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Sunday 23 August 2015

St. John of Tobolsk- On Divine Providence

Divine Providence
There is nothing random in the world

What is Providence? It is one of the basic characteristics of God – to see all that is going on, was going on, and will be going on in the future as though it is the present, and to have omnipotent concern for safeguarding all creation and wisely managing all its manifestations. St. John Damascene describes it thus: “Providence is Divine will which maintains everything and wisely rules over everything.”

If we examine any kind of events and manifestations without looking into their causes and consequences, then many things may seem random to us. If, however, we look at them from a true point of view, i.e. if we judge the things happening in the world from the viewpoint of Divine intelligence, then we will see that there is nothing in the world that occurs randomly, that occurs without the will and the Providence of God. God’s mind is infinite and encompasses everything that we can fathom. The Almighty God penetrates and sees all places in a single moment: the height of the heavens, and the width of the earth, the depth of the sea and the unfathomable abyss.

In all matters of Divine rule His Providence and His care shine forth wondrously, not only directing all creatures by dint of His might, but being inherent in them and essential to them. We, being blind, think that many things in the world happen blindly by chance, whereas everything without exception occurs according to God’s pre-eternal counsel, according to His will and Providence.

The blessed Augustine justly said: “Everything that we, without understanding the matter, believe to occur randomly, chaotically, and without God’s direction, does, on the contrary, take place according to God’s will.” Let us explain this by means of an example: a master sends two of his servants to the same place, but along different routes and without telling either of them of the other. Their meeting at that place is accidental as far as the servants are concerned, for they were not expecting to meet each other, but is not accidental in regard to the master. In like manner a beggar finds a hidden trove (buried treasure or money) accidentally, but for God, Who wished the treasure to be buried there for the beggar to find it and become enriched, this is not an accidental occurrence, but God’s fatherly Providence, providing for the poor man. For God there are no accidental occurrences.

Often we are deceived in calling accidental certain events in which God’s supreme Wisdom and Providence are revealed. It was not by chance that robbers out of fear threw the body of a person they had killed into the tomb of the prophet Elisha, where the dead man, upon touching Elisha’s bones, immediately came alive. It was not by chance that Moses was placed in a tar-covered basket and sent down the river, where the Pharaoh’s daughter found him and adopted him. It was not by chance that the iniquitous Israeli King Ahab was struck by an arrow that flew in between the seams of his armor. Truly that arrow was directed by the hand of God, just as was the one which struck Julian the Apostate; only for the soldier who let fly the arrow was it accidental. It was not by chance that swallows flew into the home of Tobit and blinded the righteous man. This happened at God’s command, in order to hold Tobit up as an example to succeeding generations, as we learn from the Angel who accompanied his son Tobias. Nothing happens by chance. It was not by chance that Caesar Augustus ordered the census to be taken in the year of Christ’s Nativity. It was not by chance that Christ met with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar and spoke with her. All this was foreseen and written down in the books of Divine Providence before the beginning of time.

Often God, in His wise concern for us, leads us along barely passable paths of life, but He knows well the path that will bring us to the celestial paradisiacal gardens. Why should we utter complaints against the wisest and most reliable Guide in our life? Each one of us is accompanied by God’s Providence along our path of life, from the day of our birth to the day of our departure for eternal life, as long as we remain loyal to God’s direction, indicated by our Saviour in His holy Gospel.

Speaking of God’s Providence, it is impossible not to recall the story of the Israeli King Saul, who, being sent by his father to find their lost donkeys, found himself a kingdom. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel, to whom God revealed that Saul was the one who should be anointed to rule over the Jewish people. Everything happened according to God’s unfathomable command, as though in the normal course of events: Saul found both the donkeys and a kingdom, of which he had had no thought. How different are God’s fates from human intentions: Saul had no thought of a royal scepter, but by God’s will was placed upon a throne. Thus, it was not by chance that the donkeys became lost, not by chance that Saul was sent to find them, not by chance that for a long time he was unable to find them, and not by chance did he go to the seer Samuel to learn of their whereabouts: all of this took place in accordance with God’s Providence, in order to enthrone Saul as king of Israel.

At the same time the following question arises of its own accord: why did God wish to anoint Saul to the kingdom, if He knew in advance that the latter would subsequently fall into iniquity and end his life wretchedly?

Instead of a direct answer I will offer you my own questions: why did God create His angels in grace, knowing in advance that some of them would offer resistance to God and would be eternally rejected by Him for their sin? Why did God settle Adam in Paradise, knowing that Adam would not live in Paradise for long, but would be expelled from it? Why did Christ add Judas Iscariot to the circle of the apostles, knowing in advance that the latter would become a traitor to Him? What is the reason for such changes in God’s determinations?

The blessed Jerome responds to such questions thusly: “Would you like to learn the reason for such changes? Here it is: God does not judge future deeds, but present ones, and does not condemn anyone by His foreknowledge, although He knows that a good man may subsequently change into an evil one; at the same time, by His mercy he places man in the situation which he deserves at the present time, and thus gives him strength, in the case of a fall, to return to the true path by means of repentance. Adam did not sin because God foresaw his sin, but the reason God foresaw it was because Adam was to sin on the basis of his free will.”

St. Ambrose says the same: “Adam did not sin because he received the commandment, nor did Judas sin because he was chosen to be an apostle, for God did not lay upon them the need: for one to transgress the commandment and for the other to become a traitor. Both of them, had they faithfully held on to their responsibilities, could have abstained from sin. Those of whom God knows that they will subsequently lead a virtuous life, are often evil in the beginning, while those of whom He knows that they will sin, are often initially good. You are presently standing, but beware lest you fall. The holy Apostle Peter fell – and you should be careful; Judas fell, in order to deter you from falling.”

