Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Salvation ~~~ Psychotherapeutic topics

The Problem of Theodicy

William Blake - "Job Rebuked by his friends" - 1805

By Fr Anthony Alevizopoulos - Published in Issue No.28 of “DIALOGOS” Periodical  

Source:  https://www.impantokratoros.gr/theodikia-alevizopoulos.el.aspx



The problem of theodicy upsets many people.  Why do the righteous suffer in this lifetime? Why do the unrighteous prosper?  To the faithful ones, an answer cannot be given to those questions independent of the Christian faith – which naturally is not about confronting the predicaments of this lifetime.


In stressing this matter, the Apostle Paul underlines the following: “ If we have put our hope in Christ solely for this lifetime, then we are the most pitiful of all human beings...  but Christ truly rose from the dead and became the first-fruit of the reposed... everyone shall be revived in Christ – each one in his own order.  Christ is the beginning; then, during His Coming there are those who are Christ’s, and afterwards comes the end... the final enemy that will be abolished is death.”      (1 Cor.15:19-26).


The sorrows in our lifetime are not the final outcome of things, because the Resurrection of Christ is a reality and the final victory over sorrows and death is a certainty to the faithful. We are not Christians who look to this life, but to the Resurrection.  Therefore, no-one can provide an answer to the problem of theodicy, on the basis of the Christian faith and independent of the Christian hope.

Saint John the Chrysostom says that between two wicked people, the one is punished in this lifetime while the other – quite the opposite – prospers.  But the same can occur even between two pious people: the one enjoys the bounties of this life plentifully, whereas the other undergoes trials. All of these things - he says - are the work of God’s providence...

If You were to pay attention to our lawlessness, Lord, Lord, who would last?” (Psalms). If God were to punish everyone, for all committed sins, the human generations would have vanished a long time ago, and would not have maintained their continuation, as the same Father of the Church comments.

If life were limited to the present world only, God would never have allowed those who had suffered immense and many evils - and had spent their entire life with trials and innumerable dangers – to not receive any reward. Clearly, He has prepared a better and more glorious life, during which He will be crowning and announcing as victors all the athletes of piety, in front of everyone.  This is the reason He made our lives laborious: so that we might desire the bounties of the future on account of the sufferings here, the blessed Chrysostom says. If, now that we are surrounded by so many unpleasant things, we still remain attached to this life, then when would we desire the future things, if our life here was without any sorrows at all?

For those who begrudge sufferings, the Fathers know of a recipe to not constantly focus on the sad things, and not dedicate themselves to the transient things of this life, which is: to transfer their focus towards images of the truly good things, the way that those who have ailing eyes avoid looking at bright objects (Basil the Great).

Compared to the vast heavenward voyage, it is shameful for one to be bothered by the difficulties that appear along the way, Chrysostom says.  Because even if all the calamities that people suffer – be they taunts, or abusive words, or dishonesties, or slanders, or the sword, or fire, or chains and wild beasts and deluges and whatever other misfortunes this life has ever tried since the time of Creation, tell me: won’t you mock all these things and scorn them?  Will you still focus on them?


The Fathers enumerate various reasons as to why God allows sorrows in the life of man 

Life is a means of testing – a source of experience, as seen in Job (7:1) – a stadium for people to exercise.  The sorrows and trials in life generally are the instruments for this exercise.

It is benevolent that You have tested me, so that I might learn Your judgments”, says the Psalmist.  This is the characteristic of the prudent, says a Father of the Church:  by repeating this phrase, they are educated by calamities and they become purified like gold, because hardship begets the knowledge of God’s orders. Those with a brave conscience – he says elsewhere – usually react against any forceful imposition, the way a flame reacts when it is attacked by the wind and blazes up even more, the harder it blows.

Tribulations, therefore, are imperative for the athletes of Christ. Christ Himself had warned about this:  In the world, sorrow awaits you, but be of courage, for I have defeated the world” (John16:33).

All who desire to live piously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

Trials in life – say the Fathers of the Church – are intended for man to discover his weakness and be humbled, thus protecting himself from high-minded thoughts.

