What does God mean when He says He will provoke us with "a no-people?"

The reading of Responsorial verses from Deuteronomy  32 in the Mass this past Monday provided something of an insight into our problems in these current days.

We have discussed on this blog before how scripture, among other things, is a prophetic interpretation of reality. And, as the verses were read at Mass, I thought of our current times and how these verses describe what is going on. As such it prophetically interprets reality, speaking of whence our problems come and where they ultimately lead. Please understand that what I am doing here is applying these verses to today. I realize that biblical scholars may place emphasis on understanding them as a Jew would have in the 8th century B.C. But here, I want to largely read them in the context of current times.

First lets review the pertinent verses

You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you,   You forgot the God who gave you birth….What a fickle race they are,   sons with no loyalty in them!” “Since they have provoked me with their ‘no-god’   and angered me with their vain idols,I will provoke them with a ‘no-people’;   with a foolish nation I will anger them.” (Deuteronomy  32:18-19)

As I reflect on these verses, I think first of Post-Christian Europe, (but America is not far behind). For the text speaks of a people, a segment of the Church, who have forsaken God. Corporately speaking, they have rejected the God who made them.

Even a casual reading of the history of Western Culture must reasonably conclude that until the middle of the last century, the Christian faith was what both made and untied European Culture. It was from the life of faith that many pagan and waring tribes began to find unity and settle into nations. As the Roman Empire waned in the West, the Church even provided years of governance in the leadership vacuum that was created. It was largely in the context of faith that the great universities were founded and grew, as did hospitals, monasteries, which preserved and collected learning into libraries. The Church and the faith also inspired great art, architecture, music and culture. Feast days, Holy days and the modern calendar itself, sprang from the life of the Church. In her schools of theology and universities came forth the scientific method,  and many other methodologies and philosophies that have blessed the world.

More could be said, and it need not be argued that the centuries of Christian faith were without blemish, and had no problems. But it is a simple fact that the Christian faith nourished and underlay what we have come to call Western Culture and brought significant blessings.

Yet in recent decades the Christian faith has been largely rejected through secularism, materialism, and outright Atheism. As early as the 1950s, CS Lewis and many others were lamenting the descent of Europe into unbelief. It has only worsened, and now most polls show that the majority of  western Europeans no longer believe in the existence of God. In many countries Mass attendance is below ten percent.

In America the  descent has been less steep, most still believe in God, but the faith here is increasingly syncretistic and only 27% of Catholics attend Mass. Mainline Protestant Churches usually fare worse and the Evangelicals are only a little better.

Has the Christian West forsaken God? Largely yes. We have forgotten the God who gave us birth, and the faith that formed and blessed us: a fickle race, sons and daughters with little loyalty, as the verses above  say.

And what does the verse go on to say? “Since they have provoked me with their ‘no-god’ and angered me with their vain idols, I will provoke them with a ‘no-people’. It is interesting to see this verse in the context of the dangerously low birthrates in the West. For it would seem that as we have forsaken God,  and embraced the things of this world as idols, we have thus adopted a lavish lifestyle wherein children get in the way and cost too much. Our no-god becomes a no-people as we increasingly abort and contracept ourselves out of existence. It is no wonder that our economies stop growing as we stop growing,  and that the elaborate social safety net we have constructed becomes unsustainable as the old outnumber the young. Yes, our no-god is becoming a no-people.

In the final line God says, “with a foolish nation I will anger them.” In ancient Israel God punished the infidelity of his chosen people by allowing the non-Jewish people around them to invade and often destroy the nation and exile them: the Canaanites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans all in their turn brought punishment to ancient Israel.

What of us? The traditional denizens of the Europe are being replaced by Muslims. And while we should hesitate to call them a “foolish nation” as the Scripture does, it should be noted that the Hebrew word nabal translated here as “foolish”, can also be understood as referring simply to those who do not share the religious and ethical vision of biblical believers.  It is a true fact that the Muslim world thinks very differently from the Christian, and even post-Christian West, in quite a number of matters. And, while it remains to be seen how Muslims will adapt to a Western setting when they reach the majority status, it seems reasonable to state that the Europe of 2050 and beyond, may be a very different Europe from today. God may indeed afflict us with a foreign nation for our casting off of faith.

The scene in America is a bit more complicated in the short run. But it seems clear we are intent on following Europe’s decline into increasing unbelief and we too, if the Biblical text is, in fact, a prophetic interpretation of reality, will see similar decline in the decades ahead.

As always, I value your insights, additions and even rebuttals. how does this text from Scripture speak to you?

