Archives for category: meaning

My son asked me about Romans 9. Here is what I came up with. I’ll appreciate any comments anyone cares to make.

1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—Here, Paul is saying he is his speaking for himself. He is emphasizing the passion of his heart and his conviction in his assertion. He sometimes says he is speaking from the Lord, but here he emphasizes the personal nature of his words. 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. He is crushed that Israel doesn’t accept Jesus as Messiah. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,a my kinsmen according to the flesh. Again, Paul is expressing his grief and passion. He loves his nation and would give anything for them if it were possible and if it would help. We add too much if we suppose Paul wanted to add to the divine redemption. He was simply asserting his readiness to sacrifice all for his people. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. Here Paul speaks as a true believer and legitimate nationalist for Israel. Not all theologians, not even all Jewish scholars, are willing to say all Paul says here. It is essentially true, but the passion and conviction could be argued to be overwrought.

6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. Here, he wants to take God’s promises to Israel as absolute, but he can’t because not all of Israel accepts. He justifies by looking at the heart. While certainly not literalist, nor inerrantist, Paul is correct. Being of God is a matter of heart, not birth; spirit, not flesh. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Hardness. These verses are simply a matter for one’s own heart. Paul rather blatantly decrees God sets fate. It is typical to invoke omniscience, transcendence, and God being eternal and timeless. God does see the end from the beginning, and there is no before, no after, only the eternal now. These points are biblical and orthodox. Of course, if one is fated, well, can one thwart fate? It isn’t like Jacob and Esau either one did rightly, earning honestly all that befell. Truly, too often, “deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.” It is the nature of nature. All things are unwinding, and much of it simply will not go according to plan, nor fairness, nor just deserts. Why the extreme of Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated? As the bible tells it, things worked well for Esau, too. Overall, the two brothers were good brothers through most of their lives. It seems as accurate an interpretation as one might hope to say God held agape, god-like charity and devotion, toward Jacob, but how does God hating Esau work? The word is ἐμίσησα, a form of miseo, which literally means to hate or detest. It would generally be used comparatively, subjectively, rather than as an absolute, but here there is no comparison except love versus hate. Pretty solid. It is clear and affords us little room for interpretation and nuance. We have Jesus saying, Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate (3404 /miséō) his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple”. Jesus obviously isn’t telling us to hate everything, including ourselves; He is comparing. He must hold an unrivaled position in our hearts, or we won’t be His. It is solid interpretation to apply this principle to Jacob and Esau, but one cannot simply dismiss the words. They are strong. Paul goes on to address that strength.

14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Paul here simply invokes the deity. It is no different than saying whatever God decrees is the highest possible good and most honorable, but no normal person will accept blatant injustice as good simply on the assertion of the divine. We all know malice is evil, and God being malicious would be no less evil. Thus, we must understand that God cannot be malicious, and I deem that to be Paul’s point. Paul is saying God does what is right, even if we cannot tell it is right and just. In the end, we will see that it is. 16So then it depends not on human will or exertion,bbut on God, who has mercy. Here, Paul essentially says that anything God does for us is mercy because we deserve harsh judgment. The mere fact of our existence must be admitted as God’s mercy. True enough. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Ouch! God raising up this man to power just to show His own power doesn’t seem right. We should not argue it is. Keep in mind that Pharaoh was still his own. His heart was his own, and someone would have been the leader with all the power. The point may very well be that this particular individual with his particular personality, his particular strengths and quirks of will, set it all in motion, a plan of God that Pharaoh just happened to suit, rather than him being tailored for it. Also, the assertion is hard to construe any other way than Paul asserting God as capricious. We’ll have to reach into much of the rest of the scriptures and much of Paul’s other writing to establish for ourselves that capriciousness isn’t what Paul meant. It is a notion we must reject. Simply, He that comes to God must believe that He is, and must believe He is a rewarder of all who seek Him. Mercy and Justice cry out. Both demand to be satisfied. Only a perfect, divine judge can do so, and He will. But, how do we deal with this statement of Pharaoh? It essentially says God set Pharaoh up just to knock him down. Honestly, we really don’t have to worry this one. We know within ourselves exactly what it means within ourselves. We know our own hearts. We know the pride. We know we must be humbled. We know we cannot effectively humble ourselves, even though that is our fundamental task. We must rely on divine enablement. Merely being lazy about our self-humility fails. Deliberately asserting ourselves as the center of our own universe cannot be looked upon differently from the statement of Pharaoh. Not actively working at humility results in actively hardening ourselves, and divine interest in us and our potential will work to cut us down. We can never be free if we hold ourselves as the center. Micah 6:8.

