Just because the terms wrath, anger, hatred, and the rest are used of the Creator, we should not imagine that He actually does anything in anger or hatred or zeal. Many figurative terms are employed in the Scriptures of God, terms which are far removed from His true nature. And just as our rational nature has already become gradually more illumined and wise in a holy understanding of the mysteries which are hidden in Scripture’s discourse about God that we should not understand everything literally as it is written, but rather that we should see, concealed inside the bodily exterior of the narratives, the hidden providence and eternal knowledge which guides all so too we shall in the future come to know and be aware of many things for which our present understanding will be seen as contrary to what it will be then; and the whole ordering of things yonder will undo any precise opinion we possess now in our supposition about Truth. For there are many, indeed endless, things which do not even enter our minds here, not even as promises of any kind.
Accordingly we say that, even in the matter of the afflictions and sentence of Gehenna, there is some hidden mystery, whereby the wise Maker has taken as a starting point for its future outcome the wickedness of our actions and wilfulness, using it as a way of bringing to perfection His dispensation wherein lies the teaching which makes wise, and the advantage beyond description, hidden from both angels and human beings, hidden too from those who are being chastised, whether they be demons or human beings, hidden for as long as the ordained period of time holds sway.
If the world to come is entirely the domain of grace, love, mercy and goodness, and because the resurrection from the dead is also a demonstration of the mercifulness of God and of the overflowing abundance of His love which cannot be repaid, how can one think of a dispensation in which is included requitals for our own good or evil actions? For one speaks of requital when the person who is the requiter is gradually instructed about the requital needed as a result of, and corresponding to, the good and bad actions that take place: along with actions which differ from day to day, he acquires a different knowledge, and his consequent thoughts are subject to external causes and take their origin from temporal circumstances.
If the Kingdom and Gehenna had not been foreseen in the purpose of our good God, as a result of the coming into being of good and evil actions, then God’s thoughts concerning these would not be eternal; but righteousness and sin were known by Him before they revealed themselves. Accordingly the Kingdom and Gehenna are matters belonging to mercy, which were conceived of in their essence by God as a result of His eternal goodness. It was not a matter of requiting, even though He gave them the name of requital.
That we should further say or think that the matter is not full of love and mingled with compassion would be an opinion full of blasphemy and insult to our Lord God. By saying that He will even hand us over to burning for the sake of sufferings, torment and all sorts of ills, we are attributing to the divine Nature an enmity towards the very rational beings which He created through grace; the same is true if we say that He acts or thinks with spite and with a vengeful purpose, as though He was avenging Himself. Among all His actions there is none which is not entirely a matter of mercy, love and compassion: this constitutes the beginning and the end of His dealings with us.
How much to be worshipped is our Lord God’s gentle compassion and His immeasurable munificence: He makes many threats, but He makes the punishment small out of grace, all in order to increase love for Him.
St Isaac the Syrian