“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah. I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest."-Psalm 55:4-8
“You see that to patiently bear the cross is not to be utterly stupefied and to be deprived of all feeling of pain. It is not as the Stoics of old foolishly described ‘the great souled man’: one who, having cast off all human qualities, was affected equally by adversity and prosperity, by sad times and happy ones-nay, who like a stone was not affected at all. And what did this sublime wisdom profit them? They painted a likeness of forbearance that has never been found among men, and can never be realized. Rather, while they want to possess a forbearance too exact and precise, they have banished its power from human life.”
It could help to define Stoicism a bit before further comments are made. "101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology" is helpful little book that gives brief, yet substantial, explanations of central philosophical terms. According to that book, “Stoicism began about 300 B.C. and was influential for the next six or seven centuries. It received its name from the porch (Greek stoa) of the Athenian acropolis where its original members met for discussion” (101 Key Terms, 90). The social and historical context surrounding and undergirding the development of this philosophy was one of “political instability when people were anxious about their life prospects. Stoicism provided a means for maintaining tranquility amid the struggles of life” (ibid, 90).
Does Calvin think that Stoicism can provide true stability and tranquility during chaotic political and generally difficult times according to his quote above? You already know the answer.
Cross bearing causes us to become more aware of our humanity, pain and all. For Calvin, Stoicism sets its adherents in motion toward the foolish goal of casting “off all human properties.” When life, political and personal, is swirling and shifting around us we need something to provide stabilization without dehumanizing us in the process. God nails us down into the ground through the cross. After we are securely planted we then can step back and honestly contemplate and interpret the pain we feel without trying to rid ourselves of it. It’s okay to feel pain (and joy).
The Book of Psalms in the Bible contains genuinely human expressions of various emotions. When we experience internal and external chaos, let’s turn to the Psalms to find the God who created us with such a wonderful capacity to feel. (Justin)