SINNERS WILL NOT BELIEVE THE DIVINE THREATS TILL IT IS TOO LATE.
After the Lord had commanded our First Parents not to eat of the forbidden fruit, unhappy Eve approached the tree and was addressed by the Serpent, who said to her: Why has God forbidden you to eat of this delightful fruit? Why hath God commanded you that you should not eat? Eve replies: God hath commanded us that we should not eat, and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die (Gen. iii. 3). Behold the weakness of Eve! The Lord had absolutely threatened them with death, and she now begins to look upon it as doubtful: Lest perhaps we die. If I eat of it, I might perhaps die. But the devil, seeing that Eve was still somewhat in fear of the Divine threat, proceeded to encourage her, saying: No, you shall not die the death (Ibid. 4), and thus he deceived her, and caused her to prevaricate, and she ate the apple. Thus, even now, does the enemy continue to deceive many poor sinners. God threatens: Sinners, do penance, because if not, you will damn yourselves, as so many others have done. Except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish (Luke xiii. 5). The devil says to them: No, you shall not perish. Fear nothing: sin on; continue to enjoy yourselves; God is merciful; He will pardon you by and by, and you will be saved. “God,” says St. Procopius, “inspires us with fear, the devil robs us of it.” God desires by His threats to inspire fear only in order that men may give up sin, and thus be saved. The devil wishes to destroy that fear, in order that they may persevere in sin, and so be lost. Innumerable the wretches who believe the devil rather than God, and are thus miserably damned. At present the Lord displays His anger and threatens us with chastisement. Who knows how many there may be in this place who have no thought of changing their lives, and live in the hope that God will be appeased; who will not believe in the Divine threats until chastisement has come upon them. If we do not amend, chastisement will come; if we do not put an end to our crimes, God will put an end to them.
When Lot was warned by the Lord that He was about to destroy Sodom, Lot at once informed his sons-in-law: Arise! get you out of this place, because the Lord will destroy this city (Gen. xix. 14). But they would not believe him: And he seemed to them to speak as it were in jest. They imagined that God wished to sport with their fears, by terrifying them with such a threat. But the punishment overtook them, and they remained to be the sport of the flames in the burning city. God warns us that chastisement will come. Let us put an end to sin, or shall we wait for God to do it? Hear what St. Paul says to you: See, then, the goodness and severity of God — towards them, indeed, that are fallen, the severity; but towards thee, the goodness of God, if thou abide in goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off (Rom. xi. 22). Consider, says the Apostle, the justice which the Lord has exercised towards so many whom He has punished, and condemned to hell; towards them, indeed, that are fallen, the severity. Consider the mercy with which He has treated you; but towards thee, the goodness of God. You must abandon sin; if you change your ways, avoid the occasions of sin, frequent the Sacraments, and continue to lead a Christian life, the Lord will remit your punishment, if you abide in goodness; if not, thou also shalt be cut off. God has already borne with you too long, He can bear with you no longer. God is merciful, but He is also just; He deals mercifully with those who fear Him; He cannot act thus towards the obstinate.
Such a person laments when he sees himself punished, and asks: Why has God deprived me of my health? Why has He taken from me this child? What do you say? It is your sins have withholden good things from you (Jer. v. 25). It was not the wish of God to deprive you of any blessing, of any gain, of your son, or your father or mother: it was the wish of God to make you happy in all things, but your sins have not allowed Him. In the book of Job we read these words: Is it a great matter that God should comfort thee? but thy wicked words hinder this (Job, xv. 11). The Lord would fain console you, but your sins have prevented Him. It is not God, but accursed sin, that renders us miserable and unhappy. Sin maketh nations miserable (Prov. xiv. 84). We are wrong, says Salvian, in complaining of God when He deals severely with us. Oh! how cruelly do we deal with Him, repaying with ingratitude the favours He has bestowed upon us!
Sinners imagine that sin procures them happiness; but on the very contrary it is sin which makes them miserable, and afflicted in every respect. Because thou didst not serve the Lord thy God, saith the Lord, with joy and gladness of heart … thou shalt serve thy enemy, whom the Lord will send upon thee, in hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and in want of all things … till he consume thee (Deut. xxviii. 47, 48). David says that the sinner himself by his crimes digs the pit into which he falls. He is fallen into the hole he made (Ps. vii. 16). Recall the prodigal Son. In order to live without restraint, and feast as he pleased, he left his father; but then very soon he is reduced: to tend swine; reduced to such a degree of misery, that he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat, and no man gave unto him (Luke, xv. 16).