God Will Punish You
by Fr. Paul Sgneri, 1892
Say not I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me? for the Most High is a
patient rewarder (Ecclus. v. 4).
Consider first, the reason why so many persons become bolder every day in sinning. It is because God is slow to punish. If every time that a man uttered a blasphemous word he felt his tongue suddenly torn by cruel vermin, if his hands were withered as soon as he committed a theft, if whenever he was guilty of deception his intellect were clouded, if when any one falls into some shameful act of sensuality he were instantly covered with a disgusting leprosy, thinkest thou that there would be so many blasphemers, thieves, cheats, and dissolute persons in the world? It is because God is so slow to punish, because He is so longsuffering and silent, because He seems to take no notice, that men become so audacious: "Because sentence is not speedily pronounced against the evil, the children of men commit evils without any fear (Eccles. viii. 11)." What monstrous wickedness; such persons are, indeed, "children of men," and not of God. To sin deliberately because God is good! It is easy to see that such children cannot belong to God, since they are so entirely different from Him. They are children of perdition, for this is the meaning of the expression "children of men." "The Son of Man" is always used in the best sense in the Sacred Scriptures; but "children" or "sons of men," always, or nearly always, in a bad sense. "O ye sons of men, how long will ye be dull of heart (Psalm iv. 3)?" "The children of men have spoken vain things (Psalm xi. 3)." Thou seest, therefore, that to abuse God's mercy by sinning the more shamelessly, is to be in the number of the reprobate.
Consider secondly, what would become of thee, if ever thou wert to allow thyself to be led away to so great a pitch of wickedness. Oh, do not say, "I have sinned," I have given myself up to sin for a long time, and notwithstanding "no harm hath befallen me," no misfortune of any kind: I am in strong health; I have children, and they prosper; I have riches, and they increase; I have as many friends as I desire, and they are all attached to me; if I have any enemies, they fear me, at all events. Do not speak in this way, unhappy man; for such language is very odious, nay, it is intolerable to God: "This is not a word that may draw down mercy, but rather that may stir up wrath (Judith viii. 12)" when it is kept in the heart, "and enkindle indignation" when it dares to pass the lips. What canst thou think, when thou speakest in such a manner? That there is not a God in the world, or that if there is, He is dull and insensible, and unaware of sin? Oh, how impious a word is this, "hath befallen!" for it implies that thou supposest God to have abandoned all providence and to act at random. How greatly art thou deceived, "for the Most High is a patient rewarder." He often delays, it is true, but He never fails to come. He often delays, because He is "patient;" but He always comes in the end, because He is a "rewarder." And if so, how is it possible that He can act at random? That may be the case with one who is not bound to give more to one than to another; but never with one who rewards.
Consider thirdly, the particular reason which makes the Wise Man here call God by the name of "the Most High." It is to remind thee that, as God is good, bearing with strange patience all the evil that thou dost, so too He is wise and powerful,--wise to perceive it, and powerful to punish it. Is He not the Most High? Then, He sees all that thou doest on earth, because His dwelling is on high, higher than the sun. Is He not the Most High? Then, He can always strike thee whenever He chooses, because He is always above thee. And yet thou dost not fear Him, nay, thou canst venture to utter such sacrilegious words as these: "I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me?" "Speak not anything rashly . . . . . . For God is in Heaven, and thou upon earth (Judith viii. 12)." This, therefore, is the reason why God is here called "the Most High," that thou mayest begin to fear Him, notwithstanding His goodness: "Give place to the fear of the Most High (Ecclus. xix. 18)."
