Keep Thy Mind In Hell

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (5:1-11)

Have you ever been at your wit’s end? Have you ever felt like you were in the depths of despair? Have you ever felt that no matter what you did, things would never get better? I assume that each of us has had these feelings and thoughts during difficult times in our life. We know that life can be hard, even brutal at times. One of the things that we consistently find when we encounter God in the Scriptures and the New Testament is that God does not prevent all of the pain and suffering for His people. Rather we find that God uses pain and suffering to do two very important things for His people.

First, God uses tribulation and struggle to mold and shape our character. It is difficult to gain character and have your soul molded in a positive way if your whole life is easy and glamorous and comfortable. We can liken this to physical activity. If a perfectly healthy man or woman begins to use a wheelchair to move instead of their legs, what will happen to their legs over time? They will become weaker. And what will happen if they stay off their legs for a very long time? They may even lose some of the ability to walk and hold their own weight. The muscles were not challenged even in the slightest way. Alternatively if we want to get bigger and stronger, we willingly choose to push against or pull weights. We offer resistance, because that alone will allow for real growth and strength.

God does the same with us. He allows the trials and difficulties in the world around us to be a form of weight and resistance in order to cultivate within each of us a saintly, humble, holy, loving disposition. I’ve often had people who come and talk about their problems and issues with spouses and neighbors, with extended family and with co-workers. Those troubles are real, and God knows that they are real. They are also a chance to be reshaped and reformed. Mothers and (sometimes) fathers, struggle to get up in the middle of the night with crying children. They wish and dream about unbroken sleep. That is a very natural response to the difficulty. Yet, God uses this trial to mold them. What is nearly impossible for the first baby becomes like second nature with later children. We have become accustomed to it, we’ve also become stronger.

He does this for each of us in our difficulties. Sometimes He uses our struggles to make us humble and aware of our many shortcomings. That is a wonderful disposition to have, but it is one that is far from us when we are in relative comfort. Just look at the Israelites and the many ways that they fell into sin. But we should be clear that this doesn’t happen according to our knowledge or comfort level or in a specific period of time. It happens according to God’s will. Peter and those with him, had toiled for a number of hours and yet that was not the end of the trial. They continued to struggle and sweat and worry all night long and yet they did not gain any fish or any pleasure. We should also be clear and say that there is very little benefit to such difficulties if we curse or grumble or complain throughout the ordeal. So God indeed uses tribulation and struggle to mold and shape our character, to make us holy.

Secondly, God uses tribulation and struggle to try and turn our eyes and our hearts back to Him in repentance and heartfelt prayer. God never ceases to do miracles for each of us, yet we are relatively blind to His work in our lives. We forget His benefits and love for us, because we don’t usually pay attention. We forget the many gifts that He has given us because of the abundance of these good things in our lives. It takes difficulties and trials and deprivation in order to wake us up to our need for God’s presence and help in our lives. The fishermen depended on the fish to survive. To be in their shoes, to toil all night long, to come back to shore empty handed…that is enough to break some people. In the case of the disciples, it was just enough to break open a crack in their hearts. It was just enough to allow them to receive the miracle that Our Lord was about to perform and more importantly, it was enough to allow them to receive the One who performed it! God allowed the difficulty in order to wake them up to a greater reality. He had the power all along to put fish in their nets, but His primary objective was not to catch fish in their nets. It was to catch the disciples in His net!

I wonder if we would turn away and reject all of our difficulties and struggles and suffering if we had faith enough to see that these things were really making us holy and leading us back into a relationship with our Master and Creator?  What is better, comfort from things or comfort that cannot be taken away?  What is better, stability in things or stability in Christ?

Among those whom we commemorate today is St. Silouan of Mt. Athos.  He reposed on this day in 1938.  He was a man who struggled valiantly to overcome his sinful passions and to know Christ.  Once, after he had struggled for many years, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him with these words “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.”  This was a great source of comfort for St. Silouan because he was reminded that God was present and would not leave His children in their struggles.  For the fishermen, a night without fish was a form of hell.  For us, hell might look different, but each of us will have such a time in our life and perhaps more than once.  

Let us also remember not to despair but to patiently endure our struggles with faith that God is able to use these things for our benefit both to grow in our character and to grow in our love of His Son, Jesus Christ to whom be the glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

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