Abott Theodore (fourth century) was the leader of a desert monastic community in ancient Egypt. This excerpt comes from the record of a “conference” held by Theodore with another well-known abbot, John Cassian, and other monks who had come for spiritual counsel.
But we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom 8:28). By saying, “All things work together for good,” Paul includes everything alike, not only fortunate things, but also misfortunes.
In another place the apostle tells us that he himself has passed through such things, when he says that he’s commended himself “with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left . through honor and dishonor, through ill repute and good repute .as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich” (2 Cor 6:7-10).
All those things, then, that are considered fortunate, the holy apostle seems to speak of figuratively as the weapons “for the right hand,” which he designates by such terms as “honor” and “good repute.” And those things that are counted as misfortunes, which he clearly means when he says “dishonor” and “ill repute,” he seems to picture as weapons “for the left hand.”
Together, these “weapons of righteousness” help him become a spiritually mature man if, when they come his way, he bears them bravely. Why? Because, as he fights by making good use of these situations, he secures their advantage through a patient attitude, and obtains a grand triumph of steadfastness by means of those very weapons of his enemies that are hurled against him to kill him.
In this way he avoids being puffed up by success or cast down by failure. Instead, he marches ever forward on the king’s highway.
The Danger of Prosperity
We can be more easily overcome spiritually by prosperity than by misfortunes. For adversity sometimes restrains us against our will and makes us humble. Through a most healthy sorrow it causes us to sin less and makes us better.
On the other hand, prosperity can puff up the mind with soothing but most deadly flatteries. When we are too secure in the prospect of our happiness, prosperity dashes us to the ground with a still greater destruction.
But this power of being spiritually “ambidextrous” is a power we can acquire as Paul did. We only need make a right and proper use both of those things that are fortunate, and which lie “on the right hand,” as well as those that are unfortunate, and, as we call it, “on the left hand.” We must make both adversity and prosperity work to our spiritual advantage, so that whatever turns up proves in our case, to use the words of the apostle, to become “the weapons of righteousness.”
If, then, you aren’t at all puffed up with self-conceit by any of those things on the right hand, and you struggle bravely against those on the left hand, and you don’t yield to despair and give in, but rather seize the weapons of patience to exercise yourself in virtue – you’ll be using both your spiritual hands as fighting hands. In each action you’ll prove triumphant, carrying off the prize of victory from both adverse and prosperous circumstances.
The Example of Job
Follow Job’s example. He was crowned by God for a victory on the “right hand” when he was the father of seven children and lived as a rich and wealthy man. Those prosperous circumstances didn’t corrupt him.
With still greater virtue he triumphed over adversity on the “left hand.” When he was deprived in one moment of his seven children, he acted as a trye servant of God, rejoicing in the will of his Creator. When instead of being a wealthy man he became poor, naked instead of rich, wasting away instead of strong, despised and contemptible instead of famous and honorable, yet he still preserved his fortitude of soul unshaken.
Like Job, we must thank God in either kind of circumstances, gaining the same spiritual advantage from whatever good or bad may come our way.