by St. John of Tobolsk
Everything in the world, even seemingly evil things (except for sin), occurs by the will of God. Theologians explain it in the following manner. The origin of evil is sin. Each sin contains
(1) the cause that led to it and
(2) its inevitable consequence – correction through punishment.
The cause of sin is the deceit and willfulness of the vain sinner, while the punishments (both correction and execution), being the bitter consequences of their cause, occur by the will of God, and are not the cause of sin, but represent its correction or destruction. Thus, if from the concept of sin we eliminate its cause – deceit and willfulness, then there will not be a single one of its bitter or evil consequences that does not occur by the will of God or is displeasing to Him.
Just like the sinful misfortunes of an individual, so the earthly, so-called natural, disasters, such as: famine, drought, plagues, etc., which often bear no direct relation to individual sin, occur by the will of God. Therefore, all human disasters and misfortunes positively occur by the will of God for the sake of achieving the righteous goals of God’s Providence; sin alone is contrary to God (just as evil is contrary to good, or deceit is contrary to truth), but is allowed by God in order not to violate the freedom of man’s will.
Many are deceived, believing in their ignorance that only the evil occurring from natural causes, to wit: floods, earthquakes, crop failures, disastrous atmospheric manifestations, epidemics, unexpected death, etc., – occur by the will of God, for often such misfortunes have no direct relation to sins. But evil deeds, occurring from unlawful human designs, from falsehood, such as: offensive words, mockery, insult, deceit, counterfeiting, abductions, theft, murder, etc. – occur, in the view of these people, independently of the will of God and His Providence, but exclusively due to human malice and the depraved human will, which of its own accord causes all manner of evil for its neighbors. However, such views are unworthy of a Christian.
The subject of which we now speak can be best explained by means of an example. A certain person, intending to deprive his neighbor of all of latter’s property, and wishing to fulfill his evil intention secretly, creeps unnoticed into the neighbor’s house, places lighted fuel under the building, and leaves the house just as surreptitiously. Soon afterwards a fire starts; the flames grow, the wind spreads the fire to other buildings; people run from all sides to extinguish the flames and protect adjacent buildings from the fire. The arsonist also runs up together with the other people, as though to put out the fire, but he has a different intent: under cover of the fire alarm, he takes valuables out of the burning building as though to save them, but in reality he steals them for himself and hides them.
Although all these actions of the arsonist represent the direct cause of the owner’s bankruptcy and loss of property, but examined by themselves, without any relation to the arsonist’s evil intent, they appear no different from so-called natural disasters. They stem from God: just as God allows thunder to kill a man, or lighting to ignite a house or a growing tree, a hurricane to sweep away a field of haystacks, so does He control the arsonist: the latter can neither enter the house, nor go out of it, nor ignite the fire without God’s allowance. Moreover, the actions themselves are indifferent – neither evil, nor good, because they can lead to evil just as equally as to good, for God could have prevented their being committed if He so wished. However, the Lord did not impede the committal of the evil intent, but allowed it according to His just judgment. The reasons for such allowance will be explained below.
If God is not and cannot be the source of our moral fall (which alone is genuine evil), then it is quite true that all misfortunes occurring from secondary causes, be they rational or irrational, and occurring no matter how, all occur by the will of God, are sent by His mighty hand, at His discretion, and by His Providence. Often God’s judgment uses iniquitous kings and evil princes as His tools for teaching patience to the righteous and chastising the unrighteous for their crimes and misdeeds.
Here is an example: through the prophet Isaiah God threatens the depraved Israeli people with destruction and with the devastation of Palestine through the Assyrians, clearly demonstrating that it is not the will of the Assyrian king, but rather His holy will that is being fulfilled by the Assyrians. God punishes the Israelis with the divine instrument of His wrath and indignation at their iniquities and, consequently, attributes this punishment to Himself. We should regard in equal manner all the other righteous chastisements that are allowed by God for our misdeeds. During the siege of Jerusalem, the Roman Emperor Titus, personally walking around the walls and seeing the ditches filled with corpses, sighed heavily, and raising his eyes and hands to heaven, cried out:
“Merciful God! This is not my doing!”
We are asked: if it is true that all misfortunes are sent to us by the will of God, then are we not trying to withstand His holy will in vain? Is it not useless for us to take medicines when we are ill? Why should we lead out armed hosts against an attacking enemy? Here is my reply to the inquirers: it is clear that destructive wars and other woes happen not without God’s will, but it does not follow that we should not arm ourselves against the enemy or not try to treat our illnesses, regarding such actions as opposition to the will of God. For example, if we fall prey to some illness, there is no doubt that such was God’s will. However, the sick person does not know God’s intention in regard to the duration of his illness, and for this reason he is not forbidden to use various medicinal means to return to health or at least to ease the illness. And only if the continuous use of many medications does not result in a cure, the sick person may be sure that such is God’s will for him to endure a protracted illness. Similarly, if a fire starts up and cannot be extinguished by the combined efforts of the people and the fire brigade, then it is clear that God’s judgment has decided not only to have the building burned, but to have it burn down completely, in order to test the patience of God’s friends or to punish His enemies. We should look upon all other events in our life in a similar manner
“Look, beloved brethren, – instructs us the blessed Augustine, – never say: this has been done to me by the devil, or this misfortune befell me through the perfidious enemy, but attribute to God all that happens to you, both good and bad, knowing that the devil cannot do anything to you if the Mighty God, Who has power over life and death, does not allow him to do something to you for your chastisement or rectification. God allows punishment for the iniquitous, who consciously act against their conscience, openly reject truth, etc., while rectification is allowed for sons who have sinned – ‘for the Lord scourgeth every son whom He receiveth’ (Hebrews 12:6). And you, too, should not expect to remain without punishment, unless you wish to be deprived of the heavenly inheritance.”
When King David was escaping from his insubordinate son Absalom, who had rebelled against him, a certain Semeus from the clan of King Saul ran out in front of David and began reviling Him most cruelly for Saul’s death. Seeing such vilification of David, his military commanders wanted to kill Semeus, but the king, who perceived God’s will in this revilement of himself, said to his attendants:
“Leave him be, let him abuse me, for the Lord had commanded him to revile David.”
Semeus naturally sinned grievously in cursing David, because although God used him as a tool of revilement, He was not the cause of Semeus’ vile will; He only wisely used it to punish David. Thus each one of us should also look upon the attacks and curses of evil people upon us in a manner like unto David, for the merciful God uses their willfulness to either instruct the innocent or chastise the guilty.
In Constantinople the Greek Queen Irene, who had been dethroned by a despicable slave, turned to God with the following words:
“I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou hast put me, Thy unworthy servant, on the royal throne; but since Thou hast also allowed me to be deprived of my throne, I believe it to be in consequence of my sins; may Thy will be done in me! In all bad and good things may the name of the Lord be blessed.”
It is true that no one can harm us, except in that in which we harm ourselves. For this reason the blessed Augustine rightly said:
“Believe in the Lord God without any reservation and give yourself over to Him completely: then He will not reject you and will not allow any harm to come to you.”
Everyone should know this precept and firmly keep the following in mind: nothing harmful can happen to us without the will or allowance of God: neither the devil, nor any individual can harm us if God does not allow it. We should firmly believe that even though the direst misfortunes befall us by God’s command, they are sent from the most merciful Father for our benefit, for our instruction or rectification, for the sake of our misdeeds and sins. Consequently, no one else, except we ourselves, can harm us.