It is often, typically the case that human nature sees suffering and adversity from a narrow, self-oriented point of view, as something abhorrent and devoid of meaning or purpose. Our epistemological perspective on suffering and adversity is often viewed through a hedonistic lens as something which gets in the way of our pleasure, our goals, and our very life. However, if we can learn to see suffering/adversity from a wider perspective, from a Christological point of view, following in the footsteps of the incarnate Christ, as spiritual children trusting, humble and obedient to our loving God and father, then we can begin to frame the idea of suffering or adversity in a more true and meaningful way—a way that can lead us into a deeper relationship with God and open to us the very doors of heaven.
By growing in these virtues (i.e. trust, humility and obedience) we can grow “in godliness and in conformity to the imago Dei (Guroian 146), because it is sin that diminishes the image of God within us, but it is virtue that enhances the image and allows us to know God and His Kingdom (Guroian 147). As St Silouan says, “to be with the Lord, we must be like Him, or like little children, lowly and meek (Archim. Sophrony 24).” As a living example of childlike simplicity in the face of suffering, St Silouan shows us how to accept the outcome of our prayers to God in the midst of suffering when he asks God for healing (i.e. fishbone and headaches) and then discerns the meaning of his suffering from the facts of whether or not God heals him in response to his prayers. As St Silouan says: “my soul submitted to God, and now I accept every affliction that befalls me (Archim. Sophrony 68).”
It is our sinful or passion-filled state which makes it impossible for us to understand, or to trust in God’s will and timing. “Because of sin and a corrupted will…human ‘maturation’ into spiritual life also requires penance and conversion, enabled by God’s freely offered grace through the power of the Holy Spirit (Guroian 172).” However, “were we like children, the Lord would show us His paradise (Archim. Sophrony 43).” We need grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit to help us turn from our passions and seek the virtues of the child so that we can gain a wider, more godlike perspective on everything in our lives, especially suffering and adversity. St Silouan says something very important to this point: “let us humble ourselves brethren and the Lord will show us all things, as a loving father shows all things to his children (Archim. Sophrony 43).” Humility is one of the keys allowing us to see suffering from God’s perspective.
Children show us what kind of person we need to be in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (Guroian 161). Cultivating the virtues of the child points us in the direction of the Holy Spirit, and can lead us ultimately to experience the fruits of the Spirit. Patience, as one of these fruit, is a condition which will allow us to accept adversity and suffering in our life, and to view suffering not as man typically sees it, but more as God sees it. Christ’s filial relationship to God the father is predicated upon trust, humility and obedience (Guroian 177). It is His example, that of the incarnate Christ, who came to earth, humbled Himself as a man, lived among us, died a humiliating death on the cross through obedience to God the father, spent three days in the horrors of hell, and then gained victory over death—it is His example which can teach and inspire us to live similarly, in relation to our own crosses, and sufferings, which God intends for each of us.
We can expand our epistemological framework with respect to human suffering, and bear it patiently if, “as spiritual children, we lovingly and trustingly give ourselves over completely to God’s parental care (Guroian 177).” And then, accepting the office of child (i.e. making ourselves as little children with respect to these virtues) we make our way to eternal life, fulfilling our role in relation to God, our father, and receiving His eternal blessing (Guroian 177).
Archimandrite Sophrony, Wisdom from Mt Athos: The Writings of Staretz Silouan, 1866-1938. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. 1974.
Guroian, Vigen, The Orthodox Reality. Baker Publishing Group. 2018.