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Trials, Questions, Belief, Disbelief, and Providence

July 27, 2012

When suffering or trials beset us, we are often tempted to ask, “Why did this happen? What went wrong?  What do I need to fix?”  These questions seem so reasonable and come to the mind so effortlessly, and yet they are supported by unspoken beliefs far from the Christian faith or rather they are the cold products of disbelief itself. Those of us who ask such questions risk setting ourselves up as judges, not only of the universe, but of God Himself. Saint Paul warned of this mindset when he wrote the Romans, “O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” It is as though we interpret our sufferings and trials as an indication that God has abandoned us or that His tender, loving concern for us has vanished as though it never was. And if there is a problem, it is as though we place our trust not in the God of heaven, but in the idol of ourselves seated on the earthen throne of a feeble heart. These are dangerous starting points for human thoughts spiritually and psychologically, for they begin with a denial of the basic reality that God is always present to us as a loving Father. There is, however, another starting point from which edifying and strengthening thoughts can grow.

Continuing the theme of the last blog post, “The Cultivation of Good Thoughts”, trust in God’s Providence is an integral part of the cultivation of good thoughts.  Indeed, good thoughts can only be cultivated and sustained within the context of a deep and abiding awareness and trust in the Providence of God.  Here’s what I say about this in chapter 9, “The Garden of the Heart”:

Every human being is precious in God’s sight and greatly loved.  The church fathers never tire of sowing this fundamental Christian truth in the hearts of those who turn to them. It is a truth that expands the outlook of believers to encompass their ultimate destiny and God’s providential care for their salvation.  In cognitive terms, this certainty instills new core beliefs about self, others, and the future that act as a corrective lens for viewing the ills to which flesh is heir.

            For example, Saint Basil the Great once told a discouraged soul, ‘Everything is governed by the Lord’s goodness.  We do not have to be distressed by anything that befalls us, even if it currently affects us in our weakness.  Even if we are ignorant of the reasons why trials come and are sent as blessings from the Lord, we should be convinced that all things happen to us for our own good, either to reward our patience or to preserve our soul lest she linger too long in this life and be filled with wickedness.’  Although people may not be able to understand the wisdom that governs individual struggles, by patiently enduring them they can gain a crown.  Thus ancient ascetics would guide the faithful to interpret whatever happens to them through their trust in God’s providence, wisdom, and love that looks after their growth in virtue and aims at their eternal well-being.”

Now, none of this is possible of course, without the healing powers of God’s grace that is able to work in one who engages in the ascetic struggle to purify and illumine the nous through which we are able to perceive God’s energies working in and around us.  Once the nous is engaged in this restorative healing process, life on earth is seen for what it truly is a journey to our proper homeland in heaven with God and His saints. And trials and struggles? They become the very moments where God nudges us even closer to that goal, freeing us of earth and uniting us to heaven. When that belief is rooted in the soul, the immediate response is not a defeated “why or what,” but an ever victorious “Glory to Thee, o our God, glory to Thee!”

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