No effort on our part can protect us without God’s help, but by the same token, God’s help without man’s wish (will) will not bring any benefit either, as we see in the examples of Peter and Judas. We should avoid one-sidedness: we should not remain indolent, placing all care upon God, but equally we should not believe that by dint of our own effort, without God’s help or will, we can do good. For God Himself does not do everything, in order not to leave us in idleness, but equally does not allow us to do everything, in order to protect us from pride and vanity. God leads us away from everything that may harm us, but He urges us towards everything that is beneficial for us and helps us attain it.

God’s Providence is revealed with the greatest wisdom: usually not every transgression is punished right away, nor, on the other hand, is it left without any punishment at all. If God did not subject evildoing to punishment, many people would think that there is no Providence. Yet if punishment followed immediately upon the transgression, in that case they would think that there are neither rewards, nor punishment after death. For this reason God, by punishing only some, thus reveals His Providence; and when He does not punish others directly after their transgression, He then threatens them with punishment after death in the eternal life, if they do not repent in this one.

God turns all earthly misfortunes to our benefit and for our good; He allows actual sins in order to attain the most supreme, unfathomable, and mysterious goals of His Divine rule. For both the doing of good deeds and the tolerance of evildoing is a quality belonging exclusively to Divine Providence. Truly God would never have allowed evil, if He were not powerful enough and good enough to produce good consequences from every evil deed. Tell me in conscience: when did a greater or viler evil appear in the world than Adam’s transgression and the killing of Christ the Saviour, the new Adam? – However, the original sin brought God from heaven down to earth, to take upon Himself the human body, while Christ’s death opened up the heavens to us and gave us back all that we had lost through Adam. The supreme God is also the wisest craftsman, turning all evil actions into a reason for creating the best consequences, just as gold is produced from an amorphous lump. The Magdalene’s sins served as cause for the rectification of many; Peter’s fall served as an example of genuine repentance for a countless multitude of people; and Thomas’s disbelief reassured many of the truth of Christ’s resurrection. God did not sow sins, yet reaps from them a rich harvest of virtues. Truly God distills honey out of rock and oil out of granite, when out of the greatest iniquities He produces the most beneficial consequences.

In a similar manner God’s Providence is vigilant over us, and keeps vigil indefatigably, so that even our most minute discomforts do not go unnoticed. Consequently each one of us, whenever we are subjected to physical discomfort, should reason thusly: this illness or other misfortune, whether it came as a result of my carelessness, or through human malice, or from some other cause, – has not in any case occurred without God’s Providence, which has determined it in accordance with my strength, so that its inception and its weight (weakening or intensification) depend on God. The method of treating and healing it likewise depends on God’s Providence, which instructs the physician and indicates the means of treatment, or counteracts it, for all good and bad things, life and death, poverty and wealth, – all come from the Lord. Similarly, in all things that befall us, we must reason that they have been foreseen and allowed by God. If an enemy maligns or curses you – know that all his abuses and words spoken in malice have been placed from eternity upon the scales of God’s Providence: he will say only as much as has been allowed him and not a word more. Why are you opposing him and getting angry in vain? In like manner look upon all your other misfortunes, whose provenance, number, weight, duration, and end have all been foreseen by God. Therefore, subject yourself to God’s Providence, saying: may Thy will be done, my God! All of this has occurred by Thy Providence and tolerance. And since Thou hast allowed this, I would be an iniquitous sinner if I were to rise against Thee in indignation. Thus I remain in obedience to Thy holy will, my God, and gratefully accept all that Thou sendest me, and will endure everything patiently.

The blessed Augustine says: “The sea of life is turbulent, and Thou, Lord, seest evildoers flourishing and good men being oppressed: this raises a tempest within the heart. O Lord God! Does this constitute Thy truth, that evildoers prosper while good men suffer? – And God replies to you: is such your faith? Is this what I had promised you (i.e. a thriving state)? And is this why you are called a Christian, in order to delight in worldly successes?” Let us humble ourselves before God, and let us soothe our hearts with faith in God’s Providence whenever we see the unrighteous dominating, the righteous being persecuted, righteousness being eradicated, and truth being destroyed. None of this would be happening if the Lord did not allow it, and in truth, He would not allow it, if He did not have sufficient reason to believe that it was better to allow than to forbid. You may say that such tolerance gives rise to a multitude of tribulations and the greatest unrest. One may feel sorry for the situation, but within the bounds of reason, for there were justified reasons for God to wish it so, since out of the greatest evil God may produce the most wondrous good, just as easily as slipping a sword out of its sheath.

Do not be surprised, for God’s judgment is mysterious and unfathomable: at Christ’s second coming, at the dread day of judgment, the entire life of every person will appear as in a mirror; also every reason for which God’s Providence produced one or another event, and why, will be totally clarified: for all kingdoms, cities, families, and each individual. Everything will be revealed. It will be revealed how merciful was the Lord to sinners, and each one of them will remain mute; and also the extent to which the image of God’s rule of the world accorded with His glory and truth will also be revealed, and how right and beneficial it had been for all.

Let us not forget that out of every evil God creates some good. What was more sorrowful than the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, together with all mankind? However, God has so reconstituted them, that the current state of a Christian is higher than was Adam’s state in paradise. Christ’s death on the cross was a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness for the Greeks; however, it became the salvation of the entire world, and for all those who were called – an honor, and glory, and attainment of an eternal life of rapture (1 Cor. 1:23).

God’s solicitude for our needs


God is the most solicitous caretaker. In His hands He holds all of life’s great and wealthy resources, and only from Him should we ask for them in fervent prayer. The desert-dweller Mark used to say: Whoever has no hope of receiving temporary necessities from God, would have even less hope of receiving from Him that which leads into eternal life. But if God has given us a body, will He not clothe it? Is not life (the soul) superior to victuals and the body to clothes? Just as He granted us life (without any merit on our part, when we did not even yet exist), so undoubtedly will He give us all that is needful for preserving life and nourishing the body. Even more so will He not deny us this, since He Himself, in His supreme goodness, has wished to grant us existence and life. And if He freely and willingly gave us what is most important for us, then He can give, and wishes to give, and always sends us the less important things too. But He will send them on condition that we do not remain idle: for He has created us and placed us on earth for us to cultivate it and maintain it in order, and not for idleness, and for us to place our hope in Him alone, the All-powerful and All-generous One, and not in ourselves.

