"When God created man in the beginning, He left him free to make his own decisions. If you wish, you can keep the commandments and it is in your power to remain faithful." (Ecclesiasticus, 15)
For we can never enter upon the path of virtue unless we have hope as our guide and companion and if every effort expended in seeking something is nullified in effect by despair of ever finding it.
Moreover, the God of Justice wished us to be free to act and not under compulsion; it was for this reason that “He left him free to make his own decisions” and set before him life and death, good and evil, and he shall be given whatever pleases him.
It was because God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in man the possibility of choosing either alternative, that he made it his peculiar right to be what he wanted to be, so that with his capacity for good and evil he could do either quite naturally and then bend his will in the other direction too.
He could not claim to possess the good of his own will, unless he were the kind of creature who could also have possessed evil.
Our most excellent creator wished us to be able to do good, which he also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do his will by exercising our own.
That being so, this very capacity to do evil is also good - good, because it makes the good part better by making it voluntary and independent, not bound by necessity but free to decide for itself.
We are certainly permitted to choose, oppose, approve, reject, and there is no ground for preferring the rational creature to the others except that, while all the others possess only the good derived from their own circumstances and necessity, it alone possesses the good of free will also.
But most of those who, from lack of faith as much as of knowledge, deplore the status of man, are criticizing God's work and asserting that we ought to have been so made that we could do no evil at all.
And these most shameless of men, while hiding the fact that they are managing quite well with what they have been made, would prefer to have been made otherwise; and so those who are unwilling to correct their own way of life appear to want to correct nature itself instead, the good of which has been so universally established in all that it sometimes reveals itself and brings itself to notice even in pagans who do not worship God.
For how many of the pagan philosophers have we heard and read and even seen for ourselves to be chaste, tolerant, temperate, generous, abstinent and kindly, rejecters of the world's honors as well as its delights, lovers of justice no less than knowledge? Where, I ask you, do these good qualities pleasing to God come to men who are strangers to him? Where can these good qualities come to them, unless it be from the good of their human nature?
If even people without God can show what kind of creatures they were made by God, consider what Christians are able to do, whose nature and life have been instructed for the better by Jesus?
No labor ought to seem too difficult, no time too long to wait, when the prize at stake is nothing less than everlasting glory.
(Adapted from “A Letter to Demetrias” by the monk Pelagius, AD 413)