Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:
I find this a difficult subject to comment on when a mind is made to think that all thought should be directed toward the innocent people who died. Did God have His hand in this deed? Should we always think that the wrath of God is nonexistent? Do bad things happen to good people? Was this a case genocide upon mankind and if so why was no one ever punished for crimes against humanity? Can you lead me to what has been written in this blog and why you think that this is wrong?
Just a few thoughts after reading about Saint Paul Miki and twenty-five Companions who were crucified in 1597 because they were preaching the Gospel. For they were "taken to Nagasaki and suffered crucifixion on the vigil of this day." And I also believe that a certain monastery was spared when the bomb fell on Nagasaki--I think there was no damage. Also, Nagasaki was not the target that the bomb was to fall on--again, could this be the wrath of Holy God? Interesting!
I would be extremely cautious about trying to pronounce a war crime an act of God in punishment for something. Here is what the Church says about crimes like the incineration of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
CCC 2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation."
To deliberately target innocent civilians is murder, plain and simple. The children incinerated in their beds in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (where the Cathedral, not a military installation, was the target) were not guilty of some sin against St. Paul Miki and he and his fellow martyrs would be horrified at the thought that murdering these children somehow was an act of justice or reparation for their martyrdom. They would be doubly horrified at the thought of making the Eucharist in the tabernacle of the Cathedral the target of the vaporizing blast. The proper act of reparation for their martyrdom is forgiveness, not murder and desecration of the Eucharist. The only sense in which God "has his hand" in an act of grave evil is that he permits the sinner to press his will to do evil, even to the point where the sinner is capable of sending himself to hell. That is, he creates and sustains in being real human beings with real freedom of choice. But James tells us long ago that God never wills grave evil or inspires us to sin:
"Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:13-17)
As to whether bad things happen to good people: absolutely. All the time. Every day. The proof of this is Jesus himself, who never sinned and who had very bad things happen to him. The promise of the gospel is not that the good will all be rewarded and the wicked all punished in this life, but that, in the end, perfect justice and mercy will be established on the Last Day. The fact that those who ordered the slaughter at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not punished for crimes against humanity is as significant as the fact that Caiaphas was never punished for condemning Jesus. It simply means that human justice is only a poor reflection of divine justice. It also means, of course, that we do not know the whole story, since there are lots of punishments for sin besides jail--as well as lots of ways in which the worst sinners may repent and find mercy without the world ever knowing it. That's why we are not to judge--and most especially not to judge the victims of murder as though they somehow had it coming because of something somebody else did centuries earlier.
Bottom line: There is never, under any circumstances whatsoever, a justification for deliberately murdering innocent human beings. Ever. Invoking divine wrath as a justification for murder is blasphemous.