Christ Himself teaches us, saying: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them” (Matt. 6:26). The same Heavenly Teacher goes on to say: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father’s will. For the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29). This first argument against our lack of faith is presented to us in the form of living creatures who feed themselves without any care, – so that at least from their example we would learn to recognize the omnipotence of God’s Providence – our sole source of tranquility and inner peace.

The second argument comes in the form of wild flowers. Having pointed out God’s Providence in regard to sparrows, the Lord Christ then says: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matt. 6:28-29). And from this Christ draws the following conclusion: “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (6:30). To this our Saviour adds a third point on the futility of our self-concern, saying: “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (6:27). Every self-concern of ours that is not joined with hope in God is futile and vain, of which the Lord goes on to say: “If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?” (Luke 12:26). If God does not bless it, our entire effort is in vain, idle, useless. In your every affair and activity place all your hopes in God, and He (without any effort on your part) will arrange everything for the best by His ineffable mercy.

Thus, if the Lord God concerns Himself with satisfying the basic needs of all creatures in general, for He created both the great and the small and takes care of all equally, why are there so many beggars and deprived people everywhere? Brethren, God’s Providence in regard to poor people is truly wondrous. St. John Chrysostom has rightly said of this, that not only the poor have need of the rich, but the rich have even greater need of the poor. Everything that was and is good and God-pleasing in the world has been created through the effort and activity of poor but hard-working and God-fearing people. Being deprived of comfort and money, they worked diligently and did not forget God, but prayed to their Creator and Caretaker, Who was a benefactor to them even in the midst of their need. Many of God’s saints, living in extreme poverty, loved it much more than wealth and were always the recipients of God’s greatest Providence.

In truth, God is so solicitous of people who have entrusted themselves to Him wholeheartedly, that when they are deprived of human help, He sends them His divine help. Although we often receive the same grace from God in our needs and deprivations, there is still much lack of faith among many of us, who fear to lose sufficient and requisite necessities for maintaining our life here. O, how faint-hearted we are! Our Heavenly Father knows of all our needs: do we think that God’s mercy has now dwindled in comparison with former times?

For 60 years St. Paul, the first desert-dweller, was brought half-a-loaf of bread each day by a raven; however, when the saint was visited by St. Anthony the Great, the raven brought a whole loaf. St. John the desert-dweller did not see any people for 14 years, and all this while he subsisted on a doe’s milk. Many hermits had food and clothes from fig trees. In 603 A.D. Judoc, son of the Breton king, renounced his throne, became a monastic, and later became a hermit. On an island surrounded by water he built a church and founded a monastery. He was so generous to the poor that the monastery once remained with only a single loaf of bread for the working brothers, and even that loaf he ordered to be cut into four parts and the first part given to a beggar. This beggar, changing his clothes, came up four times on the same day to ask for charity and thus received all four pieces of the bread, so that there was nothing left for feeding the brothers. Consequently one of them began to grumble and berate his abbot for latter’s extreme generosity. Judoc then comforted him and told him to wait for help from above. A few hours later, four ships sailed up to the monastery, laden with foodstuffs which abundantly fed the starving brothers. The blessed Augustine rightly said: “Do you think that the one who feeds Christ (i.e. the poor) will not himself be fed by Christ?”

The abbot of a certain monastery sent two brothers out on business affairs. When evening came, the two travelers, exhausted by their labors, being hungry and depressed, began to bemoan the fact that they would soon arrive at a poor town, and not knowing anyone there, they would find no respite or sustenance. A certain stranger met them on the way and asked them about their depressed state, and when the monks revealed their sorrow to him, he said: “You have left everything for the sake of God, placing your entire hope in Him, and now you sorrow as though left without any hope! God feeds the cattle – do you think He will let His sons perish from hunger?” Saying thus, the stranger became invisible. When the monks entered the town and prayed in the church, the mayor himself invited them over for supper, they went to his house, and he fed them abundantly. However, such examples do not eradicate our lack of faith; despite everything that God sends us, we fear privation, and if we do not have everything in overabundance, we are greatly saddened.

Here is an example of our lack of belief: it is said about a certain beggar, that having looked into his basket and seeing it full of loaves of bread gathered from many benefactors, he then declared: now I feel myself well provided for. We ourselves are very like this beggar: only then do we feel assured in our hope in God, when our storerooms are full of all kinds of goods that will last us for many years.

St. John, Patriarch of Alexandria, was not like that at all. Having suffered enormous losses after a tempest destroyed thirteen church ships loaded with grain, each ship carrying ten thousand measures of grain, he placed all his hope in God and in Him alone found his greatest comfort. At that time practically half of Alexandria’s citizens suffered similar losses and, moreover, all the seamen and the passengers who were saved from the storm gathered in Alexandria as in a safe haven. To all of them St. John immediately sent a letter of consolation, in which he wrote words of comfort to all: “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away; as the Lord wished, so it came about; blessed be the name of the Lord! Be patient, children, and do not fear anything!” The next day many of the most prominent citizens gathered at St. John’s residence to comfort him in his losses. But he, however, took all the blame upon himself, saying: “God preserved me from a great sin: if this had not happened, I would have prided myself on handing out so much charity to the poor, and I would have had a high opinion of my own generosity; and for this reason the loving Father justly punished the vain son to prevent his growing pride. God mercifully instructs us by allowing us to suffer some traumas, in order for us to come to our senses and quickly turn to Him. But He is the very same God Who existed in Job’s time, just as omnipotent and just as merciful, and He will not abandon us.” With these words the patriarch comforted those who had come to comfort him. And, in truth, very soon the Lord God replenished St. John’s losses a hundredfold, while the latter continued to give out the most abundant charity to the poor. To entertain doubt or disbelief in such cases is the same as to assert that God is either miserly or forgetful; but such opinions belong to the iniquitous and the godless; they should be totally rejected by us.

