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.”
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
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
All who desire to live piously in Christ Jesus
will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
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.
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”
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
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
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
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
This teaching on the
brave athletes of sufferings is preached unanimously by the Fathers of the
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.
And what was the cause of
poor Lazarus’ illness? Was it the
lack of protectors? Was
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
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
He will have his conscience free and not feel
those external bonds! Kill
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
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.
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
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.