Stoicism, Faith and Theodicy: Part 2, Partial Stoicism

So how are we, as Christians, to approach our increased emotional reactivity to death? 

One of the things we seem to have lost over the last generation or two is a certain stoical equanimity in the face of death. This is not to suggest that we must approach death with a calm reserve, resisting strong displays of grief and devastation. Death is our greatest enemy and our deepest source of woe. And let me be very clear about this, I'm speaking here of certain cultural capacities, not specific expectations about how any one person should or should not grieve. Grief is a deeply personal journey. We should never let abstract theological debates intrude upon private pain and loss. 

What I'm suggesting is that, in generations past, the Christian response to death had a stoical aspect to it, an aspect we seem to have lost. To be clear, the Christian response to death has never been 100% stoical, and this will bring us to the big point I want to make in the next and last post. But the Christian response to death has had a bit of stoicism mixed in. You see this most clearly in the book of Job. From early in the book:

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

And also:

Job's wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Job replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

We can also see this stoical posture in Job's repentance before the whirlwind at the end of the book. And beyond Job, we find stoicism in places like Psalm 90 and the book of Ecclesiastes.  

When I say we've lost a bit of this stoicism what I'm pointing to is how the biblical refrain "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away" in the face of death makes us modern Christians prickly and irritated. It's not a posture we recognize as holy and good. We push Job's stoicism away. 

To be sure, Job rants and raves and is inconsolable. That goes to my point. Again, our response to death isn't 100% stoical. We must remain unreconciled to death. Job's response to suffering is only partly stoical. And it's this partial stoicism--an ability our forbears possessed to confess, without prickly irritation, that "the Lord gives and the Lord takes away"--that we seem to have lost.

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