“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
St Paul accepts that being a disciple of Christ means facing persecution in the world and having to suffer for the Master. He is no advocate of a prosperity Gospel. He tries to prepare all of Christ’s disciples for the fact that they will face problems in the world and should not be surprised by them. Our faith should not be shaken by the problems we experience because of our choice to be Christian. This theme is picked up by a 6th Century Syrian monk who says those who have been Christians for years know that things will happen in life which will shake their faith and cause them to doubt God. Like farmers who know each year presents its own challenges in raising crops, so Christians should be prepared for what life throws their way – including stumbling blocks to being faithful. “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain” (James 5:7). The farmer or avid gardener is not defeated by natural setbacks, but rather expects them each year while still holding faith that this year the crops will be profitable. That is the attitude Christians should have.
“There are some who, even though they have begun to develop a taste for divine things, nevertheless are disturbed and hassled by the adversary, so that they are surprised (still lacking experience) that after the divine visitation, they should still harbor doubts about the mysteries of the Christian religion. Those who have grown old in them are not surprised at all. As skilled farmers from long experience, if they have had a year of bountiful harvest, they do not live without some planning, but they foresee the time of dearth and tight times. On the contrary, if famine and penury hit them, they do not become despondent, as they think positively about the future. It is the same way with things in the spiritual world. When the soul falls into various temptations (Job 1:1), it is not surprised nor does it lose all hope, because it knows that by God’s permission it is being exposed to trials and is being disciplined by evil. Nor does it forget other circumstances when things go well and there is consolation, but it expects the time of trial.
[A common theme in Patristic writers is found in Hebrews 12:6 – “For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Trials and temptations were viewed not as stumbling blocks to faith but opportunities to practice faith, hope and love. They were understood sometimes to be sent by God to guide or correct or strengthen believers.
The author whose quote we are considering holds to the idea God does not give up on sinners or those who fail spiritually at times, but rather God sends rain and sunshine on all. So too, the Holy Spirit doesn’t flee those who give in to temptation but rather aims to bring light to those living in darkness.]
The sun, being a material, created thing, shines down also upon swampy places full of mud and slime and yet is not affected or defiled. How much more the pure and Holy Spirit that is joined to the soul which still is afflicted by evil, without himself being tainted by the evil. For: ‘The light shines in darkness and the darkness comprehended did it not‘ (John 1:5). (Pseudo-Macarius, THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 130)