Reflections of Seneca

Seneca a Roman stoic philosopher, tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero has some keen insights into human nature that I believe would align with the teachings of Yeshua.  I cannot speak for the character and all saying of Seneca.   I am sharing some wisdom from a secular person that struck me.

All cruelty springs from weakness.

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.

The important thing about a problem is not its solution, but the strength we gain in finding the solution.

No one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom, and that the perfection of wisdom is what makes the happy life, although even the beginnings of wisdom make life bearable.  Yet this conviction, clear as it is, needs to be strengthened and given deeper roots through daily reflection; making noble resolutions is not as important as keeping the resolutions you have made already.

Drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness.

It is the characteristic of a weak and diseased mind to fear the unfamiliar.

It is only luxury and avarice that make poverty grievous to us; for it is a very small matter that does our business, and when we have provided against cold, hunger, and thirst, all the rest is but vanity and excess. 

Eyes will not see when the heart wishes them to be blind. 

We become wiser by adversity; prosperity destroys our appreciation of the right.

 

Be not too hasty either with praise or blame; speak always as though you were giving evidence before the judgement-seat of the Gods. 

The primary sign of a well-ordered mind is a man’s ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company. 

He is most powerful who governs himself.

 

Be wary of the man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk.

Shall I tell you what the real evil?  To cringe to the things that are called evils, to surrender to them our freedom, in defiance of which we ought to face any suffering.

We are members of one great body.  Nature planted in us a mutual love, and fitted us for a social life.  We must consider that we were born for the good of the whole.

We are mad, not only individually, but nationally.  We check manslaughter and isolated murders; but what of war and the much vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples?

Begin at once to live, and count each day as a separate life.

The mind is never right but when it is at peace within itself.

To err is human.  To repeat error is of the Devil.

These individuals have riches just as we say that we ‘have a fever,’ when really the fever has us. 

There is nothing the wise man does reluctantly.

There is no evil that does not promise inducements.  Avarice promises money; luxury, a varied assortment of pleasures; ambition, a purple robe and applause.  Vices tempt you by the rewards they offer.

The Fates guide those who go willingly.  Those who do not, they drag.

The willing, destiny guides them; the unwilling, destiny drags them. 

It’s all in your head, you have the power to make things seem hard or easy or even amusing.  The choice is yours. 

What difference does it make how much you have?  What you do not have amounts to much more.  

What need is there to weep over parts of life?  The whole of it calls for tears.

We should every night call ourselves to an account: What infirmity have I mastered today? What passions opposed?  What temptation resisted? What virtue acquired? Our vices will abate of themselves if they be brought every day to the shrift. 

I will govern my life and thoughts as if the whole world were to see the one and read the other, for what does it signify to make anything a secret to my neighbor, when to God, who is the searcher of our hearts, all our privacies are open?

The best cure for anger is delay.

Never to wrong others takes one a long way towards peace of mind. 

Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.

He who asks with timidity invites a refusal.  

Do the best you can. . . enjoy the present. . . rest satisfied with what you have.  

True friends are the whole world to one another; and he that is a friend to himself is also a friend to mankind.  Even in my studies the greatest delight I take is of imparting it to others; for there is no relish to me in the possessing of anything without a partner.

Money does all things for reward.  Some are pious and honest as long as they thrive upon it, but if the devil himself gives better wages, they soon change their party.  

Study rather to fill your mind than your coffers; knowing that gold and silver were originally mingles with dirt, until avarice or ambition parted them.  

In every good man a God doth dwell.

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.

When I think over what I have said, I envy dumb people.

The bad fortune of the good turn their faces  up to heaven; the good fortune of the bad bows their heads down to the earth.

Night brings our troubles to the light, rather than banishes them.

Everywhere is nowhere.  When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.

He who is brave is free.

He who dreads hostility too much is unfit to rule.

Ignorant people see life as either existence or non-existence, but wise men see it beyond both existence and non-existence to something that transcends them both; this is an observation of  the Middle Way.

You want to live-but do you know how to live?  You are scared of dying-and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different from being dead?

As the mother’s womb holds us for ten months, making us ready, not for the womb itself, but for life, just so, though our lives, we are making ourselves ready for another birth…Therefore look forward without fear to that appointed hour- the last hour of the body, but not of the soul…That day, which you fear as being the end of all things, is the birthday of your eternity.

 

 

 

A Lesson In Powerlessness

We all come to stages of life with varying points of view.  Over time, our points of view on an entire range of matters, issues and concerns are shaped by our life experiences.  As we gain more experiences, some views and opinions may solidify (hopefully not ossify).  Others may change, but in many cases, as we reach a certain stage in life, our core beliefs and values…those beliefs and values that govern how we view the world hopefully reach some measure of consistency if we have been mindful, thoughtful, open to a certain amount of new and useful information from time to time, and constantly curious.  As the Word says hopefully, “we are not blown to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14) by the latest fads, doctrines and unsound ideas.

 

Over my now almost 50 years, God at various times revealed to me a number of things through the experiences of my life and my seeking to find a Christ-centered context for them.

