Friday, October 22, 2004

Could it be?
A parishioner recently asked me a question that sort of stopped me in my tracks. I had never really stopped to think of the matter before her question. I invite the reflection of all of our readers and, of course, anyone who can provide any hints of official Church teaching. Her question was "Does God ever punish other people for someone else's sin?"

I think the question stopped me in my tracks because, as I quickly evaluated the question (gotta love that out-of-the-blue, need-an-answer-now, kind of situation!), the response I arrived at was a qualified yes. Of course, the answer I so much wanted to give was, "Well, no." But it would seem that biblical examples can be found where the evil, the sin, of the leader of a certain people, brings God's punishment upon the whole people. [Would anyone care to provide some good references here?] Another category of example is King David (cf. 2 Samuel 12:13-18). His sin with Bathsheba and his sin against Uriah the Hittite is forgiven, but God still declares that the child conceived in Bathsheba must die.

But then again, and trying to keep in balance the WHOLE of Scriptural Revelation (as the Church requires of any good scriptural interpretation), we have plenty of accounts of a righteous leader of God's people interceding for them such that God's wrath is calmed. We can think of Abraham (cf. Gen. 18:16-32) who repeatedly "reminded" God of the divine quality of merciful justice before His stated intention to destroy the whole towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. By such intercession, God declared that he would spare the towns if even only ten righteous people could be found within them. There is the example of Moses, that powerful mediator between God and His Chosen People. The People sinned greatly in making and worshipping a golden calf when Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain (cf. Ex. 32:1-10). However, Moses implored the Lord God not to let His wrath flare up against the whole People and God repented of the destruction He thought to do (cf. Ex. 32:11-14, 30-35). [Notice the last section cited here, Ex. 32:30-35, also seems to show a large number of people being punished. Aaron was responsible for fashioning the golden calf, but the people who donated their gold for its manufacture were certainly cooperators (formally?) in the sin.] Another example of God intending mass punishment, but then relenting, comes in Numbers 21:4-9. Here God sends the seraph serpents to bite and kill complaining Israel. But, again, Moses intercession on behalf of the People is met with God's mercy dispensed through a visible sign, the bronze serpent lifted high on a pole (Oh, yes, folks, hints of the Sacraments even in the Old Testament. I LOVE IT!!!). Yes the power of a holy intercessor, "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (James 5:16).

So, it seems in this brief reflection (certainly a more profound treatment is needed), that answers both in the affirmative and the negative can be found to the question: "Does God ever punish other people for someone else's sin?" Thus, the reason I said my response was a qualified yes. What else can you add to this study? What answer, based in God's Word (both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, please), would you give to such a question?

No comments: