Reading the Old Testament—the history and the prophets—we see a fascinating picture of God’s love and man’s failure to respond. God cares for his people enough to tell them of the need of repentance, and warns them of the consequences of living in rejection of this call. God sent prophets to Israel and Judea to plead with them to turn back, using strong language when needed, equating His people with playing the role of the prostitute because of their sins. Because they refused to listen and repent, the ultimate fate was one of exile. They were handed over to their enemies and forced from their homes. Because the land they were driven from was the land their ancestors were promised, it was a sign of just how far the people of Israel and Judea had alienated themselves from God.
But during that time when God sent His prophets to warn them of their sins, the response was always hostile. Prophets were mocked, jailed and killed. The prophecies against Israel and Judah were seen as treasonous—people viewed them as the individual wishing evil upon their own nation. They also presumed they would be safe from any promised punishments. After all, didn’t God establish His temple here? He was not going to permit it to be destroyed.
But the prophet Jeremiah warned them about that false mindset:
1 The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 Stand at the gate of the house of the Lord and proclaim this message there: Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord! 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Reform your ways and your deeds so that I may dwell with you in this place. 4 Do not put your trust in these deceptive words: “The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!” 5 Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with your neighbor; 6 if you no longer oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow after other gods to your own harm, 7 only then will I let you continue to dwell in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors long ago and forever. (Jeremiah 7:1-7)
I think that America today behaves like ancient Israel and Judea. We consider ourselves to be fine as we are, and refuse to consider that we need to change our ways. We invoke our own version of “The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!” by announcing that “God doesn’t care about those actions!” or “If God is Love, He won’t send me to hell.” The prophet warning of the need to change our sinful ways (the Church) is scorned and attacked—told to be silent. Peter Kreeft once described the American situation in a Socratic dialogue as follows:
Libby: I see. Professor, don’t you think your doomsday scenario runs afoul of facts? Look at America. This “Dracula”[*], as you call it, is one of the most religious countries in the world. Half the people go to church, and 95% believe in God. America’s got more religion than almost any other country.
‘Isa: Yes, and it’s also got more guns, more suicides, more abortions, more divorces, more drugs, more pornography, more fatherless children than almost any other country.
Libby: How can that be? Doesn’t that refute religion’s claims? Isn’t religion supposed to be the cure for all these social diseases?
‘Isa: Not if the religion is as relativistic as the society. Not if the doctor is as sick as the patient. A God made in the world’s image can’t save the world. You see, American religion wants to make you feel good and be comfortable, not to shock you or scandalize you.
[Peter Kreeft, A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Interviews with an Absolutist (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), 21–22.
The religion America prefers, aimed at making us feel good and comfortable, prevents us from thinking about whether we do things which are evil in the sight of God. We reduce the concept of “God is Love” (1 John 4:16) to sentimentality, and think warnings are contrary to love as opposed to being motivated by love. Because we do not think of where we stand before God, we do not repent. Because we do not repent, we remain in our sins. Because we remain in our sins, we risk damnation.
The Catholic Church is sent to the world to tell all people in all nations and times of the message of salvation and our need to turn back to God, repenting of the evil that we do. She tells us that God is the greatest possible good, and nothing that separates us from Him is worth the ultimate cost. She reminds us that we have the free will to accept God’s grace that we need to be saved and we have the free will to reject it. But if we use the free will to reject God, there are consequences. We cannot reasonably expect that we can reject God while believing we are owed the benefits that come from following Him. As St. Epiphanius wrote, “God gives not the kingdom of heaven but on condition that we labor; and all we can do bears no proportion to such a crown.”
But that is exactly what our society is demanding. They want the reward without the labor. They want salvation without repentance. In short, they want God to repent and change His ways—a blasphemous impossibility. The Church cannot promise such a false message, and the person who demands it is on a fool’s errand. But the political and cultural elites are indeed on this fool’s errand, demanding that the Church change her teaching as if she had invented the moral obligations she feels bound to teach.
America will continue to utter the modern equivalent of “The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!” America will continue to lull herself with a false sense of security, and if she does so, she will face destruction. I do not know if this will be a physical destruction like past nations have suffered as a warning, or whether it will be the ultimate damnation of hell. But turning back to God is the only thing that can save us.
Meanwhile, the Church will continue to teach and to administer the sacraments, even at the cost of the hatred of the world. We will be hated and persecuted as Our Lord has warned. But we will remain in carrying out our mission, even as we pick up the pieces of a society which destroys itself by refusing to hear the truth.
The nations cannot destroy the Church, but they can destroy themselves. God’s ultimate victory will happen whether we are cooperating or opposing Him. However, the Scriptures and history warn us that we would be far wiser to listen to God and obey Him, rather than oppose Him. The question is—will we listen? Or will we find ourselves paying the penalty for ignoring our plight while saying "The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord! The Temple of the Lord!"
[*] Previously in the dialogue, ‘Isa refers to America as Dracula because America’s cultural imperialism is imposing moral relativism on the rest of the world.