St. Amateus the desert-dweller was in his own time like a mirror for all those who understand God’s Providence incorrectly, reject it, or blaspheme against it. After having labored in a monastery for thirty years, Amateus went off into the desert, where he lived on a chosen rock in great abstinence. Every three days one of the monastic brothers brought him a loaf of bread and a cup of water – this was his only sustenance. Such abstinence was not pleasing to the devil: and so a raven flew up, overturned the cup of water with his feet, snatched up the loaf of bread in his beak and flew away. Thus the monastic was deprived of 3 days’ worth of sustenance. How did the righteous man take this occurrence? Perhaps he swore at the raven, or uttered blasphemous words at God’s Providence, or began to curse the demon’s wiles? Not at all! It is we who act thusly in such cases, while he, lifting his hands and his mind to heaven, declared: “I thank Thee, my Lord God, that by Thy holy will Thou wast pleased to retain me in a more prolonged period of fasting. I know that this will be of greater advantage to me in the future, for nothing in the world happens without Thy Providence, and not even a single leaf will fall from the tree without it.” Yet we, sinners, think that the destruction of homes by fire, the drowning of ships, the loss of property, and all personal affronts take place while God’s Providence sleeps or does not keep watch, – in other words, we do not believe in God’s Providence. Even the pagans knew better than we do, for the intelligent ones among them reasoned that everything in the world occurs not by the will of man, nor by blind chance. In fact, everything comes from God, according to His just Providence: so why are we full of indignation and often even protest against it?

Countless examples and images bring us to a realization of the omnipotence of God’s Providence. Nevertheless, we have so little hope in this Providence! If our vessels, caskets, chests, and granaries are not overflowing with all kinds of goods, then our spirit fails; but when our bags are full, when our pockets are bulging with money, then we have hope. O, how blind we are! True hope in God is when we, finding ourselves in great penury, deprivation, and poverty, do not fall into despair, but patiently overcome all our tribulations, for the more suffering we endure, the greater glory and crowns are prepared for us. The ancients had a memorable saying: “If only we did what we should, then God would do for us what we want.” Blessed Jerome, explaining this principle, said: “May man be what he is destined to be, and immediately the One Who created everything will send him everything.” Blessed Augustine rightly exclaims: “O, my God! You have so much concern for a single person, as though You had to take care of only him alone: as much for all, as for each one.” And St. Gregory says: “God takes care of each person individually as much as of everyone together, and concerns Himself over everyone as though over a single person.” Thus God’s Providence takes care of thee, brother, just as though He had no other concerns. The great number of people in God’s care neither awes, nor burdens God’s Providence; for Him the care of a single person is the same as the care of countless millions of people. Just as before God took care of Noah and his family, or of the single Adam in paradise, so now God’s Providence takes equal care of all.

All misfortunes and disasters take place by the will of God


Everything in the world, even seemingly evil things (except for sin), occurs by the will of God. Theologians explain it in the following manner. The origin of evil is sin. Each sin contains (1) the cause that led to it and (2) its inevitable consequence – correction through punishment. The cause of sin is the deceit and willfulness of the vain sinner, while the punishments (both correction and execution), being the bitter consequences of their cause, occur by the will of God, and are not the cause of sin, but represent its correction or destruction. Thus, if from the concept of sin we eliminate its cause – deceit and willfulness, then there will not be a single one of its bitter or evil consequences that does not occur by the will of God or is displeasing to Him. Just like the sinful misfortunes of an individual, so the earthly, so-called natural, disasters, such as: famine, drought, plagues, etc., which often bear no direct relation to individual sin, occur by the will of God. Therefore, all human disasters and misfortunes positively occur by the will of God for the sake of achieving the righteous goals of God’s Providence; sin alone is contrary to God (just as evil is contrary to good, or deceit is contrary to truth), but is allowed by God in order not to violate the freedom of man’s will.

Many are deceived, believing in their ignorance that only the evil occurring from natural causes, to wit: floods, earthquakes, crop failures, disastrous atmospheric manifestations, epidemics, unexpected death, etc., – occur by the will of God, for often such misfortunes have no direct relation to sins. But evil deeds, occurring from unlawful human designs, from falsehood, such as: offensive words, mockery, insult, deceit, counterfeiting, abductions, theft, murder, etc. – occur, in the view of these people, independently of the will of God and His Providence, but exclusively due to human malice and the depraved human will, which of its own accord causes all manner of evil for its neighbors. However, such views are unworthy of a Christian.

The subject of which we now speak can be best explained by means of an example. A certain person, intending to deprive his neighbor of all of latter’s property, and wishing to fulfill his evil intention secretly, creeps unnoticed into the neighbor’s house, places lighted fuel under the building, and leaves the house just as surreptitiously. Soon afterwards a fire starts; the flames grow, the wind spreads the fire to other buildings; people run from all sides to extinguish the flames and protect adjacent buildings from the fire. The arsonist also runs up together with the other people, as though to put out the fire, but he has a different intent: under cover of the fire alarm, he takes valuables out of the burning building as though to save them, but in reality he steals them for himself and hides them. Although all these actions of the arsonist represent the direct cause of the owner’s bankruptcy and loss of property, but examined by themselves, without any relation to the arsonist’s evil intent, they appear no different from so-called natural disasters. They stem from God: just as God allows thunder to kill a man, or lighting to ignite a house or a growing tree, a hurricane to sweep away a field of haystacks, so does He control the arsonist: the latter can neither enter the house, nor go out of it, nor ignite the fire without God’s allowance. Moreover, the actions themselves are indifferent – neither evil, nor good, because they can lead to evil just as equally as to good, for God could have prevented their being committed if He so wished. However, the Lord did not impede the committal of the evil intent, but allowed it according to His just judgment. The reasons for such allowance will be explained below.

