"Either the gods have no power or they have power. If, then, they have no power, why dost thou pray to them? But if they have power, why dost thou not pray for them to give thee the faculty of not fearing any of the things which thou fearest, or of not desiring any of the things which thou desirest, or not being pained at anything, rather than pray that any of these things should not happen or happen?"
I've been reading through Marcus's Meditations, and it's been delightful. For a Roman emperor known for his persecution of the early church, he sure does sound a lot like Jesus and the apostle Paul.
I was struck by this passage because of its relevance for religious believers today. Here, he presents us with a dilemma. Either God is in control, or God isn't.
If you believe that God isn't in control, then Marcus has this to say: you can't control most of what happens in your life, even if you devote your life to doing so. What happens, happens according to chance and the laws of nature. So order your life accordingly. What this amounts to is letting go of what is not in your control.
On the other hand, most of those who adhere to a religious system believe God is in control. If this is so, then it seems unfaithful to order one's life in a way that completely ignores God's providence. This thought is not captured by this particular quote, but it comes out throughout Marcus's writings. If you believe in God's providence, then the responsibility of running the world is not on you.
So what is on you? The answer is to act according to your nature. For Marcus, it is in our nature to act according to reason, and reason demands that we do our duty. Now, depending on what your religious faith demands, you will need to fill in 'duty' for yourself. But for Christians, our duty is clear. We must love God and love our neighbor. What this amounts to is letting go of what is not in our control, and living according to God's will.
I am struck by how many of us Christians, especially, do not live this way politically. We act as if the responsibility of running the world is on us. We think that if we can keep others out of America, such as Muslims or Syrian refugees, then our lives will run smoothly. We ignore God's will in order to worship the illusory idol of safety and security.
Marcus, tragically, did not take his own advice. Instead, he chose to persecute Christians. But let us not make the same mistake. Instead, let us pray that God would take away our fear of others so that we may love one another as God has loved us.