On Providence VI

“Yet, why does God permit evil to happen to good men?”

He does not permit it: he takes away from them all evils, such as crimes and scandalous wickedness, daring thoughts, grasping schemes, blind lusts, and avarice coveting its neighbour’s goods.

He protects and saves them.

Does anyone besides this demand that God should look after the baggage of good men also?

Why, they themselves leave the care of this to God: they scorn external accessories.

Democritus forswore riches, holding them to be a burden to a virtuous mind: what wonder then, if God permits that to happen to a good man, which a good man sometimes chooses should happen to himself?

Good men, you say, lose their children: why should they not, since sometimes they even put them to death?

They are banished: why should they not be, since sometimes they leave their country of their own free will, never to return?

They are slain: why not, since sometimes they choose to lay violent hands on themselves?

Why do they suffer certain miseries? it is that they may teach others how to do so.

They are born as patterns.

Conceive, therefore, that God says:⁠—“You, who have chosen righteousness, what complaint can you make of me?

I have encompassed other men with unreal good things, and have deceived their inane minds as it were by a long and misleading dream: I have bedecked them with gold, silver, and ivory, but within them there is no good thing.

Those men whom you regard as fortunate, if you could see, not their outward show, but their hidden life, are really unhappy, mean, and base, ornamented on the outside like the walls of their houses: that good fortune of theirs is not sound and genuine: it is only a veneer, and that a thin one.

As long, therefore, as they can stand upright and display themselves as they choose, they shine and impose upon one; when something occurs to shake and unmask them, we see how deep and real a rottenness was hidden by that factitious magnificence.

To you I have given sure and lasting good things, which become greater and better the more one turns them over and views them on every side: I have granted to you to scorn danger, to disdain passion. You do not shine outwardly, all your good qualities are turned inwards; even so does the world neglect what lies without it, and rejoices in the contemplation of itself.

I have placed every good thing within your own breasts: it is your good fortune not to need any good fortune. ‘Yet many things befall you which are sad, dreadful, hard to be borne.’

Well, as I have not been able to remove these from your path, I have given your minds strength to combat all: bear them bravely. In this you can surpass God himself; He is beyond suffering evil; you are above it.

Despise poverty; no man lives as poor as he was born: despise pain; either it will cease or you will cease: despise death; it either ends you or takes you elsewhere: despise fortune; I have given her no weapon that can reach the mind.

Above all, I have taken care that no one should hold you captive against your will: the way of escape lies open before you: if you do not choose to fight, you may fly. For this reason, of all those matters which I have deemed essential for you, I have made nothing easier for you than to die. I have set man’s life as it were on a mountain side: it soon slips down.[102]

Do but watch, and you will see how short and how ready a path leads to freedom.

I have not imposed such long delays upon those who quit the world as upon those who enter it: were it not so, fortune would hold a wide dominion over you, if a man died as slowly as he is born.

Let all time, let every place teach you, how simple it is to renounce nature, and to fling back her gifts to her: before the altar itself and during the solemn rites of sacrifice, while life is being prayed for, learn how to die.

Fat oxen fall dead with a tiny wound; a blow from a man’s hand fells animals of great strength: the sutures of the neck are severed by a thin blade, and when the joint which connects the head and neck is cut, all that great mass falls.

The breath of life is not deep seated, nor only to be let forth by steel⁠—the vitals need not be searched throughout by plunging a sword among them to the hilt: death lies near the surface.

I have not appointed any particular spot for these blows⁠—the body may be pierced wherever you please.

That very act which is called dying, by which the breath of life leaves the body, is too short for you to be able to estimate its quickness: whether a knot crushes the windpipe, or water stops your breathing: whether you fall headlong from a height and perish upon the hard ground below, or a mouthful of fire checks the drawing of your breath⁠—whatever it is, it acts swiftly.

Do you not blush to spend so long a time in dreading what takes so short a time to do?”