On Human Misery
Wherever you are and wherever you turn, you will not find happiness until you turn to God. Why are you so distressed when events do not turn out as you wish and hope? Is there anyone who enjoys everything as he wishes? Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else on earth. There is no one in the world without trouble or anxiety, be he King or Pope. Whose, then, is the happiest lot? Surely, he who is able to suffer for love of God.
Many weak and foolish people(Luke 12:19)say, `See what a good life that man enjoys! He is so rich, so great, so powerful, so distinguished!' But raise your eyes to the riches of Heaven, and you will see that all the riches of this world are as nothing. All are uncertain and even burdensome, for they are never enjoyed without some anxiety or fear. The happiness of man does not consist in abundance of this world's goods,(Prov.19:1) for a modest share is sufficient for him. The more spiritual a man desires to become, the more bitter does this present life grow for him, for he sees and realizes more clearly the defects and corruptions of human nature. For to eat and drink, to wake and sleep, to rest and labour, and to be subject to all the necessities of nature is a great trouble and affliction to the devout man, who would rather be released and set free from all sin(Rom.7:24;2Cor.5:2).
The inner life of man is greatly hindered in this life by the needs of the body. Thus, the Prophet devoutly prays that he may be set free from them, saying, `Lord, deliver me from my necessities(Ps.25:16)! Woe to those who refuse to recognize their own wretchedness, and doubly woe to those who love this miserable and corruptible life(Rom.8:21)! For some cling so closely to it, that although by working or begging they can hardly win the bare necessities, they would yet be willing to live here for ever if it were possible, caring nothing for the Kingdom of God.
How crazy and lacking in faith are such people, who are so deeply engrossed in earthly affairs that they care for nothing but material things!(Rom.8:5) These unhappy wretches will at length know to their sorrow how vile and worthless were the things that they loved. But the Saints of God and all the devoted friends of Christ paid little heed to bodily pleasures, nor to prosperity in this life, for all their hopes and aims were directed towards those good things that are eternal.(IPet 1:4) Their whole desire raised them upward to things eternal and invisible, so that the love of things visible could not drag them down. My brother, do not lose hope of progress in the spiritual life;(Heb.10:35) you have still time and opportunity.
Why put off your good resolution? Rise and begin this very moment, and say, `Now is the time to be up and doing; now is the time to fight; now is the time to amend.(2Cor.6:2) When things go badly and you are in trouble, then is the time to win merit. You must pass through fire and water, before you can come into the place of rest.(Ps.66:11) You will never overcome your vices, unless you discipline yourself severely. For so long as we wear this frail body, we cannot be without sin, nor can we live without weariness and sorrow. We would gladly be free from all troubles; but since we have lost our innocence through sin, we have also lost true happiness. We must therefore have patience(Heb.10:36) and wait for God's mercy, until this wickedness pass away, and death be swallowed up in life.(2Cor.5:4)
How great is the frailty of man, ever prone to evil!(Gen.6:5) Today you confess your sins; tomorrow you again commit the very sins you have confessed! Now you resolve to guard against them, and within the hour you act as though you had never made any resolution! Remembering, then, our weakness and instability, it is proper to humble ourselves, and never to have a high opinion of ourselves. For we can easily lose by carelessness that which by God's grace and our own efforts we had hardly won.
What will become of us in the end if our zeal so quickly grows cold? Unhappy our fate, if we rest on our oars as though we had already reached a haven of peace and security,(IThess.5:3) when in fact no sign of holiness is apparent in our lives. It would be good for us to be instructed once more, like good novices, in the ways of the good life; there would then be some hope of our future improvement and greater spiritual progress.
Chapter 21 Table of Contents Chapter 23