28 Replies to “What does God mean when He says He will provoke us with "a no-people?"”

  1. What if the foolish nation to replace Europe and America is the poorest nations, such as Africa and Mexico?

    1. Yes! The Meek shall inherit the earth. I had thought to mention this in the article, but preferred to let a reader make the point and you have done it early.

  2. So true…you need only look at the fact that most churches in Europe have become little more than museums. We are headed in the same direction if a conscious effort is not made to turn it around. I remember 9/11 and how churches everywhere were packed….we prayed and prayed and found solace with God. Since then, most have gone back to their old ways, merely paying “lip service” to their Belief….let’s get real and make it known that we cannot make it without God, He is truly the Rock on which all that is good is grounded!

  3. I am not of the Catholic faith, but I really enjoyed your article. It inspired me to look up the passage on my own and understand it. I agree with your point about the Muslim nations, although I believe that the original “foolish nation” was the Gentile nation. Rom. 10:19.

  4. I think that we need to consider how we have lost a sense of culture in this melting pot, and are being replaced by a culture that has at least some sense of what it is to be a Catholic. I have time and again witnessed young immigrants that will stop into the adoration chapel to pray before the blessed Mother and witnessed the sincerity of there faith and dependence on God. They have maintained a sense of family through generations, as I have seen them shopping together in entire family groups. They are my hope for the future of the Church here in the US, and I welcome their presence. I hope the rest of us can incorporate there natural faith in the Church.

  5. I know you tend toward wanting to speak a harsh truth to an unlistening age, but I think a positive perspective is not unwarranted.
    A different Europe or America is not necessarily an evil thing. The Church is not a block of marble which moves through the centuries unchanged–it is a living entity, and must change or die as is the case with anything which is alive. For example, the Church of the 16th century, for which you seem to have great admiration, would have been unrecognizable to the Church fathers, and had they seen it many of them might have thought the Church was doomed for having changed so radically. The faith is being experienced differently today, and so our challenge as Church must address the current times. How can we find where the Spirit is working in ways we had not thought possible before? Also, the Muslims are not our enemies. The Church calls upon us to engage with people of other faiths to find points of dialogue and commonality (Nostra Aetate). God is the One Who makes all things new….

    1. You are right, “the Church is not a block of marble”. It is a rock, which is itself wedded to a certain Stone.

      The Church is the bride of our Lord, and He so loves her doves eyes that he does not subject her to what happens to entities which are “alive”: your statement that she “must live or die” as is the case with other entities is wrong. She will not die, cannot die, and is exempted from the paradigm that she even should die. Christ would found her, wed her, die for her, and then subject her to possibility or even probability of death? Oh please, bro. We are not talking about a man-made institution.

      She cannot die if for only one reason: the Holy Mass must continue continually all across the spinning globe at a constant rate in order to present the Lamb’s blood to the Father. Otherwise, the game is up.

      May God bless you.

      1. Brad,
        You’ve got some beautiful metaphors for the Church there, but when you put them all together it gets confusing and even perverse…be careful not to take these so literally (stones founding, then marrying rocks, and not letting them die because of their dove eyes and the need to perpetually present a sacrifice to the Father-in-law). I believe the game will be up when God decides, and that the Church is not a machine which must repeat the same action perpetually as if it were a car engine or a physics problem. Jesus came that we might have life, and as the central mystery of the Resurrection shows, death is part of life and the gateway to Life. The Church will live, but it will certainly look different, as it must–the Gospel message and the Spirit are driving the bus here and we need to find a way to cooperate rather than control…God bless you too.

    2. When blessed John Newman began reading the Church Fathers, in order to prove that the Church of England was the truest expression of Christianity, he came to the conclusion that what the Church Fathers were talking about was the Catholic Church. He said it wasn’t any particular thing, but as if looking at the same person, but at a different age. If a 19th Century member of the Church of England could see the Catholic Church of his own day in the Church Fathers, then I think the Church Fathers could see the Catholic Church of the their day in the Catholic Church of the 16th Century, if they were transported by a time machine to that time. This comment is not meant to imply in any way that there actually are functioning time machines in remote government locations.

    3. Ah! a man with an open mind I can feel the breeze all the way over here. (Hakuna Matata). Let sleeping dogs lie.

  6. Once again Monsignor Pope, you have hit the nail on the head.

    Throughout the whole of the Old Testament, the Jewish people, time and time again, were obliged to recognise their failings and revert to prayer, fasting and sacrifice to resolve their declining situation and re-establish their relationship with God.