If God is not and cannot be the source of our moral fall (which alone is genuine evil), then it is quite true that all misfortunes occurring from secondary causes, be they rational or irrational, and occurring no matter how, all occur by the will of God, are sent by His mighty hand, at His discretion, and by His Providence. Often God’s judgment uses iniquitous kings and evil princes as His tools for teaching patience to the righteous and chastising the unrighteous for their crimes and misdeeds. Here is an example: through the prophet Isaiah God threatens the depraved Israeli people with destruction and with the devastation of Palestine through the Assyrians, clearly demonstrating that it is not the will of the Assyrian king, but rather His holy will that is being fulfilled by the Assyrians. God punishes the Israelis with the divine instrument of His wrath and indignation at their iniquities and, consequently, attributes this punishment to Himself. We should regard in equal manner all the other righteous chastisements that are allowed by God for our misdeeds. During the siege of Jerusalem, the Roman Emperor Titus, personally walking around the walls and seeing the ditches filled with corpses, sighed heavily, and raising his eyes and hands to heaven, cried out: “Merciful God! This is not my doing!”

We are asked: if it is true that all misfortunes are sent to us by the will of God, then are we not trying to withstand His holy will in vain? Is it not useless for us to take medicines when we are ill? Why should we lead out armed hosts against an attacking enemy? Here is my reply to the inquirers: it is clear that destructive wars and other woes happen not without God’s will, but it does not follow that we should not arm ourselves against the enemy or not try to treat our illnesses, regarding such actions as opposition to the will of God. For example, if we fall prey to some illness, there is no doubt that such was God’s will. However, the sick person does not know God’s intention in regard to the duration of his illness, and for this reason he is not forbidden to use various medicinal means to return to health or at least to ease the illness. And only if the continuous use of many medications does not result in a cure, the sick person may be sure that such is God’s will for him to endure a protracted illness. Similarly, if a fire starts up and cannot be extinguished by the combined efforts of the people and the fire brigade, then it is clear that God’s judgment has decided not only to have the building burned, but to have it burn down completely, in order to test the patience of God’s friends or to punish His enemies. We should look upon all other events in our life in a similar manner.

“Look, beloved brethren, – instructs us the blessed Augustine, – never say: this has been done to me by the devil, or this misfortune befell me through the perfidious enemy, but attribute to God all that happens to you, both good and bad, knowing that the devil cannot do anything to you if the Mighty God, Who has power over life and death, does not allow him to do something to you for your chastisement or rectification. God allows punishment for the iniquitous, who consciously act against their conscience, openly reject truth, etc., while rectification is allowed for sons who have sinned – ‘for the Lord scourgeth every son whom He receiveth’ (Hebrews 12:6). And you, too, should not expect to remain without punishment, unless you wish to be deprived of the heavenly inheritance.”

When King David was escaping from his insubordinate son Absalom, who had rebelled against him, a certain Semeus from the clan of King Saul ran out in front of David and began reviling Him most cruelly for Saul’s death. Seeing such vilification of David, his military commanders wanted to kill Semeus, but the king, who perceived God’s will in this revilement of himself, said to his attendants: “Leave him be, let him abuse me, for the Lord had commanded him to revile David.” Semeus naturally sinned grievously in cursing David, because although God used him as a tool of revilement, He was not the cause of Semeus’ vile will; He only wisely used it to punish David. Thus each one of us should also look upon the attacks and curses of evil people upon us in a manner like unto David, for the merciful God uses their willfulness to either instruct the innocent or chastise the guilty.

In Constantinople the Greek Queen Irene, who had been dethroned by a despicable slave, turned to God with the following words: “I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou hast put me, Thy unworthy servant, on the royal throne; but since Thou hast also allowed me to be deprived of my throne, I believe it to be in consequence of my sins; may Thy will be done in me! In all bad and good things may the name of the Lord be blessed.” It is true that no one can harm us, except in that in which we harm ourselves. For this reason the blessed Augustine rightly said: “Believe in the Lord God without any reservation and give yourself over to Him completely: then He will not reject you and will not allow any harm to come to you.” Everyone should know this precept and firmly keep the following in mind: nothing harmful can happen to us without the will or allowance of God: neither the devil, nor any individual can harm us if God does not allow it. We should firmly believe that even though the direst misfortunes befall us by God’s command, they are sent from the most merciful Father for our benefit, for our instruction or rectification, for the sake of our misdeeds and sins. Consequently, no one else, except we ourselves, can harm us.

God allows misfortunes and sins 
for the good of man


Since neither the devil, nor any person can do evil to another without God’s allowance of it, let us examine the following: what God allows, how He allows it, and for what reason does this allowance come about?

We must differentiate between two kinds of allowed evils. The first kind of evil, comprising various misfortunes, burdens, illnesses, insults or dishonor (impoverishment, imprisonment, banishment, exile), death – all of this cannot even be called evil in the strict sense of the word, but only a bitter medicine sent to us by God for our spiritual healing. The second kind of evil, in the exact meaning of the word, is represented by our sins, our transgression of God’s commandments. God allows the first kind of evil in accordance with His wishes, or to punish the wicked, or as a means of rectification for faithful sons and daughters. Concerning the second kind of evil, i.e. sins, one cannot say that God wishes them to be committed, but only tolerates them. Everything that really exists in the world, is present in it by the wish and word of God, by Whose will “all things were made, and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).

