A Summons to Humility in the Mystery of the “Seven Thunders.”

In the Divine Office, we are reading some of the more terrifying passages from the Book of Revelation, related to the seven trumpets, seals, and bowls of wrath. There is also a reference to the underreported “seven thunders,” reminding us that there are some things that are not for us to know.

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down” (Rev 10:1-4).

A similar passage occurs in the Book of Daniel. Having had certain things revealed to him, Daniel is told,

But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, even to the time of the end (Dan 12:4).

To the Apostles, who pined for knowledge of the last things, Jesus said,

It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power (Acts 1:7).

In all of these texts we are reminded that there are some things—even many things (seven is a number indicating fullness)—that are not for us to know. This is a warning against sinful curiosity and a solemn reminder that not all of God’s purposes or plans are revealed to us.

Several reasons come to mind for this silence and for the command to seal up the revelation of the seven thunders:

  1. It is an instruction against arrogance and sinful curiosity. Especially today, people seem to think that they have right to know just about anything. The press speaks of the people’s “right to know.” And while this may be true about the affairs of government, it is not true about people’s private lives, and it is surely not true about all the mysteries of God. There are just some things that we have no right to know, that are none of our business. Much of our prying is a mere pretext for gossip and for the opportunity to see others’ failures and faults. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that more than half of what we talk about all day long is none of our business.
  2. It is a rebuke of our misuse of knowledge. Sadly, especially in the “information age,” we speak of knowledge as power. We seek to know in order to control, rather than to repent and conform to the truth. We think that we should be able to do anything that we know how to do. Even more reason, then, that God should withhold from us the knowledge of many things; we’ve confused knowledge with wisdom and have used our knowledge as an excuse to abuse power, to kill with nuclear might, and to pervert the glory of human life with “reproductive technology.” Knowledge abused in this way is not wisdom; it is foolishness and is a path to grave evils.
  3. It is to spare us from the effects of knowing things that we cannot handle. The very fact that the Revelation text above describes this knowledge as “seven thunders” indicates that these hidden utterances are of fearful weightiness. Seven is a number that refers to the fullness of something, so these are loud and devastating thunders. God, in His mercy to us, does not reveal all the fearsome terrors that will come upon this sinful world, which cannot endure the glorious and fiery presence of His justice. Too much for this world are the arrows of His quiver, which are never exhausted. Besides the terrors already foretold in Scripture, the seven thunders may well conceal others that are unutterable and too horrifying for the world to endure. Ours is a world that is incapable of enduring His holiness or of standing when He shall appear.

What, then, is to be our stance in light of the many things too great for us to know and that God mercifully conceals from us? We should have the humility of a child, who knows what he does not know but is content that his father knows.

O Lord, my heart is not proud
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
nor marvels beyond me.

Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
even so is my soul.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
both now and forever (Psalm 131).

Yes, like humble children we should seek to learn, realizing that there are many things that are beyond us, that are too great for us. We should seek to learn, but in a humility that is reverence for the truth, a humility that realizes that we are but little children, not lords and masters.

Scripture says, Beyond these created wonders many things lie hid. Only a few of God’s works have we seen (Sirach 43:34).

Thank you, Lord, for what you have taught us and revealed to us. Thank you, too, for what you have mercifully kept hidden because it is too much for us to know. Thank you, Lord. Help us learn and keep us humble, like little children.

9 Replies to “A Summons to Humility in the Mystery of the “Seven Thunders.””

  1. Another misuse of knowledge is the hoarding of knowledge. I believe this tempts some to think this makes them irreplaceable. News flash, we’re not only all replaceable – sooner or later it’s going to happen! All of us are unique, precious, and unrepeatable. We all have a unique, precious, and unrepeatable post on this battlefield called life. As Gandalf would say in Lord of the Rings “Return to your posts!” However, it is only for a time.