The Apostle Paul had received special charismas from God, and yet, he was tormented by a “thorn” in his body, about which he had begged God three times – only to receive His response: “
And for fear that I might exalt myself excessively, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh – a messenger of Satan - to buffet me, so that I do not exalt myself. For this, I beseeched the Lord three times to take it away from me; and He said:”Let my Grace be enough for you; for My strength is perfected in weakness.”  So instead I am happily boasting in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may camp within me (1 Cor.12:7-9)...

The faithful do not pose the question of “Why is he suffering while the other is enjoying his life?”, because the evaluative criterion is different. Their thoughts focus on the words of the Bible: “My child, do not disdain the education of the Lord, and do not lose your boldness when you are tested by Him, because the one whom the Lord loves, He will educate and will ‘scourge’ every child that accepts Him. Remain firm, for your education...”   

The Lord allows His servant to struggle while He observes him closely - the way that the He had kept a close watch on Anthony the Great when he fought with the demons.  Anthony had lived inside a tomb, where the demons had beaten him until he lost his senses. The friend who served him transferred him to the main church of the village.  During the night, after Anthony had regained his senses, he begged his friend to return him to the tomb. Weak as the blessed man was, he was unable to stand on his own two feet, so he prayed lying down. He then underwent a new, even harsher attack by the demons and suffered immensely; a moment later, he looked up and saw a bright light and realized the Lord was present in that light, so he said:  Where were You? Why didn’t You come from the start, to halt my sufferings?” And the Lord replied: “I was here, Anthony, but I waited, to observe your struggles.  That is how we too should always remember that the Lord observes our struggles against the enemy, which is why we should not be afraid – even if all of Hades attacks us – but instead remain brave. (Fr. Sophronios)

Humble yourself, and you will see how all of your misfortunes will be transformed into repose – such that you yourself will say in amazement: “Why was I so distressed and worried, before?”  But now you are rejoicing, because you have been humbled and the Grace of God has come to you. Now, even if you are the only poor one left in the world, joy will not abandon you, because you have accepted in your soul that peace which the Lord spoke of (“The peace of Mine, I give to you” – John 14:27). That is how the Lord bestows to every humble soul His peace, which surpasses the boundaries of the mind.

Abba Poemen had said about Abba John the Cripple, who had asked God to take away the passions from him, and he became carefree. But he went to a Geron (Elder) and said to him: “I see myself more relaxed and not suffering any warfare.”  To which the Elder replied: “Go and ask God to restore that warfare, as well as the contrition and the humility that you had before, because it is from within the wars that a soul attains progress.”  So he asked this of God, and when the warfare returned, he never asked to be rid of it again; instead, he would say “Give me patience, o Lord, during my trials”.  (From the “Gerontikon” Book of Elders)

This teaching on the brave athletes of sufferings is preached unanimously by the Fathers of the Church...

No-one can wrong a faithful person. The only one who can wrong him is his own self, states Chrysostom; if a person does not wrong himself, no-one can – even if the whole world raises a savage war against him.  If one builds his house upon a rock, he has no fear of rain or rivers or raging winds; his foundation is upon a solid rock. On the contrary, the other’s edifice collapsed, not because of rain, rivers or winds, but because he himself had built upon sand.
(see Matth.7:24-27)

And what was the cause of poor Lazarus’ illness?  Was it the lack of protectors?  Was it the attack by dogs? Was it his proximity to the rich man? How was this athlete impaired by the excessive luxury and the haughtiness and the moral corruption of that neighbour? Was he rendered even weaker in his struggles by supporting virtue?  And what harmed his spiritual strength? Nothing, anywhere...  On the contrary, all those sufferings were an added reason for glory, for he was not eventually crowned solely for his poverty, his hunger, his wounds, or because of the dogs’ tongues, but for the fact that while having such a neighbour, and while he was seen by him every day and was constantly shunned by him, he endured that atrocious behaviour with bravery and with a lot of patience, which, not a little but greatly scorched the poverty and the abandonment that he had suffered.

Because, what can one do to a brave man to render him sorrowful? Deprive him of money? He will have riches in heaven!  Send him away from his homeland? He will go to his homeland on high! Tie him down with bonds? He will have his conscience free and not feel those external bonds!  Kill him? He will be resurrected!  And just like the one who strikes at shadows and beats only air and unable to hurt anything, likewise the one who strikes against a righteous person is doing it in vain, merely spending his strength, unable to cause him a single wound...  