Sin, however, is not something real, but only an illusory antithesis to genuine being. Sin exists as a result of the imperfection, deceit, and guile of the rational and free, but insubordinate beings created by God; for this reason sin originally occurred and continues to occur against the will of God and not from God, yet by His tolerance. The reason for the tolerance of sin is hidden for the time being within the mystery of God’s absolute and perfect rule over the world, or His Providence. God has absolute knowledge of the future, and He can easily not allow the occurrence of the sinning that is abominable to Him, but He tolerates it in order to produce good out of evil and justice out of injustice for the sake of teaching and rectifying people, so that they would see the consequences of sin both for the sinner and for those around him, and for society. This is what distinguishes God’s tolerance from human tolerance, which cannot by human means avert and curtail evil in its inception, even though the committing of it would be undesirable. On the contrary, in God we see both His power to prevent or curtail the execution of an evil intent, and at the same time we see His will, allowing one or another evil to be committed. This raises the following question: why does God wish to tolerate the committing of sin, or what is God’s motivation in allowing people to sin?

God’s infinite goodness would never have allowed such iniquities to exist on earth, were it not able to produce the greatest good from them and turn into salvation all that had been done with evil intent. God allowed the escalation of brotherly envy against the innocent Joseph, but allowed it for what good reason? – was it not to deliver from a death from hunger not only his parents, brothers, and relatives, but all of Egypt? God allowed the iniquitous Saul to continuously offend the meek David, but was it not for the benefit of David himself, whose descendant was Christ our Saviour? God allowed the unjustly accused prophet Daniel to be thrown into a den with frenzied lions, but for what? – in order to raise him and his friends to the pinnacle of glory and grandeur. But why should I speak of numerous instances in Old Testament history, when by God’s tolerance the envious high priests, Pharisees, and Jewish elders presented for crucifixion the Only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, and this tolerance turned into salvation for all mankind. Thus, out of each instance of tolerance arise and become revealed to us the greatest riches of God’s glory and His benevolence to each individual and all mankind. Each instance reveals to us God’s goodness and mercy, His munificence, omnipotence, and majesty, His foresight and Providence. In each instance His supreme wisdom and truth enlighten us in ways unknown to us, and thus encourage many attentive people to return to the path of virtue and to multiply their laborious yet glorious spiritual feats.

O, how wondrously and majestically does Divine Providence reveal itself in its daily tolerance! It is not difficult to produce good from good, but to turn evil into good is quite amazing. There is a saying that “anyone can be a helmsman on a calm sea.” It is not such a great matter to direct the ship towards harbor when the wind is favorable, the ship is strong, the sea is calm, the sailors know their business, and the harbor is already in view. But it is quite a different matter when a storm stirs up the sea, the ship is damaged, the waves pour noisily onto the deck and inside the ship, or when the night is dark and nothing can be seen, pirates surround the ship, the crew is small and poorly armed, and in spite of all, the captain has the ship under such masterful command, that he escapes danger without any damage – that is truly amazing, and in this case the actions of the ship’s captain have shown his wisdom and his ability to steer the ship. We see a similar situation in God’s rule over the world: some things which are allowed by God’s will and which seem to us not to lead to any good, God brings to the best possible end through His indescribable wisdom and truth. By tolerating illicit actions and harmful adventures, God sometimes turns malefactors into His honorable friends. By God’s Providence, which directs everything towards the best possible end, wicked intents against a person are often turned to the latter’s advantage; the attacks and insults made against someone often increase his inner strength. The evildoers’ greatest iniquities confirm many people in righteousness and virtue, and save them from perdition. Many people already seem to be completely immersed in the abyss of perdition, yet in reality it turns out that this is their way to salvation.

For Joseph his fetters and imprisonment served as a precursor to honors and the greatest glory; his brothers’ envy brought him greater benefit than the goodwill of the entire world; Saul’s malice procured for David the royal crown; the lions’ den led Daniel to greater glory and honor than that of earthly kings; from the cross Christ, together with the repentant thief, went straight into heaven, while from the Mount of Olives He ascended into heaven and sat on the right hand of God the Father.

In God’s allowance both good and evil wills work for God, and no matter their original intent, in the final analysis everything works towards the attainment of the best possible goals.

In truth, the saints ascribed everything that came upon them in life, both pleasant and unpleasant, to the will and action of God, because they did not pay attention to the sins of others, but evaluated all human actions as either a gift from God or as having been allowed by God for their own sins. The saints reasoned thusly: the all-benevolent God would never have allowed anything evil, if He did not know that from this evil He would produce a multitude of great blessings.

The blessed Augustine expressed the same idea: “God acknowledged it more profitable to turn evil into good than not to allow it at all, because, being all-benevolent, He would never have allowed evil in His acts, were He not so omnipotent and good as to be able to turn evil into a blessing.” And again, Theophylus rightly says: “God incomprehensibly interferes in our errors and our sins not in order to participate in them, but, despising them and correcting them, God produces much good out of evil, just as though He were turning fire into water.” In another homily he says: “All those who insult us in some manner or other combine two persons within themselves, one acting consciously, the other unconsciously. Firstly, each such person, out of malice towards us, wishes to act against us with hostility, with the intent to insult us, deprive us of our property, etc., although he is not always necessarily successful in his intent; but in case of success, through God’s allowance he unconsciously becomes a second person who is now acting as a tool in God’s hands, punishing or rectifying our conduct, and thus he unconsciously serves God.” Such unconscious servants of God were the following historically famous people: Nebuchadnezzar, Attila, leader of the Huns, Totila, king of the Italian Ostrogoths, Tamerlan, and other scourges of God.

