SUFFERING IN OUR LIVES
Human life is integrally bonded with pain; sorrows, troubles, sadness, illnesses, deaths of loved ones take first place in our lives. Many times we ask “why?” For this reason, one of the greatest fathers of our Church has given us the answer. He is St John Chrysostom, who speaks not only as the “golden tongue”, or even as one with a deep knowledge of the human soul, but presents the experience of his own life. A life molded by pain, grief, persecution and slander. Suffering is what the Crucified Lord left us as an honour and a sign of recognition for His faithful. St John Chrysostom, however, ended his distressed and suffering life with his immortal words: “Glory to God for all things”. For the joys, and sorrows, successes and misfortunes – he glorified God for all.
Many accept that time, etc as the doctor of the philosophy of grief and pain; but these are false intercessors. Only God can ease and soften our suffering. In one of his letters to Olympias, his deaconess, Chrysostom wrote characteristically, during a very distressed period in his life while in exile, the following: “Leave people to live their comfort in the shadows. You must fervently ask Jesus whom you adore, to cast His eye on your grief and then your sorrows will instantly cease”. It is help from above which eases pain; divine comfort is given to us from God, if we ask for it, of course…
We must not forget, though, that suffering is often God’s invitation calling us to repentance…
Never think that if God loved someone, He would not allow him to be poor, says St John Chrysostom. “Forget superstitions. These sorrows are themselves the proof of God’s love”. Pain is given to the impious as a means of moving them to repentance, or as a punishment if their mind has been calloused. To the just, pain is allowed so that they may shine even more, as gold glows when it is heated by the fire. Also, though, for another reason: to glorify them for their patience and perseverance. That is why Chrysostom calls grief and pain “the medication of the soul”. As all medication has its effects and side-effects, so the effect this medication will have on us depends on our willingness to submit to the will of God. Either way, we need to endure our suffering and grief. If we can endure without complaint we will gain much; if we become angry with God, however, our suffering will become greater. It is in our hands to apply willingly the will of God, because then, within ourselves, we will be peaceful and content, praising God for whatever happens to us. However, when we are unwilling to do the will of God, we do not harm God in any way, but we do condemn ourselves to hell; for that is what hell is – our voluntary dissociation from God.
CAN WE COPE WITH SUFFERING?
Once again, Holy Chrysostom provides the solutions for us: Firstly, even with prayer, which is the most powerful antidote to pain, do you still hurt, grieve and suffer? Even then, praise God. These days, we humans have become used to comfort and we become indignant at even the slightest difficulty, so it seems inconceivable to us to praise God in our grief. Yet, from the example of Job and up to even St John Chrysostom himself, together with thousands of the other saints, let us struggle in prayer to glorify God with our hearts, for our suffering. Charity is yet another form of medication against pain. Are you distressed or suffering? Think of your grieving brothers. Give them some form of charity so that united with God through prayer and bound to your brothers through charity, you have strong support in the difficulties you have to endure. Prayer connects us to God, charity to our fellow man. The third form of medication then is self-examination which will connect you to yourself. You need to examine the depths of your soul well, without flattery and love of self. You will then see that you are not innocent and that is the reason for your suffering. Do not think that others are worse sinners than you yet are having a good time. Do not look at others. Look only at yourself. Maybe your own grief and suffering is a good way to pay off the debts of your sins. Then, as a tree which is deeply rooted in the earth remains unmoved by the strength of the wind, so a faithful person will not yield to the storms which he has to face, knowing that God knows what is good for him and loves him…This trust is the power which helps God’s faithful children to endure their present sorrows with perseverance and patience and so they will inherit future riches. God is aware of our troubles and sorrows and will never allow us to be faced with a temptation greater than our strengths. The fifth form of medication against pain is the desire and love of God. The soul turns its eyes constantly on God, does not fear poverty, does not complain when ill, does not lose courage when facing death, because God’s love conquers all… Holy Chrysostom brings us the living example of the Apostle Paul who, through his sorrows and temptations was as joyful as if he was in Paradise. Therefore, every faithful person who remains close to God’s love never falls into melancholy. Even with eyes brimming with tears due to suffering, a bleeding heart due to attacks and temptations, he steeps himself in God’s love. For, as Christ assures us, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Finally, another way to face the difficulties and distresses of life with courage and strength, according to St John Chrysostom, is to view everything through the prism of eternity.
With our thoughts and desires on the heavenly kingdom we will not even feel the trials and disasters of this life. A businessman conquers adversity with the hope of profits. An athlete gladly accepts privations and limitations with thoughts of victory. So it should be with us. Looking at heaven and seeing the riches which await us there, and seeing that here on earth we are but temporary residents, let us bravely endure the struggles of this life.
Let us take strength and strong patience from the hope of future riches. Here, we are the brave novice fighters for life. In Heaven we shall enjoy the glory and radiance of God. Holy John Chrysostom again reminds us of the Apostle Paul who, by placing before us a non-earthly scale to weigh, on the one hand the pain of the present life and on the other heavenly enjoyment, says: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
St John Chrysostom