I have a book with some thoughts from stoic philosophers that I look through occasionally. The Stoics weren’t perfect, and the extremes of some of their thinking were off. But the best of them did not fit many of the stereotypes we read. One of them, Seneca, is often thought to have been a friend of the Apostle Paul, and ancient letters they supposedly exchanged are out there, but most good accounts hold that the letters are fakes.
That said, something I read this morning caught my eye. By one man’s translation, Seneca once wrote “There is no vice which lacks a defense.” The rest of the quote goes into how it is easier to tackle bad habits early in life instead of later, and that would be a great post for another time. But this is the part that grabbed my attention, and it is very biblical.
Reading “There is no vice which lacks a defense” brought to mind how many times I know I have justified my own actions through very good-sounding reasons, when, in reality, the actions were wrong. And my defense was wrong—whether I couldn’t see it at the time or could see it but didn’t want to is beside the point. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our human hearts are deceitful above all things, and if we really want to do something—maintain a bad habit, take an action we know or are told is wrong, say something cruel or sarcastic—our hearts will fill our minds with the best reasoning they can muster to justify why that habit, that action, or those words are just fine. In fact, better than fine: right. There is often no “low ground” that is so low that we can’t come up with a defense as to why it is actually the “high ground.”
Seneca is right. (Go figure: When someone says something in line with the Bible, it’s generally right!) And that’s important to know. Not only can we keep “There is no vice which lacks a defense” in mind when we may be busy building our own Jeremiah 17:9 justifications, but we can keep it in mind when we hear the justifications of others for various actions or beliefs—whether in the news, from our friends, in political discussions, or on our social media timelines. Almost anything can be defended. But the existence of a defense doesn’t guarantee the defense is right. And asking God early in life to help us discern wrong defenses from true ones is something worth considering.