God’s Punishment versus God’s Forgiveness

“The muddy streets were gay. He strode homeward, conscious of an invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs. In spite of all he had done it. He had confessed and God has pardoned him. His soul was made fair and holy once more, holy and happy.” (122)

After pages and pages of hearing the punishment of hell and Stephen’s growing fear and agony towards the possibility of ending up in that situation, we read the forgiveness fill almost less than a single page of the book. While this contrast caught my eye, word choices further highlighted situations, one of them being “In spite of all he had done it.” The pages of fear towards hell over his adultery being summarized as “all” was an interesting choice, as if the sin were over-dramaticized. Right after, the passage says “He had confessed and God had pardoned him.” It seemed to be ironic to me, that God had the power to pardon him and, according to Stephen, only did when he confessed. When just two paragraphs before, God is said to have “mercifulness,” Stephen seems to leave out the agony he had gone through — agony God could have pardoned — and immediately credits his forgiveness to God. If God, in this story, were so merciful, then why did Stephen become physically ill upon the pages of the priest’s description of his possible punishment from his adultery?