The same teaching is presented by Saint Gregory the Theologian:  “Let us not be wicked servants – he says – who glorify God when He benefits them, and do not approach Him when He punishes them, although pain is very often better, rather than wellbeing, perseverance in tribulations rather than absence of tribulations, thorough examination rather than negligence, and repentance rather than forgiveness.  I shall say it in brief:  we should neither despair about tribulations, nor boast about abundance.”

The Ascetic Fathers also talk about the same topic. Thus, Isaac the Syrian mentions that if the desire for Christ is not victorious inside the faithful in a way that will keep him undisturbed during his sorrows, then he needs to know that the desire of the world supersedes the desire for Christ.  And when sickness, poverty, the undoing of the body and the other evils torment his thoughts and take away the joy that originates from the hope in God and from God’s Providence, he must know that in him resides a love for the body and not the love for Christ...

Become emulators of me, just as I am emulator of Christ”, says the Apostle (1 Cor.11:1) and elsewhere he adds: “for I bear the scars of the Lord Jesus in my body” (Galatians)...                   

“They who know what the desire for Christ is,” – says Chrysostom – “to be abused for His sake is regarded as the most enviable thing of all”...

The foolish person does not accept God’s medicines, and asks God to intervene in his life the way that he wants, and not the way man’s Great Physician judges as beneficial for him. That is why he shows indifference and is governed by anxiety, at times stubbornly attacking people, and other times blaspheming against God, and with this behaviour, he both displays his ingratitude and he also does not find solace.”  (Maximus the Confessor)

He, who regards that a tribulation has appeared for something good - for educating him, for the eradication of his sins and for hindering future sins - does not become indignant but instead, looks to God and he thanks Him for giving him that tribulation.  He willingly accepts an educative punishment, just like David (2 Kings/2 Samuel 16:10, or Job 2:10)...

Let us therefore not begrudge the present tribulations; because if you have sins, they vanish and are easily burnt away through sorrow; if you have virtue, you are rendered bright and joyous by it. For if you are constantly vigilant and sedate, you will be above every damage, given that the cause of moral falls is not the nature per se of tribulations– it is the negligence of those who are subjected to tribulations.  (Chrysostom)

In conclusion, we can mention that the difficulties in this life – the so-called injuries or the natural evils – are not the final outcome. They are merely obstacles on man’s path towards the final reality, useful for his training and for rendering him an athlete for Christ.

If evils are imposed on the faithful, and by passing through them he continues on his path unperturbed, his eyes fixed on the objective, they are characterized as “stigmata” (scars) by the Lord, which are borne by the faithful joyfully and are regarded by them as “boast worthy”. Trials borne in the name of the Lord are glory for the spiritual athlete, granting him outspokenness in the presence of God.

The Lord is – and forever remains – a caring father; He never abandons His children and never allows them to be tried beyond their tolerance, even if one thinks that the person was abandoned altogether by the grace of God... The Lord is always near him and intervenes when necessary.

The problem of theodicy does not exist for a faithful person, who conscientiously walks the path in the direction of the Resurrection, incorruptibility and immortality; the return to communion with God and to the one nature; that is, to the Reign of peace, of righteousness, of harmony, of Love – the return to the “likeness” of God.  Every faithful person knows that the situation today – as unacceptable as it may be – does not constitute the final outcome of the struggle. It is NOT the eternal reality.  

For the athletes of Christ, “scars” are a wealth, and for the negligent they are a helper who protects them from harm, whereas for those who are far away from God, the “scars” facilitate their return. In any case, man’s interest is at the heart.  God is not an avenger; He is a caring father and a spiritual physician. No-one could ever accuse a physician for the severe treatments that he imposes on the patient; the patient is not the physician’s enemy – the illness is the enemy; it alone is the cause for treatment, not the physician; it is just like when a wind blows and only the house that is built on sand will collapse, and not the one built on a rock: no-one will ever say that it was the wind’s fault that the house collapsed.

“Injury” therefore is not the enemy; no injury can wrong the faithful Christian.  He alone can wrong himself, if he chooses to perceive injuries as the final outcome, and confront God Himself!



Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 6-11-2019.

Last update: 6-11-2019.