rwanda, etc. – appearances have warned that the measure of God’s anger is full and that the things now threatening us will indeed happen.  The abovementioned sources – not from people obsessed, possessed with “end of the world and apocalyptic prophecies” – have been warning us for at least 50 years or more about an exceptionally dark time ahead.

It is good to quote here CS Lewis who was perhaps prescient when he wrote:

Satan: “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship, and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.”

Jesus: “I will bring together neighbours, restore the family unit. I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.”

Thus, seeing the Covid-19 as God’s punishment, a loving Father wanting us to have true happiness and life, will give us a clear understanding of what we need to do in this situation.  Here are some suggestions:

–           This is bootcamp time. Stop complaining and grumbling for the punishment we receive, but accept this situation patiently, seeing it as an opportunity to change for the better.

–           Ask God’s help to make those changes in our life suggested by CS Lewis quote above.

–           Learn what you can do in this difficult situation, so that you will be stronger when the situation improves because our society needs strong people to build up after this catastrophe. See how to live your life in the appendix.

In this time of crisis, as preachers of the gospel, we do a disservice to people and the church when we do not have the courage to talk about the anger and punishment of God. We fail in our duty of making Him known.  People must be shaken and woken up out of the mediocrity of their lives.  Only when we dare to speak about God’s anger and punishment can there be real healing for every person and for this world.

Let us pray that we humbly repent of the wrongdoing, and patiently receive this time of punishment, so we can receive the fullness of God’s promise as expressed in the prophet Jeremiah “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)


Mexican architect Bosco Gutiérrez was held for ransom for nine months and not only survived but used the time for good. He now has got tips for the rest of us of applying his experience to the isolation that most of the world is living in because of the coronavirus pandemic

Gutiérrez began self-isolation with his family 15 days before his country’s government required it, “in view of what was happening in China, Italy and Spain, and what started to happen to some friends who got infected.”  To deal with a prolonged stay at home, during which we cannot go out except for basic needs, here is what Gutiérrez recommends:

1. Keep a demanding schedule

Don’t let yourself spend the day on the sofa. Draw up a plan for yourself. Your imagination can make your life hell, so don’t give it a chance. Get up early and go to bed early. Try to follow the rhythm of the sun.

2. Remember your motivation

Remember that we are isolating ourselves for one reason: to avoid catching a virus that can be lethal—not to infect ourselves or other people. That can motivate us to be disciplined.

3. Spiritual survival is important

We should do more than try to save our bodies. It’s a good time to remember that we’re called to be holy. We’re called to heaven, whatever the circumstances of our life. Isolation is what we have to deal with now.

4. Take advantage of your time

Time is precious, even in these circumstances. Take advantage of this quarantine to be productive, doing things that matter to you.

5. Free yourself from anxiety

That way you’ll have peace of mind. How do you do that? With intelligence. Because we are intelligent beings, we’re able to adapt to new circumstances. Take this period on with a sense of sportsmanship. Adapt to your apartment, your house—tidy it up, clean it up… I did it in a space that’s 3 yards long by 1 yard wide.

Viktor Frankl, author of the classic work Man’s Search for Meaning, survived a concentration camp, and later wrote, “When the situation is good, enjoy it. When it is bad, transform it. If it cannot be transformed, transform yourself.”

6. Grow in your prayer life

Confinement is a great opportunity to meditate, to think deeply about the big issues in your life, and to talk to God. Even if you don’t have faith, you can still practice meditation and introspection, and adjust your focus on what really matters to you. If you make a habit of praying, this time can be of great value in strengthening and growing in your interior life.

7. Don’t be afraid to make sacrifices

Do you exercise to strengthen your body? All right. Well, your most important “muscle” is your will. Self-denial is a great form of exercise, and it strengthens your character. Being able to say “I’m not going to do this now” is a victory in itself. Offering things up is virtuous and has benefits for yourself and for your children: It will make them strong.

8. Take care of your physical health

Be mindful of what you eat, and get exercise. I decided not to eat sugar and to use minimal salt. When I was kidnapped, I did 3 hours of exercise a day: sit-ups, and jogging in my own way, lifting my knees high and going back and forth on the same bit of floor because I didn’t have space. If I could do that, you can exercise in the space of your house, whether it’s a mansion or 300 square feet.

It’s important to get physically tired in order to sleep well: I slept like a baby (despite being kidnapped!). How can you manage to do exercise without quitting? What I did was look for a reason. I’ll explain this in the following point.

9. Look for a reason

In order to achieve something challenging like daily exercise, look for a reason that motivates you to fight for it. Look for your treasure.

What is your treasure? In my case it was my wife Gabi, my children (7 when I was kidnapped) … in short, my people. I offered up a minute of jogging for each of them. That way you won’t fail. When I did sit-ups, I did the same thing: 50 sit-ups for each child and then 50 sit-ups for Gabi. Then I’d do push-ups.

10. Above all, do something for others

In the isolation of your home, you can still do so many things, but beware of selfishness: Avoid thinking only of yourself and what you want.

I recommend that you set a daily goal to foster your concern for others: those in your home or people you can connect with by phone, video call, etc. It’s time to recover friendships, to talk to family members who are half forgotten … This will brighten your day and theirs.

By Fr. Guido Gockel MHM, Rome 25 April 2020 ( )

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