Christian life

What’s Up with Stoicism?

Greek statue in front of official buildingA friend who asked about Stoicism (April 2024) had been reading up—and seemed intrigued. Little did I know there were numerous books out on the subject! It seems impossible to stay on top of what’s in spiritual vogue from week to week. But let’s take a cursory look at Stoicism.

The period of the Stoics, Greek and Roman philosophers, encompassed roughly 300 BC to AD 200 (according to a couple of encyclopedias). Their idea of “god” would typically have been that “god is [or is in] everything”; that’s pantheism, not the Lord God of the Bible. And there was a mix of assorted Greek/Roman gods (ex: Zeus, Jupiter).

So what’s the appeal today? A marketing blurb for a book titled The Daily Stoic declares, “From how to manage failure to getting what you want, the ideas of Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and others continue to be vitally relevant to today’s doers and thinkers.” Wow. Vitally relevant? Get everything I want? Sure!

Promos for other Stoicism books conveyed these enticements: “endure hardships without a single worry”; ancient/timeless wisdom; get rid of anger, stress, fear; “a life kissed by joy”; inner peace; strengthen your inner character; handle adversity… One writeup mentioned joy, fear, death and said that “traditional schooling doesn’t address” such things.

Like anything, there are bits of truth in Stoicism. For example, reason, rationality, certain legit moral/ethical considerations—teachings that would align with the Bible. But is that the whole story? Remember that the teaching of cults, Eastern religions, and the occult also has spots of truth. But when something is steering away from God, how would that be the best path toward God?

Specific Scripture shows that the Stoics of the day were not in line with the Lord’s way. Stop and read Acts 17:16-34 (and some commentary notes). Verse 18 mentions that Stoics were among those with whom Paul was having conversations. Where he quotes those listeners’ well-known sayings (v. 28), Paul was using a bridge to help them move from the “unknown god” (v. 23) to Almighty God.

Acts 17:21 jumps out: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” The latest ideas. Looking for success/life secrets, but apart from the Lord? Sounds just a bit too much like today.

Stoicism doesn’t have all the answers, but the Scripture does! An online review of one book on Stoicism brought a smile: “doesn’t hold a candle to the Bible.” Why don’t we—instead of buying into assorted trends—commit more strongly to the Lord’s way? And as we tell others, some will believe, just as some in the Acts 17 crowd believed Paul’s message (v. 34).

Suggestion: If you’ve been drawn to Stoicism books (or any claiming to have all the answers), take some key words that appealed to you from the marketing. For example, contentment, self-control, failure, think/thought, satisfy, money, life, peace, anger, adversity. Then use a Bible concordance to look up every Scripture for those. Study what the Lord says and … whaddya know: the Bible is “vitally relevant to today’s doers and thinkers!”

Here are a couple of related posts: “Got Knowledge?” and “The Key to Discernment.”



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