Consider fourthly, that thou wilt fear God much more if thou rememberest that He is also "a patient rewarder." It is true that, at first sight, these words seem scarcely appropriate, for patience seems rather to belong to the one who receives payment than to the one who has to make it, and so the debtor in the parable said to the fellow-servant who was his creditor: "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all (St. Matt, xviii. 26)." It might seem, then, either that the Wise Man, instead of saying "rewarder," should have said "avenger," a noun to which the adjective "patient" is well suited; or that, instead of saying "patient," he should have said "faithful," an adjective which may very well precede the noun "rewarder." But if thou enterest into the sense of the passage, thou wilt see the force of the Wise Man's meaning. He meant to show that since God punishes not in anger, but in justice, He is not in haste to punish any one. How has He shown this? He has not chosen to say that God is an "avenger," because that word expresses anger: he has chosen to say simply that He is a "rewarder," a word which may equally refer to recompense and punishment. Now, it is true that, in the case of a recompense which is delayed, the patience is on the side of the one who receives it; but not so in the case of punishment: then the patience is on the side of the one who inflicts it. And as, in the text, the latter is in question, thou needest not wonder that the Wise Man says that God is "a patient rewarder."
Consider fifthly, that God is called a "rewarder" when He punishes, because He not only renders to the sinner the punishment which he has merited by his sins, but likewise restores to Himself the glory of which He was robbed. Indeed this is the primary end which God must have, and which He has, in punishing any one; and therefore when He spoke of visiting wicked Sidon with war and pestilence, He said: "Behold, I come against thee, Sidon, and I will be glorified in the midst of thee (Ezech. xxviii. 22)." And therefore, strictly speaking, the title of "rewarder" is always more applicable to God than that of "avenger," because it better expresses the end which He has in punishing, and which is not thy punishment, but His glory. And if this is so, dost thou not see why, in inflicting this punishment, He is spoken of as a "patient," rather than a faithful "rewarder"? He is not called faithful, because He does not act with the utmost rigour by restoring to Himself the full amount of glory. If thou repentest, He remits a great deal--sometimes even the whole. But He is called "patient," on the contrary, because, ordinarily, He is in no haste to restore His glory to Himself, even when thou dost not repent: He proceeds deliberately, calmly; He finds no difficulty in waiting even a long time. Whenever, therefore, thou seest that He does not punish thee, even when thou art hardened in evil, do not say that God is not a "rewarder," as perhaps thou imaginest; but say that He is "a patient rewarder."
Consider sixthly, why it is that God finds no difficulty in waiting, even a long time, before restoring to Himself the glory so justly due to Him, no matter how rebellious thou mayest be. There are three reasons for this: First, because without this glory He has sufficient: "All the earth is full of His glory (Isaias vi. 3)." Secondly, because He is sure of being able to restore to Himself this glory, whenever He pleases, without reference to any one: "Vengeance is Mine, and I will repay (Deut. xxxii. 35);" neither is there any danger, meanwhile, of thy eludings or escaping Him. Thirdly, because the longer He delays in restoring this glory to Himself, the greater will it be: and therefore He does as the olive-tree does, which does not care to bear fruit every year, in order that it may be finer: "His glory shall be as the olive-tree (Osee xiv. 7)." If He delays in restoring to Himself His glory, He will increase it, both by the unwearied patience He has shown in bearing with thee, and also because the longer thy punishment is in coming, the heavier it will be. He can well afford then to delay long. Dost thou not know, too, that when what is owing to a person is increased by delay, as in the case with interest on money, he shows the greatest patience in waiting for it? This is the case with God: and if so, thou knowest how rightly He is called "a patient rewarder," when the question is of punishment. I will tell thee when He is not so "patient" a "rewarder:" it is when the question is of reward, for He is in great haste to bestow benefits on thee. He sends thee evil by that necessity of restoring to Himself the glory thou hast robbed Him of, and so He does it slowly: "Ah, I will comfort Myself over My adversaries (Isaias i. 24);" but He does thee good from His desire of doing it, with pleasure, from inclination, and so He is far quicker in doing it. And thou must know that the slower evil is in coming, the more grievous, it is: when, therefore, the Wise Man in this passage says that "God will surely take revenge (Ecclus. v. 3)," why does he say so? Thou canst not suppose it is a mere phrase. He says so because, in "avenging" thy past sins of commission, He "will avenge" also the sins of omission of which thou art now guilty by misusing the time which He gives thee for doing penance.