If we are human, we are not strangers to suffering. However, our attitude to challenges is often different from that recommended by the Orthodox Church. What can we do to obtain maximum benefit from these difficult situations?
I do not think there is a reasonable man who did not experience hard times. Even though we are talking about different types of limit situations, one of the principles of psychotherapy says “everyone’s problems are the most important to him.” Therefore, whether we’re talking about heartbreaks that end the relationships between adolescents, traumas for children whose parents divorce, bankruptcy of entire industries, the deaths of loved ones, or wars, all such challenges have a different impact on each of us.
After we get over the initial shock, we start looking for explanations and for the guilty. Moreover, if you are ordinary people like me, it is impossible not to have at least once in mind questions such as “Why are all these tragedies taking place?, Why does the Christian God of love allow such events that result in suffering? Is He sadistic? Does He contradict Himself”?
There are two types of news: one good and another … less good! The good news, if we can call it so, is that we are not the only ones that do so. Through the ages, there have been also other people, which have asked such questions. I am not talking here about Job’s famous case, but about Christians who, at some point, have had their faith tested and failed.
This has caused an entire literature to appear, with explanations from spiritual parents addressing this issue. From these writings, the less good news emerges – in times of turmoil, we ask the wrong question. The great confessors tell us that the question “why?” should be replaced by “what for?”. The reasons for this are profound!
First of all, if we ask God the question “why?”, we become very arrogant. I mean who are we to talk to God like that and to claim to answer us? Nevertheless, He communicates with us and to hear Him, firstly, we must silence our ego. I know! When you are overwhelmed with pain, it is very hard to calm yourself! But there is a solution: the prayer!
Did Christ pray for nothing in Gethsemane Garden? He knew what was about to happen to Him, and His human nature was shaking from every fiber, so He prayed! And this prayer has remained our model until today: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (The Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, verse 42). Practically, this way of praying tells God that we accept His decisions and trust His wisdom. From that moment on, we are ready to understand what His intention about us was!
Now, the right question comes in – “What for?”. In order to better understand the purpose of certain events, it is important to remember that God does nothing to destroy us, but He works only to our benefit. In addition, we must not forget that we also have some “contribution” to everything that happens to us. If we inquire our consciousness and we are honest with ourselves, we realize that there had been thoughts, words or deeds with a negative effect that “helped” certain events to emerge. Therefore, suffering has a therapeutic value, because it triggers that process of insight, without which the healing of our souls could not be possible!
In this regard, the words of the apostle Paul are relevant: “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Epistle to the Hebrews of the Apostle Paul, chapter 12, verse 7). Such a mentality is a coherent one, as Paul tells us that he, with all the qualities, he possessed and with all his appreciation, he enjoyed in God’s eyes, suffered from a disease he could not heal. And he accepted it, because he realized that such a situation was to beware of his pride, that is, for his own benefit: “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” (Second Epistle to the Corinthians of St. Apostle Paul, chapter 12, verse 7).
Still not convinced? Let’s do an exercise of thought and analyze the two variants of questions. Suppose that in a family that is on the verge of dissolution, the child becomes seriously ill. What should be the right attitude of the two spouses?
Let us consider the variant in which they would ask God the question “why?” The possible answers would be: because genes inherited from me or from him (her) are damaged; because I was not careful enough with the child; because those at the kindergarten / school were negligent; because doctors were incompetent; because God is sadistic and makes the child pay for my sins etc. If we notice, these answers have nothing constructive and lead us to an area where we have nothing under our control, an area very close to depression.
The second variant is totally different. If we ask “for what? for what purpose?” there are other possibilities: to communicate better in the family, having a common cause to fight for; because being closer in this period of turmoil, we can save our marriage; to find better doctors which are competent to save our child; to spend more time with the child; to change our life and so on. Conclusion: all of these options give us control, lead us towards something constructive, and help us to progress, not to remain stuck in the past.
The matter is very simple! What happens to us happens not necessarily because a certain reason, but rather for a certain reason. To find out that reason, it is important to be quiet, to pray, and to think that God does not want our evil, but works for our good. That is why I invite you to meditate on the next anecdote: after a shipwreck, a single man survived, being driven by waves on the shores of a deserted island. Having striven to save the few things he thought might be useful, the man struggled with limited means to build a hut to shelter him and the goods he had saved from the waters. After a while, he began to analyze the situation and found it desperate. He thought everything was meaningless, that he had no reason to live, and, of course, addressed to God many “whys”. In one day when he had hardly bothered to look for food, he returned from a remote area of the island to see his hut and all the useful objects consumed by huge flames. The greatest despair overwhelmed him and he began to cry! Finally, he fall asleep exhausted on the seashore. He was awakened the next morning by the siren of a ship and the sailors who had come to the island with a boat to save him. They told him they saw the fire and the huge smoke from afar, and they realized that there was no other possibility, but them to be provoked by a man who needed help!