Leanness Into Their Soul

“As for me, I would choose being sick over living in luxury, for being sick only harms the body, whereas luxury destroys both the body and the soul, causing weakness and incapacity in the body, and lack of control and cowardice in the soul. What’s more, luxury breeds injustice because it also breeds greediness.”

(Musonius Rufus, LECTURES 20.95.14-17)

Sometime ago, I listened to Ryan Holiday’s audiobook, The Ego is the Enemy, and I liked much of what he had to say. So I also bought his The Obstacle is The Way (print version this time), as well as The Daily Stoic, from which the quote above is taken. It’s an interesting thought: preferring to be sick rather than to live in luxury, because sickness harms only the body, whereas luxury destroys both body and soul.

Of course, M. Rufus might be exaggerating somewhat, but he has a point worth considering. (Full disclosure: I prefer not to be sick as much as possible!) Adversity has a way of making you stronger; luxury has a way of making you soft.

M. Rufus also points out that “luxury breeds injustice because it also breeds greediness.” Interestingly, the apostle Paul says something similar, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9) And, regarding adversity, he says, in that famous “thorn in the flesh” passage, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Given the choice between sickness (or adversity in general) and luxury, the former is to be preferred for the sake of one’s soul. I am reminded of a lot of verses related to this point. For example, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” But one passage not many people are familiar with is Psalm 106:13-15. “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” (KJV) They got what they lusted for, but their souls suffered as a consequence.

Lesson of the story: Be careful what you ask for: you might get it and more besides!

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