    The general sense of our conditions nowadays is in the same vein as the days before the Flood and also referred to by Jesus in both Matthew and Luke Gospels as well as in the Epistles “as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, etc”. We are living out our lives seemingly unaware of any problems that might be around the corner and we do not seem to care.

    Is it that we cannot read the ‘signs of our times’ or are we simply ignoring them?

    Having given ourselves over to other gods, such materialism, secularism and personal enjoyment leading to selfishness and the ‘ME’ generation, no-one seems to want to consider the results of these choices, which are becoming increasingly self-evident.

    Over here in the UK, most people including many priests, appear to ignore these issues and the effect of these choices, in case, by referring to them other people might be offended.

    Having sacrificed the future generations in pursuit of these other gods (on the altar of Molech through means of contraception and abortion) we may well have to accept changes in the law regarding, marriage and euthanasia etc.

    Then again, don’t we get the world we deserve?

    Prayer, fasting and sacrifice is our only hope.

    Keep giving us the message of Hope in the Lord.



  7. I surely hope that the “no-people” will be the poorer nations like Africa and Asia and other parts of America, but I fear that it will not be so. These other parts of the world and the nations in them are often very Christian, if not always Catholic. There would be no greater “no-people” (in the sense meant by the Biblical author and in no sense an insult to those who follow Islam) than a properly non-Christian people such as Muslims.

    We ought to pray very hard because, I believe, times are going to get very hard.

    1. You really don’t know much msgr. You are forgiven for blasphemy and daily invokation of a people more temperant and tolerant of your type. Where is God is where he lau, if he is of your father. Yout fathers are dead, as you killed the life of Jews in WWII by entering politicos for greed to solicit an ending to the Jewish neighbors you had. Millions dead, you are in decay, like the uranium reposits you use as your blind faith continues to procure chemicals, weapons and implement destruction on a crazy world you sell RAPED Earth resources, like oil until the Earth is unholy itself. Why procure a job to talk here about God, when this is unholy, aa is your words, as are your voices, as was the land your father marked your death, when he sent you to live again.

      1. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Perhaps, you need to go back to school and learn the art of writing, because you are all over the place. What is ‘yout’? And please help with this statement:
        ‘aa is your words, as are your voices, as was the land your father marked your death, when he sent you to live again.’
        Is this a riddle, that I need to figure out?
        Lady, are you on drugs? Please take a chill pill, calm down, and purchase a grammar book, and start studying it.

  8. I don’t know how but I ran into full churches and beautiful liturgies even on weekdays in Segovia, Avila, many churches in Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, Covadonga (where the Reconquista began!!!!), Zaragossa, Barcelona, and Granada. I got the impression though that it was Spanish support of the Spanish holy sites combined with Spanish locals. Although not bilingual (or only very partially), without exception it seemed as if the Spanish priests all possessed a supernatural joy.

    The following year I vacationed in Iceland and France and experienced similar packed churches in Reykjavik, Reims, St. Denis, Chartres, Toulouse, Lourdes and Paris. Reykjavik Mass attendance was about 80% Inuit transplants from Greenland and far northeast Canada which was unexpected.

    I’m not saying I disbelieve the statistics on Europe, just that I found beautiful and vibrant faith in all the Churches I visited. Our Lady of Covadonga pray for us!

  9. I sincerely believe that I was called and placed in this time and place to give strong witness by conforming my life, faithfully and entirely, to Jesus Christ and His Church. “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:8.

  10. In recent years I have lived in Vietnam among the 10M Catholics who all attend Church. Other ‘third world’ countries also have a strong faith. The first Millennium was spent bringing Christ to Europe, while in the second Europeans took it to the New World. Now in the third Millennium, maybe these new Christains will bring it back to the West.

  11. I would say that the kings of europe usurped the legitimate moral and theological authority of the Pope when they came up with the concept of the divine right of kings, rather than say that the Church filled a power vacuum, although I suppose that is a legitimate way of expressing it. Other than that, I agree with Kevin P that you hit the nail on the head.

    I agree with Cathy about what we ought to do. Just about any other response would constitute freaking out, imo.

  12. Msgr. Pope has indeed hit the nail on the head, although I do share some readers’ concerns that Muslims might not be the eventual inheritors of Europe and North America. Indeed, the “no people” phenomenon of declining fertility rates has already spread to the Muslim world. Sub-Sarahan Africa is the only place left on Earth that still reproduces people in significant numbers. Therefore, my money is on them.

