Epictetus
Epictetus


CHAPTER 14: The Deity Oversees all Things

Here is another example of Epictetus putting into practice the Socratic method of using questions and answers to lead a student to understanding.

A student asks, "How may a man be convinced that all his actions are under the inspection of God?" Do you not think that all things are united in one? "I do." Well, do you not think that earthly things have a natural agreement and union with heavenly things? "I do." And how else could it be than by God's command? Do the flowers know the season? When He bids them to send forth shoots, do they shoot? When He bids them to produce fruit, do they produce fruit? When He bids the fruit to ripen, does it ripen? When He bids them to give up their fruits, what else can they do? God tells them when to shed their leaves, and He bids them to fold up and to remain quiet and rest. How else could they do these things other than by the command of God?

How can it be that God sees all that we do? The Old Testament shows how the earliest people who contemplated such matters believed that they could hide from God. In Genesis, Chapter 4 we see Cain, after his murder of Abel, cast out by God to wander the barren land "East of Eden". He fears that he will be killed by other men. He has mixed feelings about God's oversight. He fears God's wrath, but he also desires his protection. He believes God will not watch over him in the "wandering land". God tells him that he will put his mark upon him and that any man who kills him will be severely punished. Cain finds out that God is always watching over him, wretch that he is. The book of Jonah tells the story of a prophet who tries to hide from God's will. But run as he might, God follows his every movement. As noted in the last chapter, Jesus himself told us that God knows even the number of hairs on the head of every man. He marks the fall of the sparrow. Thus, Jewish and Christian belief in the universal understanding of God is well established in the Bible.

Epictetus takes a bit more philosophic approach. He first shows that God made all things and God is present in everything. Theologians call this attribute God's "omni-presence". The order we see in nature should be ample proof of this. Although we can scientifically explain why flowers bloom in spring or plum trees give up their fruit in late summer or early fall, we can also perceive the miraculous nature of such events. Can such systems truly be a spontaneous generation or were they created by an intelligent God? The laws of the universe are such that they seem to the discerning eye to show purpose and reason, which is the main attribute that Epictetus tells us belongs only to God and people. It then follows that if God is present in everything, He must also experience everything.

Chapter 14:

  1. The Deity Oversees all Things
  2. Isaac Newton and the Mind of God (14a)
  3. An Oath to Caesar (14b)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus


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