Thursday, May 25, 2017


A filmmaker had written to a Stoic-advice-column confessing that he was a failure and felt deeply ashamed of himself. Even though most Stoics deny the existence of God, I appreciate many of their values and also their advice, although they can only offer a human-centered hope.

The Stoic adviser started with a quote from Epictetus, counseling us to concentrate on doing only those things that are within our power to do:

·       Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” (Epictetus,  Enchiridion, 1.1)

This mirrors the advice of the popular and useful “serenity prayer”:

·       God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

The Stoic advisor then focused in on the “wisdom” part:

·       Now, is there something positive you can learn from your experiences so far, and see a way through an alternative, yet similar, career, or perhaps the same one, but adopting a different approach.

Truly, sometimes we can learn some valuable lessons from defeat and shame, and these lessons might lead us in a more fruitful direction. However, without Christ, the burden still rests upon us, and the burdens of life can prove crushing, no matter our abilities and efforts. Therefore, life must be about accepting the good with the bad. Wisely, the Stoic advisor concluded with a quote from Seneca:

·       No man has ever been so far advanced by Fortune that she did not threaten him as greatly as she had previously indulged him. Do not trust her seeming calm; in a moment the sea is moved to its depths. The very day the ships have made a brave show in the games, they are engulfed. (Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, IV. On the Terrors of Death, 7)

Using this quotation, the advisor concluded with the encouragement to be grateful for what we have, since tragedy is not far away from any of us.

This, of course, is a needful perspective. However, there is another perspective that is even more needful. The prospect of tragedy can consume and overthrow us. Stability and confidence ultimately depends on the reality a greater and eternal perspective to eclipse the inevitable tragedy of decline. Therefore, the Bible reminds us of the example of Jesus:

·       Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

How can we endure the shame, pain, and our eventual demise? Without the Lord, it is only possible by hardening ourselves, and this comes with its own costs.

Besides, how can we endure the shame of constant failure and feelings of worthlessness? Again, it is only through the assurances of our Lord, who teaches us that our worth is not determined by our performance or even by the worth that society confers upon us. Instead, it comes from an eternal relationship with a Being whose thoughts are the grounds of all worth and reality:

·       I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

I now see myself through the eyes of my Savior, and I have been set free from so much that had tormented me.

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