    Msgr. Pope will probably chide me for saying this, but I hope the next Pope will be an African, like Cardinal Turkson or Cardinal Sarah, who might be able to encourage the spread of Christianity in Africa and increase the likelihood that the Africans who take over Europe will love and cherish Europe’s ancient Christian heritage. God only knows that Benedict XVI, John Paul II and Paul VI, despite their many great qualities, were powerless to arrest the decline of the faith in Europe. I don’t think there’s any point in the Cardinals electing another European to try to do what his great predecessors failed to do.

  13. Really interesting post:
    Dante I think portrayed the punishments of hell as being in some way an expression of the sin itself. This seems to make sense. Its not a suprise thay as the West ( and the nations infected by the worst tendencies of the West, one thinks of Japan…) have stopped reproducing we are on an obvious downward spiral. No kids means no social safety net, no economic growth, no workers and no consumers. This is simply a fact. Japan the nation farthest along on this experiment is showing what happens economically as you race down the spiral to national demographic suicide. The ultimate expression of what such a dystopia ultimately will look like can be seen in the PD James novel “Children of Men” or in the film adaption of the book by the same name. In the book the elderly are such a burden that people take to mass “euthanasia” of them by mass drowning. A hideous thought, but I am not so sure that it is completely outrageous when one reads that under the British NHS the elderly are afraid to be diagnosed with Alzheimers disease because they will fear that they will be neglected to death. The only twist that makes things a little different is the fact that there is a rival nation ( the Muslim world, that is radicalized and seeks the destruction of the West) This also has a sort of Biblical quality to it. When Israel turns away from God god withdraws and Israels enemies are allowed to sack her, forcing a turn back to God. The imagery so mirrors what is going on right now, I wonder why so few people get it..

    In any case maybe its time to get a clue before its too late. Perhaps the real hope is in the Church of the South, ie Africa , South America etc.. where they still believe in God and still think having children makes sense. Unless the United Nations gets to them first.

  14. Thank you, Msgr. Pope for this article. I was quite perplexed by the ‘no-people’ passage during the Responsorial Psalm of Monday. Your insight on this is very helpful!

    I did the First Reading yesterday morning in our church and, for some reason, I was overwhelmed by this part of the reading from Jeremiah 14 (I have to hold back my tears literally!):
    Have you cast Judah off completely?
    Is Zion loathsome to you?
    Why have you struck us a blow
    that cannot be healed?
    We wait for peace, to no avail;
    for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.
    We recognize, O LORD, our wickedness,
    the guilt of our fathers;
    that we have sinned against you.
    For your name’s sake spurn us not,
    disgrace not the throne of your glory;
    remember your covenant with us, and break it not.

    I thought your discussion ties up well with this OT passage!

  15. A Muslim majority in Europe might be what fallen away Catholics on that continent need to wake up and get real about the Faith. I have no doubt in my mind that should Muslims gain a majority in Europe the great cathedrals and art museums will go the way of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. Islam has always been a religion of cruelty and violence and i see no reason in the light of history or current events to suggest that Muslims will be different in 21st century Europe than they have been anywhere else in their bloody and storied history. Fallen away Catholics in Europe might finally realize that yes, religion still matters and that it is only the True religion that has any power to bring back civilization from the brink of a new dark ages. I know the late great Father John Hardon once said that the greatest threat to Catholicism worldwide was Islam. Muslim cruelty will bring religion back into the lives of Europeans and hopefully it will lead them back to the Catholic Faith that their ancestors lived and died for. Muslims will also destroy the empty facade of hedonistic secular humanism and the nihilism that lurks just beneath the surface of modern Europe. They at least believe in something worth living and dying for. Do most of us in the West believe in anything worth really living and dying for? Islamic violence will bring some real existential questions to the minds and hearts of Europeans that will hopefully lead them back to the Catholic Faith.

  16. Wasn’t all of Europe–through Spain– under the control and care of Islam way back long ago? I think somewhere about 711 A.D., there was a Islamic invasion of the Iberian Penisula and then a slow spreading of control into France and this continued until Charles (the Hammer)Martel in 1450 turned back the invasion.

    So, they have been there, done that already. Now what happens? gh

  17. It is true that this verse is somewhat mysterious on the face of it. However since 1964 it is entirely obvious that a ‘no-people’ or ‘non-people’ refers to the Palestinians; an brand new never-existent national entity that was literally synthesized to counter the national character of the Jews. The enemies of Israel and the Jews have been riding the trojan horse of Palestinian nationalism right into Jerusalem.

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