For what has man from all his labor, and from the troubling of his heart, in which he has labored under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his labor sadness; yea, his heart does not take rest in the night (Ecc 2:22-23).
North European airports are still fighting with the giant cloud of ashes following the eruption of the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. The aviation havoc reaches the entire world as the global flight network goes unbalanced with several of its major airports closed. But this is not the first time it happened. Iceland was the theater of another devastating eruption in 1783 when the Laki volcano decided to blow throwing into famine a quarter of the island population. At that time many European countries were also affected: a toxic cloud flew over Poland, England experienced what they called the “sand summer” and France lost many of his crops and the famine that occurred pushed them a bit further toward the revolution of 1789.
Similar events, however, take place all the time: a tornado in Oklahoma, a tsunami in Thailand, an earthquake in Haiti or Chile, you can almost pick the disaster of the day. Calamities do happen and without warning, despite the sophisticated prophecies of the scientists. On personal level catastrophes of lower overall magnitude, but nevertheless inducing similar amounts of pain, like disease, loss of a relative, getting laid off and so on, keep coming our way when we expect them the least.
In moments like this we feel small, insignificant and powerless. Anger, frustration, depression take over many people trying to make any sense of it all. Ideally, we would all like to live in a world where we can predict everything, where we can evacuate cities in time, where we can save the lives of our loved ones, keep our jobs forever and so on. But such a world does not exist. We live in a reality that is beyond our capabilities of control, governed by rules that we cannot change, acting in ways that we cannot predict. So what can we do to protect ourselves from all this?
The short answer is: nothing. We cannot stop the rain from falling. But what we can actually do is cure ourselves from the fear of it all. The fear that overcomes us has its roots in our insatiable need for control, in our desire to be independent, to be the masters of our own world. But this is actually what brought us in the position we are now in the first place. Here is what the serpent told Adam while tempting them in the Garden of Eden: “God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” This was enough to convince Eve: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasing to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make wise, she took of its fruit, and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate" (Gen 3:5-6).
Today is no different. We all want to be wise, to get the next magic pill that will allow us, without effort, to understand all that surrounds us and be like God, having control overall. In this insatiable desire for power we fail to realize our place in the great scheme of thing: we are the creation and he is the Creator. We cannot reverse this order, on the contrary the more we struggle with it the more we suffer. The temporality and corruptibility of the world is the consequence of our departure from God and our approaching to materiality. Being away from God we care about all the material things because we are afraid that this existence is the only reality there is and we try to make it as comfortable and pleasurable as possible. But the more things we have and the better we live the more we are afraid we are going to lose them. It is a vicious circle that’s dragging us down to the darkest of places.
But here is what Jesus Christ says in the Gospel of Luke: “Whoever will save his life shall lose it, but whoever will lose his life for My sake, he shall save it“ (Luk 9:24). This is the solution to our problem, in fact to all our problems. We can do nothing for the body and for this short life. We cannot save it. Despite all the modern medicine and all the science we will still die one day, we will still be mortals and we’ll go back into the earth from which we were taken. Bodies can’t be saved, but our souls can. The true purpose of life is to make this happen, to ensure that our souls are saved; that in the end, at the second coming of Christ, we will gain the Kingdom, even though we lost the world.
To cure ourselves from the fear of it all we have to stop living entirely for the body and pay more attention to the soul. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mat 10:28). This is the only fear we should keep: that of losing our salvation, of getting lost into nonsensical minutia and miss the entrance in the kingdom like the five foolish virgins from the parable (Mat 25:1)
Our lack of control is forcing us to keep a watchful attitude. Therefore watch, for you do not know either the day or the hour in which the Son of Man comes. (Mat 25:13). But this is not a fearful expectation but a joyful one, looking forward to meet the bridegroom: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1Th 5:16-18)
The only chance we have of curing ourselves from this chronic anxiety is to stop living in the world and start living in the Kingdom today. Lose our earthly citizenship to gain a passport in heavens where “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, foreigner, Scythian, slave or freeman, but Christ is all things in all” (Col 3:11).
Learn to accept God’s will with joy, in god or bad, in pain or bliss. His will should be done because He knows always better, what is truly good for us; in Him we should put our trust, not in man. This is our true freedom, “In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid of what man can do to me” (Psa 56:11),
Salvation is only with the Lord. He came on the earth to cure it of sin, but He did not promise a release from suffering, on the contrary He Himself has suffered and unjustly so. The world is already damaged and cannot be quick-fixed anymore, it has to be refashioned from the ground. He came to show us how it is done, how life should be lived, how pain, suffering and death can be overcome and lead to something new, something better, something eternal. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. [ ] Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10). We cannot escape death, it’s true, but we can always choose to be resurrected with Christ.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Here is a short prayer from the elders from the Optina Monastery that can help us get one step further everyday to the understanding of the inevitable things in life and acceptance of God’s will in all things.
Grant unto me, O Lord, that with peace of mind I may face all that this new day is to bring. Grant unto me to dedicate myself completely to Your Holy Will. In every hour of this day, instruct and support me in all things. Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept tranquilly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Your Holy Will. Govern my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all comes down from You. Teach me to behave sincerely and rationally toward every member of my family, that I may bring confusion and sorrow to none. Bestow upon me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day, and to bear my part in all its passing events. Guide my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love. Amen.