Betrayed. Jailed. Abandoned. These were probably some of the things that were running through Boethius’ mind as he awaited his eventual torture and execution under false pretenses. One of the brightest minds of his day, and having climbed to the top of the political ladder, Boethius’ friends gave false testimony of him as a traitor to the king, who promptly had him jailed without due process.
Boethius loved astronomy, mathematics and the philosophy of the greeks. Although he was a Christian, he was well-known because of his translations of greek philosophy that were used for almost a thousand years before the recuperation of lost texts during the renaissance. But this wasn’t in Boethius’ mind. He had served the King well, and tried to live out a good Christian life; yet he was miserable, while the wicked reveled.
How could God permit such a thing?
During his time in his cell, he wrote a masterpiece called The Consolation Of Philosophy, which tried to answer this question by having God’s wisdom embodied as Lady Philosophy. She visits him in his cell, and they exchange a dialogue, with Lady Philosophy explaining how small our minds are to comprehend the will of God.
In this passage, Fortune (embodied as a god) speaks to Boethius’ desire to justice. Her answer might not be what you’d expect.
When nature produced you from your mother’s womb,
I received you naked of all things and helpless,
kept you warm with my resources and,
whereas now it makes you impatient with us,
I brought you up under the easy favor of indulgence,
surrounded you with all the abundance and splendor
which are right for me.
Now it pleases me to withdraw my hand:
be grateful as for the use of another’s;
you have no right of complaining
as if you absolutely lost yours.
Why then do you groan?
No violence is brought against you from us.
Wealth, honors and the rest of such things are right for me.
The servants recognize the mistress:
they come with me; with my going away they depart.
Boldly I declare, if these were yours
which you bemoan are missing,
you never would have lost them.
–The Consolation of Philosophy, Book 2
Now compare this passage to God’s response to Job, when he complained to God about his own misfortunes, and demanded infinite goodness to justify Himself after all the evil that had fallen on Job.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
A popular saying goes, “the wheel of fortune turns.” Sometimes good things happen to those who are good, and bad things to the wicked; and sometimes, just the opposite occurs. There’s no rhythm or pattern to the fortunes of our lives. God gives and takes away freely. There will never be a time for a person to say, “now I am content, all will be good with me”, or, “nothing good is going to come. I am cursed.” The wheel of fortune indeed keeps turning. There’s an excellent video by The Bible Project that explains this in much greater detail, and their animations are absolutely stunning. I’m putting it here for you to take a quick look:
We must watch ourselves not to get too hung up on the turns of this wheel, rather taking life as it comes with a certain detachment from our earthly fortunes, and trusting instead on a more solid anchor than Lady Fortune. Thus does the book of Ecclesiastes fittingly ends:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgement,
including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.