"We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
Upon the arrival of every calamity, modern man utters blasphemies against God as if God were an eternal vigilante seeking vengeance for the Fall of His creation. Why does there exist this misconception that death and suffering are nothing more than the withdrawal of Gods grace and a punishment for Adams sin? Western man in all his comforts is deceived by the notion that death entered into creation as a verdict from a wrathful Creator. For this reason, earthquakes and tsunamis allow profane thoughts about God to permeate mans soul. From this perspective, suffering is unequivocally the withdrawal of Gods grace from His creation. In the western mind, death operates like a vendetta, in that, God deems all men guilty of Adams sin; so therefore, all naturally deserve death. The basis of this misconception is derived from the writings of the Blessed Augustine.
The Blessed Augustine states, "For He has predestinated some to everlasting life as the most merciful Bestower of grace; while to those whom He predestinated to eternal death, He is the most righteous Awarder of punishment. They are punished not only on account of the sins which they add by the indulgence of their own will, but on account of the original sin, even if, as in the case of infants, they had added nothing to that original sin." Blessed Augustine approaches Gods justice from the perspective of a vengful mortal.
Only fallen flesh holds a mans children collectively accountable for the sins of their father. A God who deprives His children of grace is a God who maliciosly inflicts creation with natural disasters and disease. A God who deprives His children of grace is a God who personally condemns man to the eternal torments of hell. A God who deprives His children of grace is not an all-loving and merciful God. To the western mind, God is the reason for the tsumanis in southern Asia. If God deprives His children grace, why does Saint John Chrysostom write, "For the grace is shed forth upon all, turning itself back neither from Jew, nor Greek, nor Barbarian, nor Scythian, nor free, nor bond, nor male, nor female, nor old, nor young, but admitting all alike, and inviting with an equal regard"? Is Augustines theological perspective not the antithesis of the truths held by patristic tradition?
Saint Anastasios the Sinaite proclaims, "We became the inheritors of the curse in Adam. We were not punished as if we had disobeyed that divine commandment along with Adam; but because Adam became mortal, he transmitted sin to his posterity. We became mortal since we were born from a mortal."
If God is the source of life, the separation from God logically is death. Saint Irenaeus confirms this reality : "Separation from God is death, separation from light is darkness...and it is not the light which brings upon them the punishment of blindness." Human immorality builds a wall that barricades man from the reception Gods eternal grace. Satans authority is entwined with the death of man. For by death, Satan controls man, and the sting of death is sin. For this reason, Christ became man and was crucified.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes, "He (Christ) died in order to put death to death, and He rose in order to annihilate the power and activity of the devil who had authority over us by means of death and sin." If Christ destroyed death, why does man continue to undergo mass amounts of suffering and pain?
Saint John Chrysostom explains, "On this account, He often seizes this nature of ours wantoning in prosperity, and travailing with a fever of sins, and by want, and hunger, and death and other calamities and the rest of the medicines of which He knows, frees us from diseases." The word punishment, as it relates to God, is not to be interpreted in a juridical sense but from a pedagogical standpoint. Suffering and pain is a means by which man is to be cleansed. The chasm, that hinders man from receiving Gods eternal grace, is obliterated by the contrition of heart that is stirred during times of tribulation, but this only occurs when the perishable is discarded.
The modern psyche regards material wealth and comforts as heavenly manna endowed by God to those whom He bestows His grace. This belief system has evolved into a phenomenon that is best described as divine materialism. When one attaches God to perishable matter, faith too becomes material and therefore perishable. Saint Anthony writes, "However, if we become attached to the present [earthly goods], then we subject ourselves to afflictions because of it and we arrive at grumbling against God. Thus, the desire for much fills us with perturbation and we wander about in the darkness of sinful life." Is this not an accurate depiction of contemporary American society?
Saint Basil the Great declares, "However, when you see a city crushing its inhabitants in an earthquake, or a ship going down at sea with all hands, you do not shrink from wagging a blasphemous tongue against the true Physician and Savior." Why is this? When catastrophes strike, material possessions perish which is perceived by Americans as the deprivation of Gods grace. Instead of interpreting natural disasters as chastisement inflicted by the wrathful hand of God, man should relish suffering as pure water meant to purify the soul by begetting a repentant heart. When calamities strike and the sun appears to be melting into the western horizon, allow the encouraging words of Saint John Chrysostom to resonate through the soul: "For just as the light when it sets in the evening is not lost, so man also is given over to the grave as if setting; yet he is preserved for the dawn of the resurrection."
Zechariah Winter is a college student from Nashville,Tennessee. He attends St. John the Wonderworker Bulgarian Orthodox Church.