Sinners in the Providence of a Loving God

Jonathan: Hast thou not read my "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," in which I say that all of us, who have offended God, have no more power to stay God's casting us into Hell than a spider's web canst stay the torrent of a flood?

Dionysius: Of a truth, and there might be worse things be said.

Jonathan: Then thou knowest men to be sinners in the hands of an angry God.

Dionysius: The saying is limited and more limiting than thou wittest.

Jonathan: Which of my sayings is false? Have I not expounded Scripture, and that carefully?

Dionysius: Thou hast such in common with St Athanasius the Great, and with Arius, the father of heretics.

Jonathan: Then wherein is it wrong to speak of sinners in the hands of an angry God?

Dionysius: Hath God the Father material hands, such hands of clay such as we have?

Jonathan: My speech of hands is an anthropomorphism used to convey a truth.

Dionysius: Then perhaps it behooveth thee to recognize that speaking of God as angry is an anthropomorphism used to convey a truth.

Jonathan: How be it such? May it be the end of the manner that all we say is an anthropomorphism used to convey a truth?

Dionysius: All we can say of God has some truth, and all of it fails to be equal to the task of speaking its reality.

Jonathan: Is all a shade of grey?

Dionysius: To speak of shades of grey is not to paint all in an identical, centermost, most insipid mid-range of grey. All we say of God has some truth and some limitations, but it is not entailed that all has the same degree of truth and of limitation. Differing statements are unequal in splendor, and what they have is held in divers ways.

Jonathan: Then what is true, and what is false, in saying that all man's plans are but a spider's gossamer web in its impotence to restrain the wrath of God?

Dionysius: St John the Theologian hath not written, "God is wrath," and one who reads "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" receiveth no shade of invitation to contemplate the true wrath of God.

Jonathan: Then in what consisteth the wrath of God?

Dionysius: Hast thou read Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamatzov?

Jonathan: Let us say that have I not.

Dionysius: The book opens in nihilism, and Fyodor does not pull a single punch in letting the problem of evil rage as wildly as it can. Then it whispers at the end.

Jonathan: And what is that whisper?

Dionysius: The same whisper as in the Gospels, which portray in detail the Lord's mercy to Judas, letting him keep the purse to soothe his greed, and the betrayal with a kiss, the passion, and death of the Incarnate Savior in which all hope is dashed. Then a whisper announces, "Christ Is Risen!" and there is scarce any more to say.

Jonathan: Sayest thou that a spider's web can stay a surging flood?

Dionysius: I say rather that all the horrors of Hell, all devils' malice, all temptation, and all sin is but a spider's web too gossamer and flimsy to stop the surging flood of the Light and Providence of a Loving God.

Jonathan: It beseemeth me that thou speakest not of the gravity of sin. Sayest thou that God be unjust?

Dionysius: Let us say that I do.

Jonathan: Then what is thy secret?

Dionysius: In the Parable of the Talents, the wicked and lazy servant says of his Master, "Thou art an austere Man: Thou takest up that Thou layedst not down, and reapest that Thou didst not sow." And his Master contests him not a word.

Jonathan: That is a matter most perplexing.

Dionysius: Then let the passage be opened with the Spirit's breath. The Three Persons of the Trinity have not sown sin, nor sorrow, nor death. God hath not manipulated Judas, or for that matter Satan, to be instrumental to, in the phrase of St John the Theologian, "destroy the devil's work." Satan rebelled his worst against the God-man to prevent him from working, and even killed him. The God-man's answer never reverses what the devil did to him, but instead made it the earnest of the resurrection of all, who must die in that all have sinned.

Jonathan What? Deniest thou that society decayest now, when every evil is rising?

Dionysius: There was a time when the voices of prophet, priest, and king were all silenced. That was the moment when the most beautiful Song in the world was ever sung.

Jonathan: (After a pause.) And can such a God make use of even sins and errors such as mine?

Dionysius: Of this something is noised even from thine own camp. It is not just that thou canst be ten thousand steps away from God but it taketh only one step for thee to turn towards Him. Thou triest to do God's job for thyself and be thine own Providence, and thy Plan A falleth by the wayside, and thy Plan B is wrecked, and thy plan C goeth up in smoke before thou canst even set it in motion. And so thou failest, going down the alphabet. But God, whose Providential Love rests on thee, is only, always and ever dealing with thee on Plan A.

The story is told of a classical music concert set up when a little boy came up and started playing chopsticks. The musician came, and rather than send him away, placed his arms around the child and his hands around the boy's hands and began to improvise around what the boy was playing. And so it is with the God who is on Plan A.

Jonathan: And how can I know it?

Dionysius: Become thou a catechumen, and be thou baptized and chrismated into Christ's Holy Church...

...then dare to approach the Chalice, and receive Christ as ever thy Lord and Savior, and be thyself joined to His Holy Church.