The compassionate God may use punishment and frightening if these are useful for man's salvation. In the Book of Jonah we find three examples:
(a) An example of giving a warning and a long respite. This is what happened with the Ninevites, " Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (Jon. 3:4), a warning given with a long respite. And the city was not overthrown because it feared the coming wrath and the expected punishment, and they repented.
(b) A more severe example is what happened with the mariners of the ship and the ship's passengers including Jonah. Here the matter was not just giving a warning, but it was carrying it out for a limited time. God gave orders to the winds to strike the ship so that it was about to be broken. But we notice that God put limits to the wind's blows: "Strike the ship from without, but your water shall not enter it. Strike the ship, shake it, but do not harm any of its passengers." We notice here that the blows caused some losses because the mariners were obliged to throw some of their wares into the sea in order to lighten the weight of the ship.
(c) The punishment within serious danger. The order was given to the great fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah looked and found himself inside the belly of the whale.
These are the three ways of punishing, and God wants you to reach Him by any means that suit you or are convenient for you.
If the need be God may raise tempests against the ship of your life, forcing you to throw some of the worldly matters outside the ship. The ship of your life may be overloaded with self-righteousness, or overloaded with stubbornness or the love of the world and when the waves blow against it, it shakes. Lighten your ships, brethren. Most probably God sanctioned that the ship be stricken so that we may throw out of it the bags of self-righteousness, the case of pleasures and the basket of obstinacy. Throw out all that hinders you, and keep nothing in your hearts but the love of God.
If this way does not work with you God may send you a whale to swallow you, and you cry out to God, saying: "O Lord, I cannot endure the whale nor the tempests. The least of things can lead me to You. May your hand be upon me, Your hand and not Your rod".
People differ in the extent of their sensitivity and in the extent of their response to the voice of God. Some yearn and respond by a mere faraway signal from God. Some remember their sins and repent when they encounter the least affliction or tribulation and return to God before the matter worsens. Another kind of person does not return except by severity and hard blows.
Do not force God to use the severe ways to bring you back. If God uses the severe way with you know for certain that it is to meet the severity within you, the severity of your hardheartedness and your non response to God's compassion.
With the Ninevites who feared God did not use severity. With the mariners whose hearts changed merely by the winds, God did not permit that their ship be destroyed. But with Jonah who was extremely severe, those small touches were not suitable for him, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. The waves were striking the ship and the ship was about to sink, and the wares were being cast out into the sea, and amidst all this Jonah "had lain down and was fast asleep". This kind of person does not benefit from the light type of punishment. When someone is in a light sleep you can just pat them on the shoulder or touch the face and they wake up. But the one who is fast asleep needs a strong shaking to wake them. I fear that your hearts may be of this heavy kind. God wants to make you reach Him. May you respond to His easy, soft and kind ways and do not compel Him to use severity.
Some of you may wonder how can the severe ways be compatible with God's gentleness and meekness? The answer is simple. God is concerned about your eternal life, much more than your life on earth. For your salvation, He is prepared to do any Divine act no matter how severe in order to restore you to Him.
We notice that God's severity is mixed with mercy and compassion because it is but a mere means. When He sent the winds and the waves to the ship He did not sanction the hurt of any of the passengers. When He sent a whale to swallow Jonah He did not permit the whale to harm him. He sometimes strikes but within the person's endurance and until the aim of the blow is attained.
There now remains one question: What is the way that suits you which God may use for your salvation?
Be honest with yourself and with God. If you do not respond except after a severe blow, then say to Him: "Strike, O Lord, as may please You and show no pity. The most important thing is that I reach You" If trials and tribulations are what bring you near to God, say thus to Him: "I confess to You, O Lord, that if I live at ease, I will forget You and leave You. And if I am beset by afflictions, I restore my relation with You. It is enough that You sanction for me a troublesome superior or a problem at home or an illness so that You may find me at Your feet and find my heart with You."
Be honest, my brother, with God and accept all his dispositions with joy and with thanksgiving. But be careful that God's ways should not lead you to aversion.
For example a person may be sent a useful tribulation from God for their salvation but they use it for their perdition. God sends them a whale to swallow them. Instead of praying in the belly of the whale as Jonah did, they grumble and become restless and blaspheme. We see many who are always complaining of God: Why did God do this to me? Why does He persecute me and why does He neglect me?
Wretched are such persons. God's rod with which He wants to guide them, they use instead as a means of grumbling. They meet God's care for them by complaint. Weak is their faith in God's work with them.
Whatever the situation, God is not annoyed at our reasoning with Him.
Now we remember Nineveh's fasting and consider it the fasting of repentance. May we repent by any means; whether by the Ninevites' means or the passengers of the ship, or Jonah's. May we supplicate God and say to Him: "Your hard work for us, O Lord, all these years will be wasted if it is lost without being beneficial. Continue Your work with us. You suffered trouble in our creation, in caring for us and in redeeming us. So may our salvation not be lost for the sake of this repentance.. We want there to be Joy in heaven over our repentance. We do not thwart the heaven's rejoicing.We have now taken two lessons about God's dealings. The first was that He Himself searches for man. And the second was that He is prepared to use severity and punishment for man's salvation. What is the third lesson? We also learn from this Book that God is prepared to relent from His warnings.
God Searches For Man
H. H. Pope Shenouda III
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