Dear brother Christian, allow me to ask you who so often rends heaven with your sorrowful complaints. Tell me: what insults you the most – the will and intent of the offender, or only his power, his ability to realize the insult, or both one and the other? You answer: “I am offended by both the one and the other.” In response to this I will tell you that neither offensive will, nor the execution of it (power) can insult you: offensive intent (will) is nothing without the power and does not harm you in any way, while the execution of the intent depends on the allowance or the will of God, which is holy and just. You know that all power is from God, – so why do you sorrow and complain about the offender for having done to you only that which was allowed him by God? Otherwise, without God’s allowance, he could not have offended you. You will say: “My adversary has offended me greatly.” – “Tell me – in what way? – for God is either punishing you for your sins, or teaching you patience, or multiplying your reward for being an innocent victim, – and yet you consider yourself offended?” – “I hate this malicious person and his evil will,” – you say. – “But you always pay attention to other people’s actions, while I advise you to rather raise your eyes towards God and your conscience. Human will, even though it is evil and wicked, what could it do to you? in what lies its success? You do not regret the fact that your adversary wished to harm you as much as the fact that he did harm you. From whence did this come and how could he harm you? Was it not by the power and will of God? And if it was by the power and will of God, then it was always in accordance with just and righteous Providence. Consequently, either you keep quiet or turn your complaints toward Divine Providence, – and at this point bear firmly in mind that God would never allow the evil will of another to harm you in any way that would not be to your benefit, unless you harm yourself.”

And who can harm us if we engage only in good things? Blessed Augustine has put it very well: “Do not fear the enemy: he is able to harm you only to the extent of the power given to him by God. Fear rather the One Who is able to do whatever He wants, and Who never does anything unjust, but whatever He does is always just; and should anything, in our opinion, seem unjust, if it undoubtedly occurred by the will of God, we must believe that it is just and true.” You may ask: “If someone killed an innocent person, is that just or unjust?” – “There is no doubt that it is unjust and deserves punishment.” – “Then why, – you will ask, – “has God allowed such injustice?” – “You wish to argue with God before you have become worthy to ask God: for what reason, O God, hast Thou allowed this? – I am unable, dear brother, to explain to you God’s intentions or the reasons for His allowance, because God’s Wisdom is too infinite for the human mind, but I can only assert that, on the one hand, the murderer of the innocent man has acted unjustly, and on the other hand, this murder would not have occurred had God not allowed it for a reason that is unknown to us, but just. In other words, the murderer committed an iniquitous act, deserving punishment, but God’s allowance is just and wise, for a just reason that is concealed from us for the time being.”

In the same manner blessed Augustine regards the putting to death of Christ our Saviour. “Judas, that iniquitous betrayer of Christ, – says Augustine, – and all Christ’s persecutors are all lawless, all iniquitous, all unjust, all damned; however, the Father did not spare His Son, but gave Him up (allowed Him to be put to death) for the salvation of us all.” Such is the mystic reason for God’s allowance of His Only-begotten Son’s being put to death by malefactors, – a reason that was incomprehensible at the time. Thus do not be surprised that God allows evil. He allows it according to His most-just judgment, and allows it only to a certain measure, number, and weight. There is no injustice in Him, and you only have to put your entire trust in Him.

There is only one sure means of calming oneself when being offended: if someone has insulted or offended you, do not pay attention to the offender’s malice, but turn to the righteous God Who has allowed your adversary to insult you, and do not avenge with evil the evil that has been done to you, for it has been allowed by God for the attainment of good and just aims, even though they are unknown to you for the time being. All of God’s saints kept to this custom: they did not try to analyze who had offended them and for what, but always turned their hearts to God, humbly acknowledging the justice of God’s allowance; for this reason they regarded the offenses given them as a boon for themselves, and their adversaries as benefactors, saying: “here are our true benefactors, for they do not flatter us; those who praise and exalt us to our face are flatterers and damage our inner perfection.“” Thus the saints always inwardly turned to God and in all matters placed their trust in God’s Providence and expected only good things from God.

On the other hand, one can see from all of the above that the sin committed against one’s neighbor by God’s allowance does not yet merit any mitigation of the sinner’s guilt only because his unlawful action gave God cause to produce great good out of evil. For the sinner had only given cause for good, and not of his own accord, but by the grace of God; the sinner’s intent was still evil and remains evil. Thus even the good that God produces from the commission of evil does not in any way mitigate the guilt of the sinner.

The incomprehensibility of God’s judgments


Throughout the course of our entire life we must often repeat King David’s utterance: “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains, O Lord; Thy judgments are a great deep” (Psalm 36:6). This depth is illustrated in the Bible in the example of the two high-ranking servants of the Egyptian Pharaoh: the cupbearer and the caterer. Both were servants of the same king, both came under his displeasure, both were arrested and imprisoned, and both were remembered by the king during a palace feast; the Pharaoh could have pardoned them both, if such were the will of God, or could have condemned them to execution. However, he ordered the caterer to be hanged, while the cupbearer he returned to favor and his former position. Such was the will of God; some He removes from His presence in accordance with His righteous judgment, while others He covers with great mercy. “And who can search out His mighty deeds? Who can measure His majesty’s power? And who can fully recount His mercies?” says the son of Sirach (18:3-4).

Equally mysterious and unfathomable was God’s will in regard to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and the Pharaoh of Moses’ time. The blessed Augustine has rightly said of them: “Nebuchadnezzar was punished by God for his countless iniquities and in this way was brought to salvific and very beneficial repentance. The Pharaoh, on the contrary, became hardened even despite God’s scourges, disdained them, and perished in the Red Sea together with his entire host.” Both of them were pagan kings and both were punished. Why did they reach such an unequal end? – One of them comprehended God’s punitive hand, repented, and rectified his conduct; the other did not submit to the will of God that was announced to him, remained in his sinful obduracy, – and perished.