    What I am reminded of is one awesome Prophet named Elijah. When his time was done, he was directed to go and basically prepare Elisha, to replace him. If a family, an organization, or an army is at risk due to their weakest links – then you’d think we’d all want to make each link as strong as possible. Yes, even if that threatens to cost us some power, pleasure, honor, or money. I believe an authentic use of knowledge means developing your people, pushing your people to be all they can be – according to their gifts! Not for you individually – but for your people – for your family.

  2. All very true! There are a few other examples that point in the same direction. For instance, no one actually saw the Resurrection; even the guards fainted at the earthquake and the appearance of the angel. The clouds hid Jesus as He ascended. The shepherds were not there for the Nativity itself — and, according to tradition, the midwife (who was also too late for the actual birth) who had a sinful doubt and curiosity regarding the Virgin Birth was temporarily struck blind. Likewise, none of the Sacraments have a visible effect. (The consecration of the Eucharist does have cause a *physical* change, not merely a spiritual one, as the Body of Christ becomes really present, but this change is hidden and unobservable.)

  3. I expect that many of these things that are hidden now will be revealed in heaven, so hearing about them beforehand helps us to desire heaven even more.

    Knowing the secrets of God is much better than knowing the secrets of men. Accepting that we can’t know, at least in this life, the secrets of God, makes it easier to accept that we can’t, and even not to want to know, the secrets of men.

    There are two ways God helps us by letting us know about the Thunders.

  4. Terrific post as usual, Msgr Pope. I’ve pointed out to young people that if the likes of Spielberg or Lucas were to try to illustrate the power and glory of God at the moment of consecration at Mass they couldn’t come close — although I’d love to see them try=) The scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark which you have used at times and in which the Nazis feel the wrath of God is an admirable yet woefully inadequate attempt to do so.

    1. The first time I saw the “divine wrath” scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on TV , I commented to my young nephew, “Don’t mess with God.”
      The nephew, bored with “Happy Clappy” Sunday School that avoids topics of “sin” “justice” and “hell” looked edifyingly shaken.
      “For real?” He asked, uncertainly.
      “For real.” I answered. “He won’t have unrepentant Nazis in Heaven.”
      I have to thank Speilberg for an unexpectedly brilliant teaching moment there. . . 🙂

  5. There is a tendency in some to “want to know” in the futile belief that they will be thus able to prevent, avoid or otherwise prepare for what is to come. We cannot mitigate Divine Justice by any means other than prayer, penance and complete, humble submission to the Will of God, even though it be unknown to us, and this in itself is our only, and most desirable means of preparation.

    Besides, we have just celebrated the great occasion of the Fatima Centenary. With Fatima, along with many more such heavenly interventions, we have had more than enough warning already. If we were now to be given a degree of understanding of the prophetic mention of the Seven Thunders, would our response be any different to the overall indifference with which we regard prophecy. Many would dismiss it entirely, and for many more, it would merely be a cause for macabre, even pathological fascination.

    Many would suggest that this present generation is the most corrupt in human history, and I, personally, would not oppose such a view. Two thousand years after the full revelation of Jesus Christ, we have brought ourselves to to point of complete destruction, not just by our failure to spread the Gospel, but our own wholesale rejection of it.

    The Message of Fatima promises us that, after a painful and vitally necessary purification of humanity, the world will be granted an Era of Peace. But we are told that eventually hearts will once again grow cold before the Return of Christ in glory at the conclusion of history. At that time, there will be no further warnings. If the people of that time have forgotten the lessons of history, the fault will be entirely their’s. St. Paul tells us that “those left alive in those days will have no advantage over those who have already died.” Maybe the Seven Thunders is relevant to this, and maybe not. As we all agree, neither this, nor future generations, have the right to know.

  6. Remember the first sin was at the tree of “Knowledge”, seems as always we are right back where we started.

  7. Mark 3:17
    James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”),

    I believe that the 7 thunders will be 7 end time prophets whose message concerns the end times and is only given at the end times to let the people know what is coming. If given beforehand then the Devil and those close to him could change their plans and deceive the elect.

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