“How can God exist if there is so much suffering and injustice in the world?” This is a question often asked, especially when suffering is inflicted on the innocent, and can cast doubts on our faith.
St. Maximos addresses the question squarely. Instead of obfuscating or becoming defensive, he makes a bold case for suffering and hardship as opportunities for growth and redemption.
If when the flesh has an easy life the force of sin tends to grow stronger, it is clear that when the flesh suffers affliction the force of virtue will also increase. So let us bravely endure the affliction of the flesh, which cleanses the soul’s stains and brings us future glory. For ‘ the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us’ (Rom.8 : I 8).
St. Maximos goes even further by using the metaphor of affliction as healing medicine.
When physicians are treating the body they do not administer the same remedy in all cases. Neither does God, when treating the illnesses of the soul, regard a single kind of therapy as suitable for all conditions
From metaphors of healing, St. Maximos transitions to the concept of discipline–the foundation of, and prerequisite to, spiritual growth.
Nothing disciplines the disposition of the soul so well as the protests of the afflicted flesh. If the soul gives way to them, it will be evident that it loves the flesh more than God. But if it remains unshaken by these disturbances, it will be shown to honour virtue more than the flesh.
“If all the saints had their share of discipline,” he reasons, “we too should thank God that we are disciplined with them, so that we may be found worthy to partake of their glory. For whom the Lord loves He discipline…”
Hence, darkness—hardship, suffering or the temptation of passions—has a place in our salvation. Without it, we would be unable to exercise free will. Untested virtue is meaningless without the exercise of discipline in making tough choices and resisting temptations.
This is why God placed a blemish—a potential source of suffering–even in the midst of the lush beauty and harmony of Paradise.
St. Maximos gives two contrasting examples of exercising free will in the face of temptation: Adam in Paradise and Christ on the cross.
Faced with temptation, Adam chose to succumb to it. He chose worldly pleasure—pleasing his wife, tasting a forbidden fruit and following sensual desire—over obedience to God.
Christ, on the other hand, accepted God’s will and the suffering it entailed willingly and without protest.
Through their choices, Adam “expelled humanity from Paradise” while Christ “brought the robber into paradise” The risks of their choices were high yet without the hardship and temptations that forced them to make difficult choices what would be the value of easy virtue?
”Let us, then, love the suffering of the flesh and hate its pleasure,” St. Maximos concludes. “For the first brings us in and restores God’s blessings to us, while the second drives us out and separates us from those blessings.”
By accepting suffering, we become joined to Christ and this reach glorification.
“If God suffers in the flesh when He is made man,” Maximos asks, why should we not rejoice when we suffer?”
“This shared suffering confers the kingdom on us. For he spoke truly who said, ‘If we suffer with Him, then we shall also be glorified with Him’ (Rom. 8 : 1 7).”