While I am not a great fan of God, I have to admit that sometimes he gets it right. Consider this one:
King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
There are at least a dozen other versions of this with minuscule differences worthy of biblical exegesis for those with a great deal of time on their hands. All of them fall short in a very critical way: they don’t say why we should leave revenge to God. Most of us feel we would like to take a good crack at it but we are prepared to back off if God asks us to do so. Still, it is a nagging question and, without being too pushy, we think God should do better.
Plato does a little better. [Several hundred years before the New Testament writers try their luck.] In his dialogue called Crito, Socrates asks, “And what of doing evil in return for evil, which is the morality of the many – is that just or not?”
Crito, who is one of the gang always hanging around Socrates for bits of wisdom, jumps in with the answer: “Not just.”
Now, old man Socrates, expecting this, replies: “For doing evil to another is the same as injuring him?”
Crito, profoundly, per usual, once more into the breach: “Very true.”
The old man, again: “Then we ought not to retaliate or render evil for evil to any one, whatever evil we may have suffered from him…. This opinion has never been held, and never will be held by any considerable number of persons.”
This still leaves something to be desired but a couple centuries later [just around the time of Jesus] EPICTETUS volunteers this idea upon being asked how a man should go about injuring his enemy: “By living the best life himself.” Now, damn it, why didn’t I think of that before reading it? Well, probably because I came across it as a 20-year old philosophy student, and really, how many 20-year olds could do better? [How many 80-year olds could do better?]
Eppie is not done. Thinking more about vengeance, he says this: “Control thy passions lest they take vengence on thee.” Boy, I like that one. My passions have been battering me all my life and I don’t know how to get out from under them. I know I should, but how? Eppie doesn’t tell us how to do that. My guess is that this is because he, himself, never faced that problem. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could drag him from his grave and make him president?
Every time you get mad at somebody but don’t keep it in check, you are making things worse for yourself. At least that is what Epictetus thinks and you have to be a helluva lot smarter than any living person on this planet to go against him. He says, “Whenever you are angry, be assured that it is not only a present evil, but that you have increased a habit.” Don’t I know it! For consolation, I think about the fact that the Kenyan who dwells in the Washington, D.C. White House is no better than I am.
There is something about Eppie that gets on my nerves. He wrote, “When you are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.” Easier said than done, old buddy.
Finally, “To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.” I’ve got a dim(wit’s) sense of what he is getting at and honestly believe that if I am still alive in 15 years then there is a pretty good chance I will have at long last figured out how to reconcile the opinions of two masters of thought: Epictetus, who said that the foundation of all philosophy is self-knowledge and Johann Goethe who once said, “I don’t know anything about myself and thank God for that.”
I’m getting there. Don’t give up on me.