On The Providence Of God by Saint John Chrysostom was personally recommended to me by Abbot Damascene of St. Herman’s Monastery in California. Saint John wrote this book at the end of his life after he was exiled to the mountains of Armenia. It was meant to help relieve the despair of the faithful during a particularly intense period of Christian persecution.
The folly of trying to understand God and His plan
What then, is the cause of such a sickness? It is an inquisitive and curious mind, it is wanting to know all the causes of everything that happens, it is questioning the incomprehensible and unspeakable providence of God, and it is shamelessly investigation and being inquisitive about that which is limitless and unsearchable.
Therefore, since you know all these things through which He has made Himself known, through which He has acted, and through which He will act, do not be inquisitive, do not be unduly concerned, do not say, ‘Why is this? To what end is this?’ How could it not be insane and full of the utmost folly and madness to do so, when one does not inquisitively question a doctor when he cuts and cauterizes and applies bitter ointments-even if he is a servant. But the master of the house lies in silence undergoing all that, and is grateful for the cauterizing, the cutting, and the ointment, even though the outcome is uncertain (for many doctors have killed a great number of patients by performing these procedures). We yield to him very submissively when he does these things, just as we do with a seaman, a builder, and those who pursue all the other professions.
Thanks to my scientific mind, I admit to having such a sickness. I like to know why things are and how they came about, but this will certainly cause me spiritual harm. No matter how intelligent or learned you are, you will not be able to understand God’s ways or the completeness of His plan, and if you insist on trying, Satan will insert all manner of doubt and deception into your mind. If you want your Christian faith to be strong, you have to accept that it’s okay not to know all the answers.
When a man sees someone who yesterday and the day before was walking along with him now dissolved into worms and putrefaction and ashes and dust—even if he has the made pride of the devil—he cowers with fear, he is sobered, he restrains himself, he learns to exercise himself in virtue, and he establishes in his mind the mother of good things, humility.
Death was introduced into our life as an exceptional teacher of virtue: it moderates one’s thinking, bridles the passions of the soul, calms the waves, and produces stillness.
Where do you see death today? Did you see it in the heavily processed animal products you eat? Do you see it with your elderly neighbors? Death is concealed from us, and even when someone dies, their body is treated with chemicals and makeup so they appear as if they never died. With death hidden, the idea of your own death rarely enters your mind, preventing you from making the necessary preparations before it comes for you.
God does not need you
[God] has no need of us. The marvel of His goodness is that He brought us into existence without having any need of service from us. For, in truth, before we and the angels and the powers above came into being, He existed and possessed His own glory and blessedness; and it is only out of love for mankind that He brought us into existence and did all these things for us, and many more as well.
If you happen to choose evil over good, God will make a compensation to ensure His plan is still fulfilled. Your life is a gift from Him, and while it would please Him for you to serve His will, human history will proceed as planned regardless. We need Him fully and totally and He needs us not at all, and it’s only through His infinite love that He decided to create man in the first place. Don’t feel that you’re doing God a favor through your good deeds.
Why is it so hard to walk with Christ?
If you say: ‘And why in both the Old and the New Testaments are there so many dangers, so many trials, so many snares?’ then learn the cause. Therefore, what is the cause? The present life is a wrestling school, a training ground, an arena, a smelting furnace, a dye house of virtue. Just as leather-dressers, taking the hides, first work them, stretch them, strike them, dash them against walls and stones, and by countless other treatments make them fit to receive the dye—and thus they impart to them a prized color; just as goldsmiths, but putting the gold into the fire, deliver it over to the trial of the furnace, in order to make it exceedingly pure; just as teachers at the wrestling school train the contestants with a great deal of hard work, attacking them more violently than their opponents, so that by exercise their whole bodies will be set aright, and they will be ready for the contests, prepared for the holds of their adversaries, and will easily undo them—so also does God act in the present life. Wishing to make the soul fit for virtue, He works it, refines it, and gives it over to the testing by trials, in order to strengthen those who have lost heart and are slack, and so that those who are worthy will become even more worthy, impregnable to the plots of the demons and the traps of the devil, and preeminently fit to receive all the good things to come. For, as they say, a man who has not been tested is worthless. And Paul says: Tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character (Rom. 5:3-4). Thus, since God wants to make men patient and enduring, He permits the coins to be tested in every way.
Thus, when Paul was searching for an abatement of the evils that afflicted him and to be released from them, God also said to him: My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
Non-believers have said that I took the easy route by becoming a Christian, but they do not understand how much more is demanded of you by Christ compared to a person who is free to satisfy all their worldly desires and pleasures. To deny the world is so difficult that only through God’s grace can you succeed.
If you want a comfortable life, I advise you not to become an Orthodox Christian. Don’t follow what Jesus taught. Don’t follow your conscience when it screams at you. It’s far easier to go along with the secular winds, to gorge yourself on delights, to cheat, scam, fornicate, and lie, but all your gains can only result in spiritual death.
On The Providence Of God was a slim volume that had sound guidance. I look forward to reading more of St. John’s work in the future.