THE WAY TO LIVE_DOT II (YOURSELF) // CHAPTER 7
Abraham and his family really weren’t that special. They were deeply flawed. There were probably better people that God could have made a promise to. In fact, much of the Old Testament seems to be devoted as a chronicle to the mistakes that this family made. But they had one thing: faith.
They may not have believed in themselves, but throughout this collection of books, we see people who fought to believe in the plan that God had for them. That doesn’t mean they “set it and forget it.” People are people. Wherever we find humanity, we find flaws. No one is the exception. Every person the Old Testament speaks of had issues that would cause them to be unqualified for their role in history. In fact, if they were alive today, some of them would be in jail for a long time.
The Old Testament is thirty-nine books and covers thousands of years of history. The books are filled with history, poetry, law and prophecy. Most of us don’t particularly enjoy the law books (Leviticus) or the genealogies (Chronicles). But each one of these books and styles is important and meaningful for different reasons and different groups of people.
Throughout this collection of books, a few things become clear. God has a plan. Humanity plays a role in that plan. To play a role in that plan, people need to get to know the God who created both them and the plan, and God is down for that. People are not good at playing their role—or following or knowing him all that well—and we fail much more than we succeed.
One question to ask when attempting to understand the Old Testament is, “What does this teach us about God?” That is the main purpose of the Old Testament. To know God.
The “newest” book in the Old Testament is the last book. Malachi. Written around 400 BC. When you finish reading the book of Malachi, you’re at the end of the Old Testament. In the New Testament we pick up the story in Matthew. We can assume that some things may have happened between Matthew and Malachi, but the story seems to pick up where it left off.
After Malachi, something happened that hadn’t happened for a long time: God stopped talking to people. Much has been written about this time in history. It is called the intertestamental, or silent period. There is a general belief that there were four hundred years where no one spoke for God because no official Scriptures or text were developed.
These four hundred years in history were characterized by unprecedented human progress:
The rise and fall of the Persian Empire (559–336 BC) // Founded by Cyrus the Great, Persia was the largest empire in history. The Jewish people were emancipated from exile in Babylon at the end of the Old Testament by Cyrus himself.
The Hellenistic Era (336–331 BC) // Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world. It was his goal to bring Greek culture to the lands he had conquered; he wished to create a world united by Greek language and thinking. This was called Hellenization.
The rise of the Roman Empire (31 BC – 476 AD) // Julius Caesar rose to power around 45 BC. In 27 BC, Octavius appointed himself “Augustus,” which means emperor.
The rise of philosophy
The most significant thing to happen during this silent period in human history was the study of ourselves and how we should live—philosophy. As human beings, we began to look inward and make dedicated attempts to understand and define how we are and how we’d like to be. The ancient philosophers began to ask these questions that we continue to ask today:
Why is there so much distress, anxiety, violence and unhappiness in the world?
To what extent must we suffer?
Is there value in suffering?
Can we develop mastery of our own thoughts, emotions and actions?
What does it mean to live the life of a moral man or woman?
What is virtue and how can we acquire it?
What do we owe to others—to our spouse, our family, our city, our nation, to all of humanity?
Is there a God? If so, what is his nature?
Does God care about us?
What is the good life, and how do we obtain it?
How can we find happiness?
It is answers to questions like these that those ancient philosophers attempted to find by stretching human reason to its limits and applying their conclusions within their daily lives—and they found some great answers.
Right before this silent period, in 470 BC, Socrates was born in Athens. He left no writing of his own and is known primarily through those who wrote about him after his death. Socrates, as many of us know, is considered the father of western philosophy. One of the first in a long line of people to ask the question, “Why do we think, feel and act the way we do?”
In the western world, it is believed that he began the study of philosophy.
I mentioned in Chapter two that philosophy, for most of us, seems to be something impractical and disconnected from daily life. That was not the case for Socrates and many of those who came after him. Plato—a student of Socrates—believed that philosophy is unavoidable and inevitable for every person. To be capable of rational thought is to be equipped with all the tools we need to be philosophers. In fact, we become philosophers as soon as our ability to think rationally encounters the world we live in. Every time we make decisions, we are practicing philosophy.
Musonius Rufus said that philosophy is “nothing else than to search out by reason what is right and proper and by deeds to put it into practice.”[i] In other words, philosophy is how you and I decide we should live our lives.
Cicero said that philosophy teaches us how to be doctors to ourselves.
Socrates, and those who came after him teach us that philosophy is meant to do something very simple: to help us consider and decide the way to live. Any good philosophy is meant to equip us with the tools to live a good life. Philosophy is something we all do. It’s something we do almost all the time. We must be philosophers. We already are.
Looking back at the Old Testament through the lens of philosophy, we often find ourselves asking philosophical questions. The same kind of questions that these ancient philosophers would ask: “Why did God choose Abraham and his family?” “Why do bad things happen to innocent people?” And so on.
Without philosophy, we wouldn’t care to ask any of these questions. Things would just be as they are.
When we strive to answer the questions, “What do we want out of life?” “How will we measure our life?” and “What is the meaning of our life?” we are actively practicing philosophy.
Whether you realize it or not, when you pursue any form of meaning or happiness, you are developing and living out a “philosophy of life.” You are rationally determining your focus and efforts to understand the world as it is and working to create a world you wish to see. Socrates and those who came after him made efforts to provide a template for us to follow and questions for us to answer as we develop our own philosophies of life.
Philosophy is what helps us to create things like core values. It is what guides us to practice empathy and emotional intelligence. Whether we realize it or not, much of our daily lives is guided by the practice of philosophy. Because that’s what it is. Practice. Work.
Socrates, and many who came after him were just as concerned with living their philosophy as they were in creating and teaching it. That is the goal we should strive toward, not merely to attempt to think about the deep questions of life but live out our answers to those questions daily.
Once we know God, we can begin to know ourselves. We may begin by asking the question, “What is God like?” The journey doesn’t end there. We will eventually find ourselves asking about ourselves. “What am I like, and what do I want to be like?” This is a question of philosophy.
Maybe you’re a person who lives a life by default who is more apt to say, “I just am the way that I am.” You should realize soon, hopefully now, that you decide how you want to be all the time. No one is “just the way they are.” We all can reason, and we use this reason to make decisions on how we live daily. Therefore, we practice philosophy whether we realize it or not.
The question is not whether we will be philosophers or not. The question is whether we will be good or bad philosophers. Will our philosophy be one that we create by design? Or one that we live by default?
Asking “What am I like?” will inevitably lead to “What do I want to be like?” which leads us to making decisions about the way to live. When we can decide how we want to be, we are well on our way to living out our philosophy of life.
[i] Musonius Rufus, That One Should Disdain Hardships, trans. Cora Lutz (Connecticut, USA: Yale University Press, 2020).