In the fifth chapter of The Gospel According to Saint John, we read of Jesus healing the paralyzed man who lay by the pool.
Later when Jesus encounters the man, Jesus says to him:
“Go and sin no more, lest something worse befall you”
Jesus isn’t warning him that if he sins he will grow sicker, or that he will have some kind of physical ailment even worse than his paralysis.
Jesus makes it very clear again and again that physical disease is not necessarily always linked to the way we have lived.
It is not a result of our sin.
Of course, there are sinful things we can do that result in sickness.
We can drink excessively.
We can take drugs.
We can we can do all kinds of things that harm the body.
Jesus is talking about something far greater than physical ailments. Jesus says something greater may befall you because…
When we sin we inflict on the soul wounds that are far more harmful and far more dangerous than physical ailments.
Physical ailments will come to an end when our body dies.
But the wounds that we commit against the soul, the passions that we give ourselves to, these habits of sin may form the soul in such a way that
when we face judgment the consequences may go on to eternity.
The wounds may be an eternal wound.
This encounter with Jesus raises all kinds of questions for us. Perhaps we may principally ask…
Where then does suffering come from if it is not always a direct result of our sin?
Why is there suffering at all in the world and where does evil come from?
To answer this, we have to look at what it truly means to be created in the image of God. It may seem strange that we would raise
these two facts:
- There is evil in the world
2. We are created in the image of God
But the two are connected. This is not a paradox. The reality is, we are created in the image of God. And for man to be in God’s image, the possibility of sin and suffering must exist.
When we look in the book of Genesis, we read there that God does indeed
create man in his own image and likeness. When we say this, of course, God is immaterial. Therefore, we know that to be in God’s image refers to something of the soul…
That immaterial part of us.
The Church doesn’t go to any great lengths to make it a doctrine of what this actually means. However, we do have the teachings of the Fathers.
Collectively, they teach us what this image of God is.
The Church Fathers talk about the image of God being immortality, given by grace not by essence.
They talk about the image of God being the reasoning part of the soul.
The fact that we have free will.
Of course, without reason we cannot have free will. And without free will we cannot love. And the ability to give love, to genuinely love God and each other
is a reflection of the image of God within us.
Love must be freely given and therefore we must have free will in order for love to be real.
We must be clear though, God did not create evil.
The Church does not teach this.
Mankind was created sinless.
Adam and eve were created sinless in paradise.
But this does not mean that they were not created with the inability to sin. Our first parents were not created incapable of sinning. The tendency was not in their nature, it did not exist in man at his creation.
But it was within man’s power.
Within man’s will.
Within man’s choice.
Man was created with free will. He was created with the ability to choose to strive towards closer union with God. To strive to greater perfection or to turn away from God and embrace disobedience.
Man was created with this choice because God created us so that we might give our free will back in obedience to Him.
Evil itself is really a violation of God’s laws.
What about natural disasters?
I dare to say natural disasters are not evil. Yes, they produce suffering. There’s chaos, there is terrible pain and suffering as a consequence of many natural disasters but they are not evil in themselves.
Now all sorrow and suffering is a consequence of sin but, sometimes that suffering is a chastisement, as we see in the book of Genesis and in many of the Fathers.
Our suffering may be the thing that holds us back from greater sin and teaches us the nature of sin.
But all suffering is a consequence of sin.
So how can we say how natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and tornados are linked to man’s sin?
Well, we have to go back even further to understand the nature of the Fall.
The Fall was that act of disobedience that began in heaven. It began amongst the angels, amongst the Devil. The Devil, through his own pride was disobedient to God. Some of the angels, of course, who have free will allowed themselves to be led by Satan and were disobedient to God.
They rebelled and were cast out from heaven.
Satan, now on earth and in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve…
This temptation, which would open the door to sin, impacted the whole of creation. Man was the unique crown of this creation that exists both as earthly and heavenly.
This act of disobedience, this choosing to follow temptation then
affected the whole of creation.
Vegetation. Animals. Even the lifeless things of the world. The oceans. The ground. The elements. All fell.
And so the the forces within creation that drive and push the way that the things of the earth interact with each other, were no longer in the condition in which they were created.
And the consequence of this fallen state of creation?
Natural disasters that befall us.
So man’s sin was manifested in all things. Even those things that are not living.
And so we may say that all sin originates in the Devil. He was the first to sin and he was the one who tempted man into sin. Satan and his angels, even now work continuously to tempt man into evil. This is their activity now.
We are told they exist in the aerial realms, just beneath heaven, and they are actively seeking to tempt man into evil. They never cease.
And in order to be perfected, we must have free will and be
able to choose to accept and follow these temptations. Now, not all temptations that we experience now are directly given to us by the Devil. Some temptations are a consequence of our fallen nature, a consequence of our having developed habits of sin that become passions in the soul. But they originate in the Devil and his rebellion with God. And when we sin, when we choose to follow temptation and disobedience, we fall into union with evil.
We give ourselves to evil.
We give ourselves to the activity of the Devil. We turn our back
on the blessedness of God. But however much we sin we must not lose
hope and we must not be disheartened. We must not become despondent over the fallen state of the cosmos.
God’s providence works to bring all things to fulfillment. We are in God’s care. And when we struggle against temptation, when we struggle to be obedient, which so often is very difficult for us, we who are so sinful and yet still pursuing the kingdom of God are working according to God’s plan.
The image of God is something created in our soul. All of us are created with the image of God at the very beginning of our being.
But the creation of us in the image of God and the likeness of God are two
different things. God created us in his image and likeness, but the Church Fathers tell us that the likeness of God is something different
to the image.
We all have that image that is marred and defaced and fallen. But the likeness of God is something higher. It is that part of ourselves that comes into being and grows when we are faithful. It grows when we love and forgive.
When the the gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifested within our lives, the likeness of God grows in us as we are perfected. Christ promises that if we struggle, if we repent and confess our sins and seek that healing that He offers, the same healing that healed the paralytic, so too can He heal
the wounds of our soul. Those more dangerous wounds that we have
inflicted upon ourselves.
Let us confess. Let us find the healing that Christ gives to us through the mystery of Confession. And let us know always, the whole of our lives is in the care and the love of God.
He hears every word, every thought, every prayer that we utter. We’re constantly in His presence. He has not turned His back on us.
So whatever evil we see, whatever evil we
commit, let us know…
…let us hope…
…that in our struggle we can turn away and find the hand of God.
Calling us. Leading us. To His kingdom. To His blessedness that He created us