The Heroes Series — Socrates

February 1, 2008, 10:00 am; posted by
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Everyone has heroes. One of mine is a slovenly dressed, ill-mannered war veteran who returned home, married a beautiful, wealthy wife — whom he completely neglected — and spent his days developing a potbelly while haunting his city’s downtown, arguing with any passers-by who would listen. He had been known as a distinguished officer, destined for a powerful career in politics, but his friends and family were soon appalled by his lack of hygiene, idle lifestyle, and penchant for baiting anyone who would listen into an argument. His name was Socrates.

SocratesWhen he bothered to work, he won some acclaim as a good teacher, tutoring the children of wealthy acquaintances, but his life really took shape when someone asked the Oracle at Delphi who the wisest man in Greece was — and the Oracle replied, “Socrates.”

Now don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t like Oprah’s book-of-the-month club; it didn’t send millions of dollars and world wide acclaim his way. In fact, it had the opposite effect. It made him angry. He thought it ludicrous and set about the task of disproving it. He believed that the nobles, poets and artisans would hold many men wiser than he, and so he set out to interview them to disprove the Oracle.

He found that the nobles ruled by power and coercion, the poets possessed inspiration but did not grasp the truths they were revealing, and the artisans — although greatly skilled –assumed that their skills gave them a wisdom in every other area of life, a wisdom they did not possess. Some things never change, and if you don’t believe me, just watch how quickly any new celebrity writes a book to tell you how to raise your kids or run your life. Or listen to a Tom Cruise interview.

He never tried to prove anything; in fact his life’s work was to disprove things. He would ask a question like, “What is truth? Or beauty? Or loyalty?” Then when some unsuspecting young intellect would answer, he used logic and cross-examination to ridicule their answers.

In the end he had to admit that the Oracle was right, though. He deduced that although he knew nothing, he knew that he knew nothing. All the others knew nothing too, but they had deluded themselves into thinking that they knew things.

Why do I admire such a man? He lived before Christ came, and he’s the perfect example of an honest man, laboring with all the light available, to find a truth that had not yet been revealed. Yet still he refused to settle for lies in the absence of revealed truth, as we do so often.

He was put to death for being an atheist, corrupting the youth of Athens by destroying their faith in idols and false gods, and still he never waivered in his convictions — even to save his life! The early Christians were accused of the same thing in Rome. They rejected all the pagan deities and worshipped an “unseen God,” and the Romans, at first, took this as atheism. Paul stood at Mars Hill in Athens and preached a sermon on the “Unknown God” in the book of Acts, affirming everything Socrates taught, and bringing the now-revealed truth to the seat of ancient philosophy.

In the years following his death, the term “philosopher” (which meant lover of the higher wisdom) actually began to fall out of use in Athens, and such men were simply called “sophists,” mere peddlers of wisdom.

In a discourse recorded by Plato shortly before Socrates’ death, a disciple asked about the afterlife — a sort of “How should we live?” question. The response from Socrates was that all we could do is search out the best ideas and tie them together like a raft to make it through life until we get some more sure or certain word (logos).

That Word came and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. His name is Jesus. If I understand the Bible, Jesus descended first to hell (the world of the dead) to preach the gospel, and then ascended to heaven to lead the captives out.

If so, then I would expect to find this character on the streets of gold when I get there — perhaps not so slovenly and disheveled, with nothing left to argue about, but a happy and honest man.


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