“THOU ART JUST, O LORD, AND THY JUDGMENT IS RIGHT.”
By our sins long ago committed, and often since, we have deserved hell. And do we understand what hell means? One moment in hell is more dreadful than a hundred years of most frightful torments. And yet we complain if God sends us sufferings. O Lord, Thou art just! Give us grace to suffer with patience.
Are we to look upon God as a tyrant who takes pleasure in our suffering? He does take pleasure in punishing us, but exactly the same pleasure a father takes in correcting his son: He does not take pleasure in the pain which He inflicts, but in the amendment it will work. My son, reject not the correction of the Lord; and do not faint when thou art chastised by him, for whom the Lord loveth he chastiseth, and as a father in the son, he pleaseth himself (Prov. iii. 11). He chastises you because He loves you; it is not that He wishes to see you afflicted, but converted; and if He takes pleasure in your suffering, He does so inasmuch as it is a means of conversion — just as a father who chastises his son derives pleasure, not from the affliction of his son, but from the amendment which he hopes to see in him, and which will prevent him from working his own ruin. Chastisement makes us return to God, says St. John Chrysostom; and it is to this end God inflicts it, in order that we may not stay away from Him.
Why then do you complain of God when in tribulation? You ought to thank Him prostrate on the earth. If a man condemned to die were to have his sentence changed by the prince from death into one hour’s imprisonment, and if he were to complain of that one hour, would his complaint be just? Would he not rather deserve that the prince should reverse the last sentence, and condemn him a second time to death? You have long and often deserved hell by your sins. And do you know all that the word hell means? Know that it is more dreadful to suffer for one moment in hell than to suffer for a hundred years the most frightful torments which the Martyrs suffered on earth; and in this hell you should have had to suffer not for a moment, but during all eternity. And yet you complain if God send you some tribulation, some infirmity, some loss! Thank God, and say: Lord, this chastisement is trifling compared with my sins. I should have been in hell burning, deserted by all, and in despair; I thank Thee for having called me to Thyself by this tribulation which Thou hast sent me. God, says Oleaster, often calls sinners to repentance by temporal chastisements. By earthly chastisements the Lord shows us the immense punishment our sins deserve; and therefore afflicts us on this earth, that we may be converted and escape eternal flames.
Wretched, then, should we poor sinners be if left unpunished; but still more wretched is the sinner who, admonished by affliction, does not amend. It is not a grievous thing to be afflicted by God on this earth after one has sinned; but it is very grievous not to be converted by the affliction sent, and to be like those of whom David speaks, who, although visited by Divine chastisement, still sleep on in their sins. At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered (Ps. lxxv. 7). As if the sound of the scourges and the thunders of God, instead of rousing them from their lethargy, served only to make them sleep more soundly. I struck you, yet you returned not to me (Amos iv. 9). I have scourged you, says God, in order that you might return to Me; but ye, ungrateful that you are, have been deaf to My calls. Unhappy the sinner who acts like him of whom the Lord says, He shall send lightnings against him; … his heart shall be as hard as a stone, and as firm as a smith’s anvil (Job xli. 14, 15). God visits him with chastisement, and he, instead of being softened and returning to the Lord by penance, shall be as firm as a smith’s anvil; he shall grow more hardened under the blows of God, as the anvil grows harder under the hammer, like the impious Achaz, of whom the Scripture says: In the time of his distress he increased contempt against the Lord (2 Par. xxviii. 22). Unhappy man, instead of humbling himself, he all the more despised God. He deserves all chastisement who, being afflicted by the Lord for his conversion, continues to provoke the Lord to greater wrath. What can I do, O sinner, to bring about your conversion? The Lord will say: I have called you by sermons and inspirations, and you have despised them; I have called you by favours, and you have grown more insolent; I have called you by scourges, and you continue to offend Me. For what shall I strike you any more, you that increase transgression … and the daughter of Sion shall be left … as a city that is laid waste (Is. i. 5-8). Do you not wish to hearken even to My chastisements? Do you wish that I should abandon you?
Let us no longer abuse the mercy which God uses towards us. Let us not be like the nettle, which stings him who strikes it. God afflicts us, because He loves us, and wishes to see us reformed. When we feel the chastisement, we should remember our sins, and say with the brethren of Joseph: We deserve to suffer these things, because we have sinned against our brother (Gen. xlii. 21). Lord, Thou punishest us justly, because we have offended Thee, our Father and God. Thou art just, O God, and thy judgment is right (Ps. cxviii. 137). Everything thou hast done to us, thou hast done in true judgment (Dan. iii. 31). Lord, Thou art just, and dost with justice punish us; we accept this tribulation which Thou sendest us; give us strength to suffer it with patience.