 

One of the most potent areas of perspective is what it means to have power, lack power, and our relationship to power…or proximity to power…as some would phrase it.   As a younger person, youth and then young adult, I was almost always in some sort of leadership role.  That was (and still is) natural for me.  That is one gift I think God gave me a blessing…leadership ability.  So I didn’t understand all of that early on…it sort of just happened and was a natural occurrence, whether that being an elementary school patrol captain, a high school student body president, or an Army officer.  All these roles were successively more responsible and were positions of authority.  Now to be clear, even as a young Army officer, that authority has (and had) well defined limits.  There was a hierarchy of leadership, and I definitely was not at top of it.  I had to take orders and execute them…as well as give some.  For example, I did have a defined position of authority where I had the ability to order, direct and command actions and activities.  This is an empowered point of view.  I had very little exposure or experience with “lack of power” or lack of ability to make independent decisions regarding my own direction and associated well being.

 

So in that respect, my entire world view was seated in a “power centered” place.

Without going into too many details, for the sake of brevity, I will share that from about my 27th year forward, for a number of periods of my life for upwards of the next 20 years…and even up until today,

I had many, many, many times when I felt utterly powerless.  Sometimes that was a mental state, but in other times it also was accompanied by circumstances, be they personal, professional or otherwise.

At first…in the very early years…I did not clearly discern the differences between the “empowered” state and the “disempowered” state.   My default setting, fairly firmly placed into my mind’s eye up until that point was a “power perspective”.  Even in situations where I truly lacked power, I still brought a rather naïve “power-centric” (“Eurocentric”) thought process into my observations and decision-making.  Many times, this lack of temporal wisdom and perspective did not serve me well as it resulted in, at times, some irrational or sub-optimal decisions.   It took quite some time, and a number of painful failures for me to “unlearn” my “power-centered” (“Eurocentric”) perspective and truly appreciate my situation from a vantage point of “powerlessness” or “lack of authority”–facing reality.   Then, when I was better able, perhaps not completely, but better able to understand this, I began to develop some true insight and wisdom.  In addition, this insight helped me be much wiser and more effective in relating to other people, managing my daily concerns, and making better decisions.

 

Also, it allowed me to forge a deeper and richer relationship with King Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.  

 

When we really examine the context in which King Jesus (Yahweh) brought himself into our worldly space over 2000 years ago, it began…as it end…in a position of utter powerlessness with respect to the world system of hierarchical power and power as the world understands it.

 

He was born in a stable in and laid in a manger, for there was no room for them in the Inn.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born; and she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in a blanket[a] and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.  [Luke 2:6-7 Living Bible (TLB)]

 

In the end, he hung on a cross, the most demeaning, powerless and degrading method of execution practiced at the time.

 

He was never a member of any religious or political organization.


He labored in obscurity as a humble carpenter’s apprentice then carpenter for likely almost the full 18 years between our last record of Him questioning the teachers at the Temple in Jerusalem at the age of 12 and then His appearance and Baptism by John the Baptist at about the age of 30, from whence His earthly ministry begun.

 

And during that ministry, though he demonstrated immense supernatural power from time to time in revealing the truth of who He was (and is) and reflecting the glory of heaven, He never leveraged that power to overturn the earthly systems and hierarchies in which He existed.  He only used His power to demonstrate how ultimately weak, futile and insufficient those earthly power structures were (and are) to save humanity and meet the deepest needs of God’s children.

 

So back to my story and my reflections.   It was not until I was forced…for YEARS…into positions of powerlessness, limited power, lack of power and at times professional subordination to individuals in power over me…some of whom were (and are) competent…and some of whom were (and are) not very competent at all (subject of a whole different essay)….that I really began to understand the beauty, dignity, true power, truth, love and wisdom of King Jesus.  It made me want to love and honor Him all the more.  And serve Him better.

 

What it also reminded me of is that King Jesus reminds us “my yoke is easy, my burden light”.

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30 Amplified Bible)

When we follow King Jesus, at times it is going to bring us into conflict with the world we inhabit.

We don’t always have to go looking for that conflict.  If we are on the straight and narrow path following King Jesus…sometimes the conflict will find us!   Our task is to stay committed in the middle of the storms as much as we are in the times of peace on the placid seas.  It is at the stormy times in our lives that King Jesus can truly reveal His glory not only to us, but through us…and let His light so shine before mankind that nothing can cover it up!

 

So, in the end, I am thankful for every experience God has put into my life…and ESPECIALLY when He has taken me to the “low places” the “empty” places, the places of no power and sometimes fleeting hope.  It is there…in those valleys that He revealed Himself and the depths of His love.  It is there that He picked me up, dusted me off, reminded me that “the game isn’t over!” and pushed me “back into the fight” so to speak.    I am thankful.  I know I still have such a long, long way to go to ultimately be the person God created me to be.  The one who Jesus can use for His Kingdom.  But I know by God’s grace that He has shown me where I was and what He has done, what His mighty hand alone can do, by His own hand and no other!  I have that confidence in me now that though the winds may blow, and the seas may buffet, so long as I stay firmly founded and firmly anchored down in the truth of King Jesus I may be shaken, but never defeated, tormented, but never completely taken out…AND…there will be times of great victory and celebration.  It is to know the balance between those two and the ability to keep them in perspective…always still focused on King Jesus to climb “higher, higher”….(on Jacob’s Ladder).

 

Amen.