Here is another example of the incomprehensibility of God’s judgment: one of the best Judean kings was Asa, who did good in the eyes of God and fortified his kingdom, destroyed the idols in the entire Judean land, and eradicated idol-worship. However, this glorious king, who for a long time reigned admirably, lost his initial glory at the end of his reign, having changed for the worse. King Menaces, on the other hand, being most wicked and evil throughout his entire life, and having brought the Jewish people to the very edge of iniquity, recognized the hand of God in his misfortune, returned to God, repented of his iniquity, and was granted forgiveness and God’s mercy. O Lord! Thy judgments are truly a great deep, a deep without measure!

At this point questions such as “why is this so?” and “how is this so?” are inappropriate. Such questions arise at the instigation of the evil spirit and have spiritually destroyed many people. “So, did God truly say: do not eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden?” – the most cunning of all creatures once asked Eve. To this question Eve should have replied thus to the wicked creature: “We know that God commanded us not to eat only the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but why and for what purpose He commanded thus – it is not our place to ask Him.” Such was His holy will, and we must not question the reasons for His willing thus. “For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, for Him to recompense again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:34-36). I am sure there will be people who will assert that it is not forbidden to sometimes ask the reason for one or another commandment. Ask whom? Do they mean God, Who alone knows everything, knows what is good and what is only tolerable? If a servant from his master or a subordinate from his superior demand the reason for such-and-such an order or directive, then the first will look upon it as an insult to himself, while the second will regard it as rebellion and insubordination, and yet you dare to exhibit even greater insolence towards God? God’s Providence needs no other reason except His holy will.

St. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, describes the following event in the life of St. Anthony the Great: two monks undertook a journey to visit St. Anthony in his desert. However, traveling through the arid and hot desert, they became completely exhausted from thirst, and one of them already died, while the other was on the threshold of death. St. Anthony was several miles away from them. Sitting on a rock in his monastery, he hurriedly summoned his two monks and said to them: “Run as fast as you can to such-and-such a place in the desert, taking vessels with water with you, for one of the two brothers who were coming to visit us has already died of thirst, while the other is still breathing, but is suffering and has become very weak; if you delay, you will not find the other one alive either: this has been revealed to me by God while I stood in prayer.” Having received such instructions, the messengers immediately and willingly went off, and after finding the travelers, they buried the body of the deceased one, while the other one they revived with water and fortified with food, and then brought him back with them to St. Anthony. In describing this event St. Athanasius wisely remarks that someone may very well ask: “Why did St. Anthony not send his monks earlier to save the travelers, before one of them died?” Such a question is quite inappropriate for a Christian, because it was not St. Anthony’s affair, but God’s judgment: God Himself pronounced a fair verdict in regard to the dying man and the thirsty living one; and He likewise revealed to St. Anthony His will concerning the saving of one of the travelers.

St. Anthony the Great, being in a state of contemplation, was amazed at God’s hidden and unfathomable mysteries and humbly called out to God: “O Lord my God! Thou art sometimes pleased to grant a long life to people who seem useless and immersed in an abyss of iniquity, and yet sometimes Thou deprivest of life people who are very beneficial to society” During such reflections Anthony heard a voice saying: “Be attentive to thine own self. That upon which you are reflecting is God’s judgment, and it is not your place to analyze or question it.”

In the year 1117, when the whole of Italy was being shaken by earthquakes, some of the residents of the city of Milan assembled at a certain home to discuss public affairs. Suddenly a voice was heard from outside, calling upon one of the people present in the house to come out. The person being summoned was unsure of who was calling and for whom, and thus delayed in going out, waiting for a repeat call. Unexpectedly a stranger came up to the door and asked that the person being called come out quickly; no sooner had the latter moved several paces away from the building than the house fell down and destroyed all who were within. This begs the question: why was only one person from all those within the house saved from death, while all the others perished? The Lord’s judgments are a great deep! Who cannot clearly see in this event a repetition of ancient miracles? Thus did the angel of the Lord lead Lot and his children out of Sodom, leaving all the other inhabitants to become victims of fire. In a similarly miraculous manner other people are left unharmed amid multitudes who perish in general catastrophes.

We often see extraordinary upheavals and changes in the universe, unexpectedly-occurring events, and of each of them we say: “Let us see how this will end.” Occasionally we ourselves experience events that amaze us by their unexpectedness, and then we grumble in vain and say: “I could never foresee or think of such a thing happening.” We are poor illiterates in the matter of foreseeing future events! Even in currently occurring events we cannot always easily understand their true cause, except the one that is operative in all events and, moreover, is a genuine and undeniable cause. Such-and-such happened strictly because such was the will or tolerance of God according to His benevolent Providence. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, – saith the Lord. – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

There are many things in our earthly life which we will never comprehend by means of our intelligence. It is sufficient for us to know, be convinced, and believe implicitly that God is not unjust, and that on the last day of judgment there will not be a single person on trial saying anything to the Lord except the following words: “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and upright are Thy judgments” (Psalm 119:137). We must put off gaining complete understanding of the unfathomable judgments and purposes of God’s most-high wisdom until the future life!

Thus, let us cease expanding the wings of our curiosity and judgment of subjects that are above our heads. The waves of the boundless ocean of the Supreme Mind exceed the quick reasoning of all wisdom, not only human, but also angelic. And how could we ever hope to understand the end purposes of God’s profoundest destinies? Who can comprehend God’s determination in the following: why does God’s punishment for sin temporarily pass by some people and strike others? Why are those who are innocent of crime sometimes put on trial, while the sins of some people fall upon the heads of their children and descendants? Why do some die in infancy, while others live to a ripe old age? Why does one person, having sinned only slightly, perish without repentance, while another, mired for a long time in the bog of iniquity, finally rectify himself and become worthy of a Christian end? Why does one person wallow in wealth and luxury, while another does not have a single morsel of bread or a single penny?

O restless and overly curious mind! Why should you brood over this? The Lord allowed, the Lord wished, the Lord created all. We should look upon God’s will as the ultimate truth, and a willing and tranquil adherence to it as the ultimate wisdom.
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