Trials and sorrow are inevitable in this temporary life. At difficult moments only faith can give a person the necessary spiritual strength. When a person with a weak faith despairs during misfortunes, feels defeated and complains bitterly, the believing person more strongly turns to God for help. He disperses the tide of despondency with hope in God, having learned from previous trials that “whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:33).
Sorrows are the “rainy days” and “storms” in our life and are meant to test our faith. During fair weather every sailor can fantasize about his skills, but it is during a storm that the genuine mariner is unveiled. Reading the Holy Scripture or lives of the saints, one becomes convinced that righteous people displayed their faith more obviously during persecutions and sufferings than during calm and normal conditions. When the Apostle Paul refers to the Old Testament righteous, he specifically mentions their difficult moments as examples of strong faith. He thus concludes his overview of their lives: some of them “were tortured, not receiving deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trials of mocking and scourging, of chains and imprisonment. Some were stoned, some were sawn in two, others were tempted and slain with the sword. Some wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. Of whom the world was not worthy, wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth … Therefore, — concludes the apostle — since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every burden of sin (which so easily ensnares us) and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Instead of the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame. Now He sits at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebr. chapters 11-12).
Although faith helps man to face suffering with fortitude, the question remains: why does the Lord permit the righteous to suffer? The answer is not obvious at all; “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has taught Him?” (Isai. 40:13). Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul explains that “all things work for good to them who love God” (Rom. 8:28). The word “all” includes sorrows as well. Actually, having himself experienced innumerable trials during his missionary journeys, Saint Paul shares with his disciples what he has learned: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distress for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong; for the strength of God is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Sorrows convince man of the instability of life’s blessings, remind him of God the Rescuer, of eternal life, and teach him patience. They develop fortitude and constancy in good deeds. When man can expect help from nowhere, he turns to God with all his strength. And while he is troubled from the outside, in his heart he finds Divine peace and consolation. Such direct awareness of God is greatly beneficial to a man’s faith. Thus, on the one hand, faith helps a man to bear sorrows, and on the other, sorrows strengthen the faith in him. For this reason Saint James taught Christians: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2).
Probably because faith gives man fortitude at difficult times and serves as a bulwark for his spiritual life, our Savior named it a rock, saying: “On this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Indeed, it is impossible to enumerate all the persecutions of Christians in the two millennia of the existence of the Church. While so many empires and powerful governments fell and have completely disappeared from the face of the Earth, Christ’s Church, founded on faith in Him, stands firm and will remain invincible until the end of the world.