Embracing Mortality: Stoic Wisdom and Christian Hope
by Donavon L Riley
The Battle of Mortality
In the span of human existence, there has always been a relentless and unyielding adversary that accompanies each of us, and one we must inevitably confront—mortality. It is a wrestling match that has been fought again and again since the dawn of time, and it continues to interfere in the course of our lives. But, we don’t have to struggle against death alone or without assistance. There is wisdom to be gleaned from both Stoicism and Christianity that offers us instruction and hope in facing the stark reality of our mortality.
The Stoic Perspective: “Memento Mori”
The Stoics, ancient philosophers renowned for their wisdom, embraced a concept known as “Memento Mori,” which translates to “Remember that you will die.” This stark reminder was not intended to induce fear or despair but to awaken individuals to the preciousness of life and the urgency of living virtuously according to two significant principles:
The Battlefield of Virtue: In the Stoic view, life is a battlefield where we engage in a lifelong struggle to cultivate virtue and wisdom. The awareness of our mortality serves as a rallying cry, urging us to make every moment count in this ongoing battle. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca aptly put it, “It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it.”
The Triumph of Virtue: For the Stoics, the victory was not in defeating death but in living a life of moral integrity and wisdom. This battle against our own weaknesses and vices was seen as the true test of character. Epictetus, another Stoic philosopher, emphasized that our power lies not in controlling external events but in mastering our internal responses.
The Christian Perspective: Hope Beyond the Grave
Diverging from Stoicism, and taking a different stance about the intrusion of death into our lives, is Christianity. Christianity, with its profound teachings on the relationship of Jesus Christ to life, death, and resurrection, offers a perspective that transcends the Stoic acknowledgment of mortality. It centers on the belief that Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection, has conquered death and offers the promise of eternal life, summarized by two vital teachings:
The Battle Against Sin: In the Christian worldview, the battle is not only against our mortality but also against sin, which leads to spiritual death. The Apostle Paul declares in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Here, the battle is not just for virtue but against the forces of the evil one, Satan, that separate us from God.
The Victory of Resurrection: Christianity also proclaims a victory beyond the grave. The resurrection of Jesus Christ stands as the ultimate triumph over death, offering believers the hope of being raised from the dead on the last day. As the Apostle Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.”
Wrestling with the Paradox
In the midst of these two profound perspectives—Stoicism’s call to virtuous living in the face of mortality and Christianity’s promise of resurrection and eternal life—there lies a paradox. It is a wrestling match of sorts, where we grapple with the tension between embracing the finite nature of our earthly existence and the hope of an infinite future. Again, assuming a two-fold approach:
The Wrestling Ring of Faith: Just as Jacob wrestled with God at Peniel (Genesis 32:24-30), we too wrestle with the paradox of our mortality and our hope in Christ. It is a struggle that challenges our faith, forcing us to confront the limitations of our earthly existence while clinging to the promise of resurrection.
The Battle of Purpose: This wrestling match propels us to question the purpose and meaning of our lives. The Stoic philosophers implore us to live virtuously now, for the present moment is all we possess. Christians, in turn, are called to live in a manner that reflects their hope in the resurrection, living as lights in a dark world (Philippians 2:15).
The Triumph of Hope
Finally, in the battle against mortality, Stoicism and Christianity offer unique but complementary perspectives. Stoicism challenges us to seize the present, to cultivate virtue, and to live a life of wisdom in the face of our mortality. It urges us to wrestle with the brevity of life and emerge as victors in the battle for virtue.
Christianity, on the other hand, reminds us that our hope extends beyond the grave. It proclaims the victory of Christ over death and calls us to wrestle with the paradox of embracing our mortality while anticipating the resurrection. In this, we find the ultimate triumph of hope.
So as we navigate the battlefield of mortality, let us heed the wisdom of Stoicism by living virtuously and embracing the preciousness of each moment. But let us also anchor our hope in the promise of Christ, who has conquered death and offers us the assurance of eternal life. In this wrestling match of faith and hope, we find the true victory—the triumph of the human spirit and the promise of a glorious future beyond the grave.
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