Friday, July 25, 2014

God Is Patient That We Might Repent

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  (Psa 86:15)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Pet 3:9)

If God was quick to punish, the church would not have gained Paul, it would not have received one so great and noble.  For this reason, then, He deferred dealing with him while he was committing blasphemy in order to receive him when he was repenting.  God’s patience made the persecutor a preacher.  God’s patience made the tax collector an evangelist.  God’s patience had mercy on all of us, changed all, altered all.  If you see that someone who was once a drunkard has now [become] someone who fasts, if you see that someone who was once a blasphemer has now [become] a theologian,* if you see that the man who once stained his mouth with shameful songs is now purifying his soul with divine hymns, look with amazement on God’s patience, and praise repentance, and, taking it up from this change, say, “This change is from the right hand of the Most High.”†  While God is good to all, to sinners he shows his own patience to a special degree.  And if you want to hear a strange tale—strange with regard to what is customary, but true as regards piety—listen.

God appears [to be] altogether burdensome to the just, but mild to sinners and swift to kindness.  He raises up the sinner who has fallen and says to him, “Does the man who falls not rise?” or “Does not the man who turns away turn back?”‡  And, “Why did the foolish daughter of Judah shamelessly turn away?”§  And again, “Turn to me, and I will turn to you.”‖  And in another place he confirms with an oath the salvation that comes from repentance because of his great benevolence.  “‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘I do not desire the death of the sinner as much as that he turn and live.’”¶  To the righteous man he says, “If someone acts in all righteousness and all truth, and then turns and sins, I will not remember his righteousness, but he will die in his sin.”Δ  He thus uses diverse and various means in his planning, not changing himself, but advantageously distributing the dispensations of his goodness.

Severian of Gabala, On Repentance and Contrition, II.1-2

*  θεολόγος, God-speaker
†  Psalm 77:10
‡  Jeremiah 8:4-5
§  Jeremiah 8:5
‖   Zechariah 1:3
¶  Ezekiel 33:11
Δ  Ezekiel 18:24

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