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December 16, 2009

St. Basil the Great on the Purpose of Environmental Calamities

By St. Basil the Great

"And I also withheld the rain from you when there were still three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would be rained upon, and the field on which it did not rain withered; so two or three towns wandered to one town to drink water, and were not satisfied, because you did not return to Me," says the Lord. - Amos 4:7-8

We should learn, then, that it is because we have turned away from the Lord and discarded His ways that God has inflicted these wounds upon us. He does not seek to destroy us, but rather endeavors to turn us back to the right way, just as good parents who care for their children are stern and rebuke them when they do wrong, not because they wish them harm, but rather desiring to lead them from childish negligence and the sins of youth to mature attentiveness.

See, now, how the multitude of our sins has altered the course of the year and changed the character of the seasons, producing these unusual temperatures. The winter did not produce alternating wetness and dryness as usual, but rather kept all its moisture frozen into ice, and so passed with no sign of snow or rain. The spring, moreover, showed only one side of its nature, namely warmth, but without any corresponding share of wetness. Scorching heat and biting frost, exceeding their boundaries in an unprecedented way, conspired to wreak damage upon human beings, even depriving them of life itself. What, then, is the cause of this disorder, this confusion? What brought about this change in the nature of the seasons? Let us investigate this question as those who have intelligence; as rational beings let us reason. Has the One who governs all ceased to exist? Or has the Master Artisan forgotten His providential care? Has He been stripped of His power and authority? Or, if He still possesses His might and retains His dominion, has He lapsed into callousness and turned His great goodness and providence into misanthropy?

A wise person would not say this. Rather, the reason why our needs are not provided for as usual is plain and obvious: we do not share what we receive with others. We praise beneficence, while we deprive the needy of it. When we were slaves, we were set free, yet we feel no compassion for our fellow slaves. When we were hungry, we were fed, yet we neglect the needy. Though we have a God who is generous and lacks nothing, we have become grudging and unsociable to the poor. Our sheep give birth to many lambs, yet there are more people who go about naked than there are shorn sheep. Our storehouses groan with plenty, yet we have no mercy on those who groan with want. For this reason we are threatened with righteous judgment. This is why God does not open his hand: because we have closed up our hearts towards our brothers and sisters. This is why the fields are arid: because love has dried up....

When you see that God does not provide as usual, you should think in this way: does not God have the power to grant us food? How could it be otherwise? He is the Lord of heaven and earth, the wise Steward of times and seasons. God set the boundaries of the seasons as they wax and wane, giving way to another like a well-ordered dance, so that the diversity of our needs might be satisfied by their endless variety. Thus, we see the rainfall accrues during its proper season, while afterward the earth receives warmth and coldness in appropriate mixture throughout the course of the year. We even need a certain period of dryness. We know, then, that God is powerful. Since His might is thus evident and undisputed, is He perhaps deficient in goodness? But neither can this notion stand. If God were not good, what necessity could have persuaded Him to create human beings in the first place? Who could have compelled the Creator unwillingly to take dust and fashion such beauty from dirt? Who could have prevailed upon Him to grant reason to human beings, as it were, out of necessity, so that thus impelled they might receive instruction in the arts, and learn to philosophize about the celestial realms, which cannot be apprehended through the senses?

If you think in this way, you will discover that God's goodness is still present and has not abandoned us even now. Otherwise, tell me, what would prevent there befalling us not a mere drought, but utter conflagration? What would prevent the sun from altering its usual course, drawing near to the terrestrial bodies and consuming in a moment all that we see? What would prevent fire from raining down from heaven, like that which punished the sinners of old? (Gen. 19:1-29). Come to your senses, people! Do not behave like foolish children, who smash their teachers writing tablets when they are rebuked, or rip apart their father's garments when he sends them away from the table to teach them a lesson, or scratch their own mother's face with their fingernails. Storms at sea test the mettle of the ship's captain, just as the arena does the athlete, the battle line the soldier, calamity the magnanimous, the times of trial the Christian. Sorrows try the soul as fire does gold.