I work in a mission church. We are short of money. I have been unsuccessfully looking for a job that will allow me to be a priest for a year now with an incredible lack of success. Our mission is running out of money and in less than a year they will not be able to support me. So, why do I do it?
St. Paul makes an interesting statement.:
For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.
The Orthodox do not often speak of predestination or of necessity. It is not that we do not believe in it. One needs only read the Confession of Dositheus to realize that we do believe in both. But, it is that we tend to believe that the priority in both Scripture and Holy Tradition is in our voluntary choices, given that God has acted sovereignly in the person of Jesus Christ. And, yet, Scripture, as in a mystery, speaks of the predestination of God. The Confession of Dositheus speaks of that predestination as a necessary doctrine that keeps us from boasting and confirms God as above all.
But it is in St. Paul that the doctrine of predestination has its most practical outcome. Generally, when we speak of predestination we speak of something that is theologically true but that we do not actually experience in a practical way. Rather, our practical experience is an experience of sheer free will. So, we hold with our intellects that predestination exists while we experience that free will is predominant.
But, here St. Paul says that the experience of predestination is all too practical. He says that he cannot stop himself from preaching. It is something outside of himself that forces him to preach, and thus he has nothing of which to boast. I find that the same is true within me. I have no choice but to preach. I cannot stop myself. I am a steward of God’s word and must fulfill my stewardship.
And, so, all too often I have found myself in difficult situations. I find myself arguing with God and asking Him why He would ever send me into the particular situation in which I find myself. I will ask Him whether He simply wants me to die. My wife and I own no home. We have no savings of which to speak, in fact we are somewhat in debt. Now that we are in our late 50’s, we are increasingly concerned about our retirement. We ask God if He is sure about the situations in which He seems to keep putting us. And, yet, we cannot stop ourselves. Sometimes we come close to begging Him to simply let us get two very good jobs and save for retirement. But, it never happens.
And, in me, there is this drive that says that I must preach. And, in my wife, there is this drive that says that she must reach out pastorally to people within the church, most especially women and the young. And, so, in both our lives we see the predestination of God and our free will working together to make us what we have been, what we are, and what we shall be.
Nevertheless, once in a while we find ourselves asking God for relief and an explanation. And, then, we keep on walking.