“There are things which the Lord so orders that He may not leave Himself without testimony of His divine grace and calling; and there are others which He orders in the way of permissions, that a man may be proved and exercised, that his self-determination may be made plain. Those in affliction and temptations, if they endure, do not fail of the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore Christians in circumstances of distress are not vexed or grieved. If they are tried by poverty or suffering, they ought not to be surprised, but rather to take pleasure in poverty and reckon it as wealth, and fasting as feasting, and dishonor and obscurity as glory. On the other hand, if they should fall into circumstances which in this life are glorious, which incline them to worldly ease, or wealth, or glory, or luxury, they ought not to take pleasure in these things, but to shun them as they would fire.” ~St. Macarius the Egyptian
Affliction and Temptations
There are many reasons why we may end up having to deal with affliction of some sort. Disease, poverty, physical handicap, etc. St. Macarius says this is because God is testing us. He wants to know if we will hold up under pressure. He wants to know if we will change our path when the path gets difficult. That is one reason why such things can happen. It isn’t the most common, however. It is nice to think that we are so important to God that He thinks we are worthy of such attention. It is somewhat egotistical to believe that. And while God isn’t opposed to us having an ego—it is a perfectly natural and useful thing—an overinflated ego is definitely not good. So while there is a slim chance that our problems are due to God testing our mettle, we shouldn’t think that if we don’t have good reason to. Good reason meaning something like an angel appearing to us in a vision and telling us. We should consider other possibilities first.
One other reason for afflictions is simply that we are in the place where they abound. Afflictions and difficulties are the weeds of the material world. They happen everywhere, needed or not. So sometimes they land on us for no particular reason.
The third reason applies only to those engaging in spiritual development methods. There are forces and beings that don’t want us doing that. They are the powers of matter, the demons of materialism. So when you stray from the path they want you to be on, they will smack you down with an illness, financial disaster, or other affliction. Or they will tempt you with material treasures. Affliction and temptations are the primary tools for control of humanity. Sometimes they use affliction and temptations together to get you to behave. This usually makes people unhappy. It shouldn’t. When the dark ones are trying to stop you, you know you are doing what you should be doing. We must be strong and ignore their efforts.
What Doesn’t Kill Us
While God rarely bothers to test the mettle of anyone, it may be other spiritual beings who do so as his agents. They know that affliction and temptations are the tools of the dark beings, so they will use them to test us sometimes. They do this not to prove our faith in God, but to make us stronger. We need to be strong because the closer we get to a complete spiritual awakening, the more desperately the dark ones will try to stop us. We need to be able to resist their attacks. We need to resist the afflictions and temptations. It’s the spiritual version of Wim Hof techniques to strengthen a person’s will-power and physical body by sitting outside nearly nude in very cold weather. It is Mr. Miyagi training the Karate Kid. This may seem harsh, but trying to force you to suddenly lift 200 pounds when you have never before lifted more than 20 is even harsher.
Reject Wealth and Glory
While St. Macarius is correct in saying that we also have to reject the temptations of wealth and glory, that doesn’t mean we have to live in obscure poverty. We can have a nice house, comfortable clothing, and even a little recognition (not too much). We can have it as long as we can avoid getting attached to it. Getting attached to material things is like filling your boat with rocks before heading off on a sail. Even if the boat still floats, it will be slowed down significantly. Yet you can sail over a large rock that weighs a few tons without difficulty because it isn’t in the boat or attached to the boat like an anchor. So we can accept some wealth and glory, just as we accept the affliction and temptations that help us grow stronger, as long as we don’t get attached to the things of the material realm.