This week’s Did You Know was written by a prominent professor who is a long-time member of Alcoholics Anonymous and it’s titled, Grace as the Great Healing Power: Most of the world’s religions have some sort of concept of grace. To the ancient pagan Greeks, the owl-eyed Athena, one of the personifications of the primordial mother goddess, was a goddess not only of wisdom but also of grace. She saved Odysseus in the Iliad when he was shipwrecked and lost, because she heard his sorrowful weeping and was moved to compassion. She was worshiped at her great temple on the Acropolis in Athens as a goddess of mercy who brought justice, victory over evil, and the gift of the civilized arts to the ancient Greeks.
Among the ancient Stoic philosophers who taught on the ‘painted porch’ in the market place of ancient Athens, the God Zeus was our gracious and loving Father. If we human beings learned how to live together as brothers and sisters of the one Father, and learned to accept life as it happened (acceptance is a good Stoic concept), and in particular learned to accept what had taken place as an act of God’s grace, designed to teach us or make us grow stronger or give us a better opportunity to serve God, we would find true serenity (apatheia). Serenity meant freedom from the four pathe or “passions,” that is, the absence of the kind of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors which filled us with passions (Desire, Fear, Sorrow, and Joy) were linked together in such a way that once we had become obsessively griped by any one of them, we would also eventually fall into the clutches of the other three as well. “Joy” in this sense meant the kind of brief thrill we obtained when one of our obsessive Desires was temporarily filled. The problem was that this immediately threw us into the out-of-control Desire for more and more things of that same sort. Fear, of losing what we already had, and Sorrow, when we finally lost them (as would always occur). We obtained serenity, the ancient Stoics taught, when we learned to accept the things we could not change (ta ouk eph’ hemin), the courage (andreia) to change the things we could (ta eph’ hemin), and the wisdom (sophia) to know the difference. Philosophy was philo-sophia, the love of that kind of wisdom.
These ancient Greeks philosophers saw Zeus, the king of pagan gods, as the controlling power behind all things. They taught that, “nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s word by mistake.” But God loves us, so whatever it was that God had caused to happen (or had allowed to happen), it would always ultimately prove to have been an act of grace, a beneficent act of fatherly love—as soon as we accept what had happened, and began putting our minds to work to see how we could turn it into something positive. That meant that even the most difficult parts of our lives, it was our task to discover an opportunity somewhere for nevertheless doing something good and praiseworthy in that situation, or some way we could show how a good person could still act virtuously in even that kind of circumstance, or something we could still do which would glorify and honor God. At the end of his life, the great Stoic teacher Epictetus, who had once been a slave in the Emperor Nero’s court, said that he was now just a crippled old man, who had nothing else useful he could do except to sing God’s praise. So he said, that is obviously the duty to God had now assigned him, and his job in this last part of his life was to be like the song birds, and sing continually throughout every day to bring pleasure to God’s ears.
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