The Punishing God

What’s going on in Mali?  Mali is the same size as South Africa and Lesotho put together, so how can so-called “Islamist rebels” take over more than half that country before the rest of the world takes notice?

As militants surrounded the In Amenas oil fields in south-eastern Algeria last week, we were told that this attack was conceived as retaliation for the arrival of French troops in neighbouring Mali.  Shrewd commentators were then quick to point out that the whole Sahara region is awash with guns because of the western-backed revolution in Libya.  The arms distributed then didn’t just disappear with the overthrow of Gadhafi, like Cinderella’s magic coach which vanished once its work was done!  All these events in north Africa are linked, and every action, whether by western powers, or local governments, or militant extremists, is going to have consequences that linger – often in unpleasant ways.

Suppose we were to look closer to home for another example… this week we have seen violent uprisings in the Sasolburg area, just 65km or so from where you are reading this.  Two weeks ago I was in that area speaking about the Year of Faith.  I found their central parish to be a little haven of inter-racial collaboration and Christian spirit, but the whole area – like with most of the Vaal Triangle nearby – is crippled with poverty, another South African powder keg waiting for a spark of anger.

We are tired of hearing politicians and administrators blaming the years of Apartheid for all our present social ills.  Often it feels as though lazy or incompetent people are using former evils as a convenient excuse.  But we would be foolish to expect that there would be no consequences after years of dispossession and social inequality.  The transition of 1994 was exciting and optimistic, but this is no magical Cinderella story in which former evils vanish overnight!  Twenty years after the massacres of Boipatong and Bisho, the vast majority of our township and rural people are still suffering the consequences of our brutal history.

In Exodus 20:5 we read: “…for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation…”  I have never liked this verse, for it seems to have nothing to do with the love and mercy shown us in Jesus Christ.  How would it be, however, if we were to read this text in another light?  Supposing God were warning the Israelites that every action has its consequences, that every ungodly decision made today will have a ripple effect that will last through several generations, effecting even the innocent children?  What if God were warning us, forcing us to take responsibility for our actions?  Perhaps then we’d be slower to hand out guns and ammunition, and quicker to talk about redistribution and upliftment.

Fr Thomas Plastow SJ
BA, HDE (UCT), MA Philosophy (Heythrop, London), BST (Urbanianum), MA Theology (Catholic Theological Union, Chicago)
No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.