The Sunflower by Saint John of Tobolsk is an excellent book that helps us understand why God does the things He does, and how we can align our actions to serve His will. In the below excerpts, Saint John explains why bad things happen to members of the flock.
Previous Article On “The Sunflower”: 6 Signs You Are Following God’s Will
Strong Christians are sent to the front lines…
Ask yourselves: why does the All-good God visit virtuous people with diseases or other calamities? It will be effective to answer this question by asking a different question whose answer is more easily accessible. Why is it that during a war the most capable and brave soldiers are sent to do the most risky and dangerous missions? The answer is not difficult. The commander chooses the most capable and brave soldiers for night raids on the enemy, to scout the best possible flanking movement around the enemy, to find the best path across a ford or a mountain pass for his division, and not a single one of the chosen soldiers complains to his commander for this assignment. He does not say, “My commander gave me this assignment because he wants to kill me.” On the contrary, each of these soldiers eagerly tries to accomplish his mission with the greatest success, despite all difficulties and dangers.
Those among us Christians who are weak in faith or lacking in patience should act like these brave soldiers, especially when God allows us to suffer and bear something grievous, heavy, or sorrowful. We should encourage ourselves and strengthen ourselves with the thought that God has acknowledged us worthy to bear such a burden, and that He would never lay on us a burden too heavy for our weak human strength.
…so that they may achieve moral perfection
…it is not so unusual that God, knowing in advance what means can give us the best chance of rising to the highest level of moral perfection, tests us, His children, with various difficulties and teaches us to rise up from the low levels of our virtue to ever higher ones. All training in virtue seems cruel and laborious for the frail body. Has God allowed misfortune to attack us? Let us bravely endure it. This is not God’s wrath, but a kind chance give to us for ascetic labor that always carries a reward with it. The more labors we endure, the braver we will become. A person can achieve complete victory over evil only through patience. As gold is purified by the fire, so a person is strengthened by hardship.
It is not [God] who is cruel. It is not His hand that is heavy in punishment. He, seeing with His gaze your entire past, present, an future, chooses to send you, by His mercy, everything that is most beneficial to you, even if it were to be your very death. Your soul is eternal, and you do not know what your future holds, you impatient fool of little faith, more fickle even than the weather!
How to respond when misfortune strikes
If, despite all your attempts and diligence, something still does not go according to your plans, do not become angry with God or with any of His creations. Instead, remember that God knows every detail of your suffering and what suffering still remains for you. He desires to come to know and increase your courage. Therefore, whatever God wants, let that be your desire.
Bear it when other people attack you
Even though human will is often evil and unrighteous, what can it do to you? In what ways does it succeed against you? You are upset that he managed to harm you, not that he wanted to harm you. But who made it possible for him to harm you? Did this not happen according to God’s will? And if it is according to the will and authority of God, then it must be for a just and holy reason, worthy of praise, not grief. Consequently, either stop your whining, or direct your complaints at God’s permission, and impress on your soul the fact that God would never allow any evil to harm you, if it did not serve for your own benefit. You are the only one who can harm yourself!
Today He allows you to be insulted by this person, but tomorrow it will be another. Sometimes He punishes you through your relatives, brothers, or your own immediate family. It is one and the same hand of God that chastises, not always in the same manner, but differently every time. Sometimes He visits you through other people. So why do you rail against these others? This cunning person has harmed me, that thief left me with nothing, and that liar stole my honor along with my property. What are you saying you fool? Why are you taking a gauntlet to court? Pay attention to the hand of God that gives you mercies as well as punishments. God sent all this to you.
Why does God allow so much evil in the world?
The reason God allows sin is hidden in the mystery of the perfection and the sinlessness of God’s direction of the world (His providence), a mystery that will remain unknown until the time of its revelation. God knows all futures in every detail, and He can easily prevent sin (so hateful to Him); however, He allows it, desiring to create good from evil, truth from lies, for the admonition and correction of people, to let them see the consequences of sin both for the sinner and for society.
Will you persist in asking the wrong questions?
Why does one die as a child, whereas another live to deep old age? Why does one who sinned only a little die without repentance, whereas another, who lived many years in debauchery, finally improves and receives an end worthy of a Christian? Why does one drown in riches and luxury, whereas another has not a piece of bread or a penny to his name?
Oh, you most restless and excessively curious mind! Why must you seek the answers to these questions? If you touch the fire of the divine judgments, you will melt from the heat. If you climb the unattainable mountain of divine foreknowledge and providence, you will fall. Like a moth or mosquito, you will fly in circles around the candle until it burns you. Thus, the human mind brazenly strives to pierces the secrets of the inconceivable divine fire. We, mortal men, cannot look directly at the works of the all-bright Sun, since our eyes are blind as a bat. The hidden mysteries of God are unattainable for us in this life.
If anyone asks me a question about what is God’s will, I send them straight to The Sunflower. It’s been exceedingly helpful on my walk with Christ.
Learn More: The Sunflower on Amazon