The cause of suffering is sin
- The cause of suffering is sin
Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee (John 5:14), such a commandment was given by the Lord to the healed paralytic. Dear brethren! This commandment of the Lord has a significance of the utmost importance for us. It tells us that we are subjected to illnesses and other tribulations of earthly life for our sins. Whenever God delivers us from illness or tribulation, and then we resume our sinful life, we once again become subjected to misfortunes heavier than the original punishments and lessons that had been sent to us by God.
Sin is the cause of all mans misfortunes, both in time and in eternity. Sorrows constitute a natural consequence, a natural appurtenance of sin, just as the sufferings arising from physical illnesses constitute an inevitable appurtenance of these illnesses. Sin, in the broad sense of the word, or in other words mankinds fall or eternal death, encompasses all people without exception; some sins constitute the sorrowful legacy of entire human societies; finally, each person has his own specific vices, his own particular sins, belonging to him alone. In all these various forms sin serves as the source of all sorrows and misfortunes to which mankind in general is subjected, to which human societies are subjected, to which each person in particular is subjected.
The state of the fall, the state of eternal death with which all of mankind is affected, infected, struck down is the source of all other human sins, both public and private. Our nature, disrupted by the poison of sin, acquired the ability to sin, acquired the propensity for sin, became subjected to the violence of sin, cannot refrain from engendering sin, cannot do without it in all forms of activity.
Three punishments were passed by Gods justice upon mankind for the sins of all mankind. Two of them have already come to pass; one is still to come. The first punishment was eternal death, to which all mankind was subjected in the person of its forefathers, for disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden. The second punishment was the deluge, for mankinds having allowed flesh to dominate the spirit, for mankinds descent to the level of beasts. The last punish-ment will be the destruction and end of this visible world, for apostasy from the Redeemer, for mankinds ultimate deviation into communion with the rejected spirits.
Often a specific kind of sin overwhelms entire human societies and draws Gods punishment upon them. Thus the Sodomites were burned by fire that descended from heaven for their criminal satisfaction of the desires of the flesh; thus the Israelites were often subjugated to other peoples for deviating into idolatry; thus stone was not left upon stone in magnificent Jerusalem, built from wondrous stones, while its inhabitants fell from the swords of the Romans for their rejection of the Saviour and for theocide. Sin is contagious: it is hard for a single person to withstand a sin that permeates his entire society.
An example of punishment for sin committed by a person individually and punished by Gods justice also individually can be seen in the lengthy illness of the paralytic who was healed by the Lord.
Having spoken of the sinfulness of all mankind and of the sinfulness of human societies, let us turn our particular attention to individual sinfulness, of which each person has his own. Such an examination is essential for us and quite beneficial. It can have a salvific effect on our activity, turning it away from the path of iniquity and directing it towards the will of God. Enlightened by the law of God, we will learn that God, though infinitely merciful, is absolutely just, and that He will mete out appropriate punishment for sinful life. Such conviction will persuade us to make an all-out effort to free ourselves from the lure of both our own passions and the deprave customs of society, to be delivered from Gods punishments, both temporal and eternal.
The Holy Fathers assert that before mankinds redemption all people were dominated by sin, and committed sin even against their own will. After mankinds redemption by the Son of God, those who believe in Christ and have been sanctified by Holy Baptism are no longer forced by sin, but have the freedom to either resist sin or follow its persuasion. Those who subject themselves to sin voluntarily lose their freedom anew and fall under forced domination by sin. Those who, guided by the Word of God, engage in battle with sin and resist it, achieve full victory over sinfulness in their own time.
Victory over ones own sinfulness is likewise victory over eternal death. Those who achieve this victory can easily avoid the sins of society. We see this in the holy martyrs: having vanquished sin within themselves, they stood up against public delusion, denounced it, and did not hesitate to seal their witness with their own blood. Whoever is enticed and blinded by his own sins cannot avoid being lured by the sinful mood of society; he will not discern it clearly, he will not comprehend it properly, he will not reject it selflessly, but will belong to it with his heart. The essence of the battle against sin, a battle in which each Christian should be engaged, consists of combating sin, of shunning any ties with it, of overcoming it within ones soul, mind, and heart, which the body will then follow. Eternal death says the venerable Macarius the Great, is located secretly within the heart: it makes a person dead, even though outwardly he may seem alive. Whoever in the
innermost depths of the heart went from death to life, will live forever and will never die. Although the bodies of such persons are parted from their souls for a while, they remain sanctified and will arise again in glory. For this reason the death of saints is called sleep.
All the saints without exception, despite having vanquished eternal death and revealed eternal life within themselves while still living on earth, were subjected to many and heavy sorrows and tribulations. Why so? It is characteristic for sinners to draw Gods punishment upon themselves; yet for what reason does Gods staff not spare Gods elect, but strikes them with blows?
According to the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers, this question is resolved in the following manner. Although sinfulness has been vanquished in righteous people, although eternal death has been destroyed by the presence of the Holy Spirit within them, yet they have not been established in immutable goodness for the entire period of their earthly wandering, they have not been deprived of the freedom to choose good or evil. Immutability in goodness is a characteristic of eternal life. Life on earth is to its very last hour a battleground of voluntary and involuntary spiritual struggles. But I tame my body and subjugate it, says the great Paul, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should remain unworthy (1 Cor. 9:27). The apostle says this of a body that was sanctified by Gods grace, a body that was not harmed a whit by an echidnas malignant poison, a body whose vestments produced healing. And such a body was in need of taming and
subjugation, in order for its deadened passions not to revive, in order for eternal death not to be resurrected! For as long as a Christian be he ever a vessel of the Holy Spirit wanders on earth, eternal death may revive in him, and sinfulness may once again overwhelm both his body and soul.
However, ones own labors are not enough for Gods servants to tame the fallen man, who continuously aspires to revive his dominance within them: they need help from God. God aids them with His grace and with His fatherly staff of punishment, in accordance with each ones state of grace. The great Paul was given, as he testifies, a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (2 Cor. 12:7), for the sake of his most rapturous achievement, for the sake of the multitude of divine revelations he had received, for the sake of the numerous spiritual gifts he possessed, for the sake of the multitude of miracles he performed. Our nature is so corrupted by the poison of sin that even the abundance of Gods grace in man may serve as the cause of pride and perdition for such a man. It was neither honors, nor glory, nor strict obedience that met Paul when he preached Christ to the universe, confirming the truth of the preaching
with miracles, but a demon of Satan strewed his path with machinations, resistance, humiliation, persecution, tribulations, death.
Having learned that all this was being done with Gods tolerance, Paul exclaims: Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecution, in distresses for Christs sake (2 Cor. 12:10). Paul found it necessary to tame his body, so that any indulgence shown to it would not give rise to bodily passions. Gods Providence discerned that Pauls soul should be protected from pride by means of misfortune. Even the purest human nature has something prideful within itself, remarks the venerable Macarius the Great. This is the reason why Gods servants subject themselves to voluntary deprivations and sorrows, and at the same time are subjected to the various misfortunes and temptations allowed by Gods Providence, which through these sorrows assists Gods servants in their spiritual labors and protects their spiritual labors from being corrupted by sin.
(To be continued) Saint Ignaty Bryanchaninov
The fish are biting.
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