On the justice and judgements of God.
Why do things happen that seem bad to us?
A narration by the Elder Paisios the Athonite.
In his desire to demonstrate how God provides and cares for His creation, whenever we tend to become indignant and not understand His actions, the Elder would tell us stories such as the following one:
An ascetic who had observed the injustice that exists in the world prayed to God and asked Him to reveal the reason that righteous and pious people suffer misfortunes and are tortured without any obvious explanation, whereas the unrighteous and sinners become wealthy and enjoy comforts. In the middle of the ascetic’s prayer, he heard a voice instructing him as follows:
“Do not ask for those things that your mind and the power of your knowledge cannot reach, nor seek to learn what is hidden, because the judgments of God are an abyss. However, because you have requested to learn, go down into the world and sit in a certain spot discreetly and note whatever you shall see from there, so that with this minor test, you will get an idea of what God’s judgments are. That way, you will come to understand just why God’s providential administration in all things is unsearchable and unfathomable.”
On hearing this, the old ascetic carefully walked down towards the inhabited areas until he reached a meadow that was crossed by a busy main road. There was a spring and an old tree nearby, so the elder hid himself carefully in the hollow trunk of the tree and decided to observe from there. Soon after, a wealthy man on horseback rode past. He stopped at the spring for a drink of water and lay down on the grass to rest. After quenching his thirst, he took out a pouch with 100 gold coins from his garment and began to count them. When he finished counting, he placed the pouch back in his garment; however, without realizing it, the pouch fell to the ground, into the grass.
He ate, he rested, he slept a little, and then he got back on his horse and rode off, without realizing he had lost the pouch with the gold coins.
After a while, another passer-by came to the spring. He found the pouch with the gold coins, grabbed it, and ran off with it, into the fields.
A little while later, another passer-by appeared. Tired as he was, he too stopped at the spring, took a drink of water, took out a piece of bread that he carried with him and sat down to eat.
Just as that poor man was eating, the wealthy horseman reappeared in a fury, his face red with anger. He pounced upon the unsuspecting man, yelling at him to give him back his gold coins. The poor man, not having any idea about those coins, reassured him with solemn oaths that he had seen no such thing. But angry as the horseman was, he began to beat the poor man until he eventually killed him. He then proceeded to search through the poor man’s clothes, found nothing, and left him, greatly shocked and saddened.
The elder saw all these things happen before his eyes, and stood in wonder, overwhelmed with sorrow at the unjust murder that he had witnessed and turned in prayer to the Lord, saying:
“Lord, what is the meaning of this will of Yours? I beg You to explain how Your Benevolence can tolerate such an injustice? Another lost the coins, another found them, and another was unfairly murdered!”
As the elder continued to pray with tears, an Angel of the Lord descended and said to him:
“Do not be sorrowed, elder, nor be disillusioned and imagine that all these things happened supposedly without the will of God. Because of all the things that you just witnessed, some were by God’s concession, others were for education, and others had providential reasons. So listen now:
“He who lost the coins was the neighbour of the one who found them. The latter had an orchard worth 100 gold coins. Being greedy, the rich man forced him to give up the orchard for only 50 coins. Unable to do anything else, the poor man prayed to God to take care of the injustice. Therefore, it was God’s providence which had responded to the poor man’s prayer and had given him back the money, twofold.
“The other man – the poor and weary one – who had found nothing and yet was unfairly murdered? Well, he had committed murder, but only once in his life. However, he had repented sincerely, and for the rest of his life had made sure that his works were Christian and pleasing to God. He constantly beseeched God to forgive him for the murder he had committed, and would usually say, ‘My Lord, please give me a death just like the one that I had inflicted!’ Naturally, the Lord forgave him from the very first moment that he showed signs of repentance. But He was especially moved by the sensitivity of His child, who not only made sure he upheld all His Commandments, but also desired to pay for his old crime. Thus, the Lord granted his wish, allowing him to die in the manner that he had prayed for. God did not deprive him of his wish, and allowed him to die a violent death, just as he had asked, and then took him into His bosom, in fact even crowing him with a glorious wreath for the sensitivity he had shown!
“Finally, the other man, the greedy one who lost all the gold coins and then committed murder, he would have had a disastrous end on account of his greed and his love of money, so God allowed him to fall into the sin of murder, so that his soul would be severely pained and thus seek to repent. Given the turn of events, that person has now abandoned all worldly pleasures and is going away, to become a monk!
“Now then, in which of these cases did you find God to be unjust or cruel or insensitive?
“For this reason, you must no longer concern yourself with in-depth examinations of God’s judgments, because He meets them out fairly, in the manner that He deems appropriate, when you on the other hand misconstrue them as injustices.
“You should also know that there are many other things that happen in the world by the will of God, for reasons that people cannot understand. Thus, the proper thing for one to say is: “Just are You, Lord, and straight are Your judgments.”“