By In Theology

The Art of Balanced Living

In Book III of Plato’s Republic, Socrates and Glaucon engage in a dialogue concerning music and gymnastic. Socrates proposes that music is pivotal for a well-ordered soul, and gymnastic is pivotal for a well-ordered body, but too much music, without gymnastic can make a person too soft. Whereas too much gymnastic, without music, can make a person too hard and forceful. He proposes that a wise leader needs both music and gymnastic in order to be “tuned to the proper degree of tension and relaxation”—in order for the person to be harmonious.

Considering harmony, do we balance our lives amidst the host of good choices that God has placed before us? Do we live a balanced life so that we can lead a balanced church or team or family? Do we see each member and each personality as balancing the other personalities and members in order be “tuned to the proper degree of tension and relaxation?” Can we relax in the reality that God has ordained things as they are, or is there always tension that someone is getting in the way of us being successful? Can we be thankful for a proper tension even though the pressure is sometimes extreme, knowing that iron-sharpening-iron creates heat and sparks?

The word “balance” used to rub me the wrong way. It felt like a mystical, Eastern spiritualism promoting both good and evil in some yin-yangy sort of way. But what about balance between some good and some other good? What if the colors of the particular yin-yang in front of you are not black and white, but red and blue, or green and purple? What if, internally, we are trying to balance our gold with our silver with our precious things? What if, externally, we have some good and someone else has some other good and someone else another?

What if the balance that is appropriate to a Christian is the balance of a symphony orchestra, with every good instrument in the appropriate proportion to the other good instruments? Tempo, pitch, dynamics, entrances, cadences, both within the sections, as well as within the entire orchestra must be balanced to be beautiful. This is the easiest analogy to harmonious living, because we are comfortable considering musical harmony. Socrates supposes that the harmony of music is not only by way of analogy, rather that music actually orders the soul. It is inherently rational, and the proper modes cannot have anything but positive effects on the human being.

What if the balance that is appropriate to a Christian is the balance of an athlete or in Plato specifically, a gymnast? An athlete must keep his body in check to his thoughts, passions, and appetites; his thoughts in check with his body, passions and appetites; his passions in check with his…well, you get the picture. An athlete must aspire to a balance, a harmony within his own body as well as without if he wishes to excel in his sport. And not only the harmony of the individual but the harmony of a team. Or the harmony between coach and players.

In the Republic, Socrates posits that music is pivotal for a well-ordered soul, and gymnastic is pivotal for a well-ordered body. Too much music, without gymnastic, however, can make a person too soft, too docile. While too much gymnastic, without music, can make a person too hard and forceful. He is proposing that a wise person needs both music and gymnastic—the ordering of the soul and the body—in order to be “tuned to the proper degree of tension and relaxation”—in order for the person to be harmonious. If you choose to reject phrasing it this way because Plato was a Pagan, that’ll be fine, and we can talk about that later. But regardless of who said it, is it true? Does it accurately describe a person the way he or she is? Does it accurately describe the world the way it is? If so, then the ideas of balance and harmony, both within and without the human person, are worthy of your consideration today.

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