Suffering, St. Maximos tells us, may be a result of our own choices to sin or may fall upon us without apparent cause. In either case, suffering is a chance to exercise patience, rather than spend lives consumed by anger or bitterness; an opportunity for change and spiritual growth.
Many times, our afflictions are direct and logical consequences of our own actions, such as, indulgence in passions, reliance on material things, praise or acceptance by others for our lives to seem worth living. In this case, we should accept suffering with a sense of gratitude as a much-needed corrective.
Beyond the idea of suffering as just punishment, however, St. Maximos sees it as an opportunity – perhaps our only opportunity–for redemption.
To recognize “the principle of divine providence” in our affliction and discern its capacity to heal us, allows us to accept “the affliction with joy and gratitude,” and to correct “the fault for which [we are] being disciplined.”
Anger at afflictions that stem from the choices we make in life, means that we justify our choices and blame the consequences on someone or something else. This robs us of the opportunity for transformation; the chance to make corrections in our lives and progress spiritually. Instead, justification and anger enslave us in the passions that, unchecked, lead us to despair
But if he is insensitive to this treatment [of accepting afflictions joyfully], he is justly deprived of the grace that was once given him and is handed over to the turbulence of the passions
St. Maximos next shows us that, in order to understand “the principle of divine providence” in our afflictions, one must be able to see beyond appearance—to the inner essence and cause of material things. Seeing beyond appearance will reveal the true nature of created things, that is, that by nature everything is good, and nothing is unclean unto itself. It is only we, who ill-use things of the world, making them into ends unto themselves rather than means of glorifying God, upending the natural balance, distorting our view of good and evil and perception of reality.
If, instead of stopping short at the outward appearance which visible things present to the senses, you seek with your intellect to contemplate their inner essences, seeing them as images of spiritual realities or as the inward principles of sensible objects, you will be taught that nothing belonging to the visible world is unclean.
Without purification and a view of the principles beyond appearance, we experience constant turbulence–happiness when our passions are satisfied and misery when they are not.
The alternative and end goal that St. Maximos presents us with, is dispassion and a path to theosis.
He who is not affected by changes in sensible things practices the virtues in a manner that is truly pure. He who does not permit the outward appearances of sensible things to imprint themselves on his intellect has received the true doctrine of created beings. He whose mind has outstripped the very being of created things has come, as a true theologian, close to the One through unknowing.
As always, Maximos follows a passage on a difficult road ahead with a passage of hope.
God gives each of us the capacity for fulfilling a commandment, he reassures us. And he does this by treating us as distinct individuals, rather that undifferentiated masses–—each at a different stage of his/her journey and with different abilities. This is why:
God reveals Himself to each person according to each person’s mode of conceiving Him. To those whose aspiration transcends the complex structure of matter, and whose psychic powers are fully integrated in a single unceasing gyration around God, He reveals Himself as Unity and Trinity. In this way He both shows forth His own existence and mystically makes known the mode in which that existence subsists.