Boethius and the Idea of True and Lasting Happiness
Posted On February 01, 2017
Boethius was a prominent sixth century philosopher who lost everything and was eventually executed on a false accusation of treason. His work The Consolation of Philosophy was remarkably influential in the church during the medieval period. In this book, Boethius contemplates what makes up the happy and good life, explaining that every man desires to be happy. But for many, happiness is elusive. Like Asaph in Psalm 73, Boethius asks a question that many have grappled with throughout history, “Since God is on His throne, why do the wicked prosper, and why do the good suffer?” The answer to this difficult question is found in redemptive history.
The reason why there is injustice in the world is because of our sin. This is the great testimony of Scripture. According to Herman Bavinck, “Adam’s sin involved a progressive detachment from God, his light, and his law; he set himself against God’s fellowship and entered the sinful state of darkness, bringing all humanity with him.”1 Sinful humanity wants the benefits of God without God Himself. Romans 1:24–25 says that God gives us over to the consequences of our sins, because we have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Humanity seeks temporal goods without realizing that focusing on the temporal keeps us from the eternal.
Boethius believed that fortune had turned on him, but he had to learn that that is the very nature of fortune. People often make the mistake in thinking that they can have things which make them happy apart from actual happiness. But this will take them to their end. Boethius exposes the failure of fortune to produce true happiness, and argues instead that understanding providence will produce happiness. Providence points to order and is the great comfort for all of our circumstances. God’s providence is most clearly demonstrated in the sending of His Son to die on the cross to provide atonement for the sins of His people. It is through the greatest suffering of all that true, lasting happiness becomes a reality for sinners. This is the context in which we ought to understand the trials that God gives us. Trials are a means by which we are sanctified. They are given to direct us to God.
Boethius helps us to see through the folly of living life for temporal pleasures. Our hearts must be purified in order to understand that God ought to be the highest object of our love. The cross is the greatest revelation of God’s love for us, and it is because we are united to Christ that we are able to trust that God is working through us to make all things new. He will teach us to look to Him, not for what we think we need but for what He knows is best for us (Rom. 8:28). We can be confident that God is bringing about salvation in the world, even when we only see the realities of sin. God is the only source of happiness, and we cannot find true and lasting happiness apart from Him.
1. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Abridged in One Volume, ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 362.
— Delaney Mara Sproul is a Senior at Reformation Bible College.