Quite frequently in the course of his life, man is faced with the serious problem of “theodicy”, with questions such as: “Why are there evils in the world?”. Many such nagging questions need to be answered. But because the desired answers either do not come at all, or they come in a different manner than man would want, but also, quite often, when entirely inappropriate interpretations are suggested, man unfortunately falls into the trap of theodicy and finds himself hopelessly strangled by its innumerable tentacles.
Amid the sorrow, the injustice, the harrowing, unexpected events in life, but also on account of incorrect handling, even spiritual people can become blinded and lose their spiritual compass. This causes “sadness” to the all-benevolent God, and joy to the homicidal Devil; in the words of a wise saying: “Every upheaval delights the (noetic) wolf”.
It is an irony of life, when man is suffering for some reason, that his personal prism sometimes becomes clouded (when it shouldn’t!), which results in the “blurring” of his personal spiritual focus, his sobriety (“nepsis”) evaporates and he loses his level-headedness, resulting in his inappropriate handling of personal difficulties and adversities in a proper and practical, God-pleasing manner. Although giving and suggesting more or less beneficial and wise advice to familiar people who had encountered analogous situations, he has now allowed himself to become entrapped, “upon facing the swelling sea of life rise up before him” (Ode chanted during the Lenten Sunday of the Tax-collector and Pharisee, and Cheesefare Sunday).
Undoubtedly, the problem of theodicy is greatly magnified during our personal difficulties. This of course does not imply that theodicy is also of lesser significance when regarded and examined, not only at a personal level, but also at a more general one.
Man usually ponders questions such as: “Why does evil exist in the world? Why must so much physical and moral-spiritual evil encircle mankind – in fact even the faithful who struggle to adapt their lives to the will of God?” Quite often, on seeing that sin is dominant almost everywhere, with everything that evidences it, we can hear the melancholy voice of the Prophet Jeremiah echoing in our heart’s ears: “Why does the way of the irreverent prosper?...” (Jer.23:1) Furthermore, why do all these things besiege us, when the Omnipotent, Omniscient and All-merciful God loves us so much and is aware of our life in its every detail? How does eternal, beyond-Time “hell” reconcile with God’s eternal, hyper-infinite love? It is within these three parts/queries with their multiple branches and combinations (moral and physical evil – eternal damnation/”hell”) that the trap of theodicy is focused. Thus, pursuant to all these painful questions, in what manner and by which logic is it feasible for God to be vindicated? Hence our preoccupation with the matter of God-judgment, which is the root of the (Greek) term “theodicy” (θεοδικία).
Being spiritual fathers of the Church, we have unfortunately discovered in practice that these questions – both directly and indirectly – have been preoccupying many people, sometimes even tyrannically, in many forms and intensities.
However, many people – particularly under the influence of sorrowful events that they have encountered – are unaware of the following detail: just as the essence of God is totally incomprehensible, whereas His uncreated Energies can be partaken of - and are partially perceptible (especially in His deified Saints) - similarly, in a certain minimal, anthropomorphic approach, likewise His Holy and Just Will is, deep down, entirely incomprehensible, and only partially-“superficially” comprehensible – primarily to those who have become spiritually cleansed and living as “sighters” of God. But the divine Will, apart from being incomprehensible, is at the same time thoroughly holy, just, impartial, and salvatory. Both the incomprehensibility of the divine Will and God’s justice not only do not conflict with each other; rather, they are inter-embraced in one, perfect, unconfused and uninterrupted harmony.
In fact, we have even encountered wittingly hyper-conscientious faithful who felt ashamed and very moody, because they were overwhelmed by various thoughts regarding theodicy, inasmuch as they more or less considered themselves to be spiritually condemned. Of those, there were some who, because of sensitivity, ignorance, or incorrect information and guidance (or even influenced by the demon of disillusionment etc.) were feeling unbearable and uncontrollable grief, simply because they were unable to find any full, rational answer.
Generally speaking, we have come to realize that there looms a serious problem in confronting theodicy, on account of various causes and motives, in many and various types of people: from the deeply faithful, to the tepid, the indifferent, the atheists, and even the opponents of God.
So, in response to the varying spiritual, existential impasse and the cerebral labyrinth that is generated and torments many souls, but also for a better solidification of the others who – albeit acknowledging God’s authority are nevertheless lacking (more or less) the desirable spiritual edification and experience – we had, to the best of our feeble ability, delivered a series of six homilies on the “hot” topic of theodicy. These had taken place inside the sacred temple of the Holy Mother of Lamia, towards the end of the year 2000, in synaxes of the faithful. These homilies are each self-con-tained and also consecutive.
With some revision and suitable additions and omissions in the texts – given that they are now addressing a broader public and as such have been mostly adjusted to indirect speech – we wish to bring these homilies to the attention of pious readers, in the hope that even if only one soul eventually benefits and becomes spiritually solidified through the timeless Patristic words provided herein. Of course the topic under examination is indeed one that is difficult to solve, having innumerable coordinates and parameters, which is why we are not in the least under the impression that it can be exhausted by us. We have, quite simply, “followed the holy Fathers” and have only offered according to our minute strength, certain introductory, basic, simple, but definitely Patristic guidelines: in short, how one can confront the problem of theo-dicy, theologically and in practice, in this “valley of weeping and exile” where - one way or another - all of us are, out of necessity...
Heartfelt thanks are in order, for the respected publisher of the “ORTHODOXOS KYPSELI” publications, Mr. Stylianos Kementzetzidis, who was condescendingly kind enough to include in his rich trove of publications that are replete with choice spiritual foods, some of our “crumbs” – that is, our notes and our highlighting of the immense problem of theodicy.
We all pray humbly and wholeheartedly, that we might escape “unscathed” from all the spiritual traps, including those by theodicy; then, freely and unfettered, we can break out, again and again, with the ever-resounding glorification of “...who can trace the abysses of Your judgments, o soul-saving Saviour?...” (taken from the Lenten Troparion of Kassiane), as well as the words of the Apostle Paul: “..“Oh, the depth of the riches of wisdom and knowledge of God! So unexplored are His judgments, and untraceable His paths!” (Rom. 1:33).
Finally, we would like to request gratefully that every soul who, after studying this book and finding even a tiny benefit, take the trouble to deposit a few words of prayer to the Lord, both for the publisher and his collaborators as well as for the undersigned.
Archimandrite Arsenios Katerelos,
In the Sacred Monastery of Saint Nicholas,
at Divri of Fthiotis Province, 9/3/2015.