More Painful than Hell

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

But alas! Wherewith am I forced to affright you! With men’s estimation! When I ought to use the fear of God, and His condemnation. For what, pray, is to become of us then when bound, and gnashing our teeth, we are led away to the outer darkness? Or, rather, what shall we do (and this is the most fearful thought of all) when we offend God? For if any one have sense and reason, he has already endured a hell when he is out of sight of God. But since this does not pain, fire is therefore threatened. For we ought to smart not when we are punished, but when we sin. Thus listen to Paul wailing and lamenting over sins, for which he was not to be punished. For I am not meet, he says, to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church. (1 Cor. 15:9) Hear also David, when he is set free from the punishment, yet, as thinking that he had offended God, calling vengeance down upon himself, and saying, Let your hand be upon me and upon my father’s house. (2 Sam. 24:17) For to have offended God is more distressing than to be punished. But now we are so wretchedly disposed, that, were there no fear of hell, we should not even choose readily to do any good thing. Wherefore were it for nothing else, yet for this at least, we should deserve hell, because we fear hell more than Christ. But not so the blessed Paul, but contrariwise. But since we feel otherwise, for this reason are we condemned to hell: since, did we but love Christ as we should love Him, we should have known that to offend Him we love were more painful than hell. (Homily 5 on Romans)

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