April 22, 2017 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Book Excerpts ||

God Watches Over Us (Epictetus’ Discourses In Plain English 1.14)

Key ideas of this discourse

If we see the unity of everything around us and see how everything in nature is coordinated, then it is easy to understand that God watches over everything that we do.

God has provided us with a personal guardian who looks after us all the time.

Therefore, we need to swear allegiance to God.

There is unity in everything we see

Someone wanted to know how one can be sure that God watches over each of our action. Epictetus asked him:

“Do you not see unity in everything?”
“I do.”
“Don’t you think that things on earth feel the influence of heaven?”

How else could things happen with such precise regularity, if God weren’t issuing orders? He orders plants to bloom and they bloom. He tells them to bear fruit and they do so. When he tells them to ripen, they ripen. Again, when he tells them to drop their fruit, shed their leaves, lie dormant in winter, they obey. How else to explain the waxing and waning of the moon, coming and going of the sun, and changes and fluctuations on earth? If plants and our bodies are so influenced, wouldn’t it be more true of our minds? If our minds are so intimately connected with God and a part of his being, would he not be aware of their every motion?

By observing our daily life, we can know how God works

You can understand in detail how God works by observing your daily life. You can process a wealth of thoughts and impressions simultaneously. Some of these impressions you accept, some you reject, and yet others you suspend judgment on. Your mind can store many of these impressions from a variety of objects. Based on all these, the mind forms ideas in line with specific impressions. This is how we form memories and create arts and sciences.

If we can do all this, is not God capable of surveying all things, being present in everything and communicating with everything in the world? The sun illuminates a large part of the universe, leaving only a small part covered by the shadow of the earth unlit. Can’t he, who made the sun – which is but a small part of the universe and causes it to turn, see everything that goes on?

“But I cannot understand all these things at once.”
“Did anyone say that you have the capacities that are equal to God’s? No!”

Yet he has provided every one of us with a personal guardian deity to stay with us and look after us. This guardian never sleeps and cannot be distracted. Is there a better or more vigilant guardian God could have given us? Whenever you shut your door and turn off the lights, don’t say to yourself that you are alone. You are not. God is inside and so is your personal deity. They don’t need light to watch over you.

We need to swear allegiance to God

You need to swear allegiance to this God, as soldiers do to the king. If they want to be paid, they must put the king first. You have chosen to receive favors and blessings for free. Why won’t you swear a similar allegiance to God? If you have already done so, why won’t you abide by it?

“What must you swear?”
“You swear that you will not disobey, accuse, or find fault with God’s gifts and that you will not shrink from things that are inevitable.”
“Are these oaths similar?”
“Not at all. The soldiers swear to honor just the king; but we swear to honor, above all, our true selves.”

Think about this

If plants and our bodies are so intimately linked to the world and its rhythms, won’t the same be true of our minds – only more so? Discourses I.14.5. Epictetus/Robert Dobbin