How To Keep Your Cool (De Ira) by Seneca. Book blog part 7

“A good look at ourselves will make us more temperate if we ask ourselves: ‘Haven’t we ourselves also done something like that? Haven’t we gone astray in the same way? Does condemning these things really benefit us?’” (p.66-67)

Being aware of our sins makes us more patient and gracious with others. I’m reminded of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. A master shows mercy to his servant and forgives a large debt that’s owed. Then that same servant turns around and puts a fellow servant in prison for a much smaller debt that is owed to him. When the master hears about this, he says, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:32-33).

When someone wrongs us we have to keep a right perspective of who is sinning and who they are sinning against. We’re both sinners, we’re all sinners. The same offense done to me, I may have done a thousand times to others. If not exactly the same, maybe something similar. The point is, any sin committed against imperfect me is a much smaller offense than the sin we all commit against our perfect God. We’ve been forgiven and we in turn ought to forgive others. 

Seneca is right to say, “A good look at ourselves will make us temperate.” Sins done against us ought to be little mirrors in which we see ourselves. But we don’t take a good look at ourselves. We take a sinful look at ourselves, that is, we worship the false god of Self. And we’re appalled when someone sins against this false god. We want to enact vengeance and wrath and condemnation upon anyone foolish enough to cross this god of Self. It’s the most common form of idolatry in our culture today, self esteem, self love, self care, self, self, self. This idol becomes our number one priority. It’s no wonder why we get angry when someone offends us, they’ve just sinned against our favorite god! 

Even Seneca falls into this religious worship of self when he asks, “Does condemning these things really benefit us?” At the end of the day, stoicism is looking out for the benefit of us. This pagan philosophy will always fall short. The answer is, it doesn’t benefit us to condemn others because we can’t. The false god of self doesn’t hold the power of condemnation, only the true God does. We have no business condemning others because we’re not God. Condemnation is His prerogative because He’s the only one who can be sinned against. 

So when someone sins against us, our first reaction should not be to lash out in anger and ask, “who dare offends me?” The question, rather, in that moment should be, who do I think I am?

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