19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? Again, Paul shows forth as an honest true believer. He asserts the divine, the transcendent, and rejects our ability to comprehend; our ability is too trivial to consider. Again, true enough, but normal people will not accept that fiat argument. If we are arguing the divine and transcendent, we cannot claim it as basis for itself. We must acknowledge our limitations, and we must hold forth that our finite cannot comprehend the infinite, our nature cannot grasp the supernature; yet, we still know that we do in some sense. We get it, but, as Paul say elsewhere, we see as through a fogged-glass, darkly. We honor the divine within each of us when we honor one another in true love, in simple honor of our individuality. We recognize each other as innately children of God. We cannot accept that we are merely a pot made for refuse when we inephably grasp our potential and its ultimate transcendence. We know we are more than a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel, even though we know just as well it is an apt analogy. It is a hard thing, and years of study and contemplation are likely to only scratch the surface in understanding it. Again, Micah 6:8. It boils down to a matter of trust. It is a matter of trusting the Judge. I assert true free will. I hold that no meaning can exist without it. I acknowledge it all as dependent upon God, upon the divine transcendence, but it is real, and it is mine, or it all comes to nothing in the end. That is, without transcendence, without true meaning derived from actual freedom of choice with legitimate consequences resulting directly from the free choices, in 100 years, I will be as I was 100 years ago. Further, all will be, a trillion-trillion years hence as it was a trillion-trillion years before space-time came to be, and we cannot even know that it is, nor was. Free will is the reality and essence of reason or there is no reason at all. 25As indeed he says in Hosea,

Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

27And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israelc be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29And as Isaiah predicted,

If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”

Paul is clearly pointing out God’s justice and mercy and the key and essential factor of the choices and deeds of the individuals. God is responding by rejecting those who reject Him and by loving those who love Him. Paul didn’t just make his own argument here; he used scripture.

Israel’s Unbelief

30What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousnessd did not succeed in reaching that law. 32Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33as it is written,

Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”


I’m not seeing need for explaining anything here. Paul is very straightforward with “by faith.” Faith is a matter of the heart that works itself out in actions and deeds. One must hold with James and show faith by deed, but works and rules lead only to bondage. Rules held wisely can be useful, and routine is freeing, but hypocrites typically hang by their own hallows, judged by their own rules.

I agree with the notion that for the most part, we simply take up our cross and follow Him. We aim for the good. We learn of Christ and emulate. We learn of truth, and we commit to it. We hold to what is right even if it means losing all because we know the arc of history bends slowly but it bends toward the truth, it bends toward freedom, it bends inexorably toward the higher realm. The more of us who do our actual best (or at least try), the closer we all get to the ultimate good, no matter what the ultimate is.

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Scientists expect to be able to test everything. Perhaps, but it seems unlikely. There are things that might be real that might be untestable, unverifiable. Multiverse is untestable, yet many believe. It is equivalent to deifying infinity to the infinity power. Hawking recognized and devised maths to limit the possible number of universes to a finite set. Yet, the notion is still totally untestable. To me, the notion of the transcendent is required. Denying anything other than the quantum foam and the matter/energy of space-time, quite frankly, denies the possibility of knowing anything. It denies rationality and reason itself. I simply don’t find that reasonable. It is irrational. I suspect science will find reproducible ways to test for transcendence. I’m not sure the results will actually tell us anything useful. I suspect proving the existence of “a transcendent” will not make us wiser. It won’t answer the big questions. It won’t answer the ultimate “Why?”.

Simplistic, but valid: From nothing comes nothing.
Either something exists, or nothing exists.

We can side with the likes of Stephen Hawking and assert eternal existence of gravity and quantum vacuum and, also, assign it practical [and mindless] divinity. Then we can reasonably speculate that myriad minuscule fluctuations in the quantum foam converged to burst forth from the singularity. Inflation, then space-time, which is running down, back down to the nothing.

Or, we can assume transcendence. That is, we can assume an eternal something that is truly beyond nature. Eternal is the key, and transcendence is required, or it is just natural, and we are back to nothing. There are some significant hurdles to deal with in assuming the divine, but an eternal transcendent actor can only be referred to as god. (Peterson says as much, often.)

If we hold to the first, methodological materialism, or naturalism, or atranscendence, then we are stuck with nothing and there simply is no such thing as agency. No choice is any more significant than any event. It takes two things to do anything: Time and Energy. States and systems exhibiting disequilibria will tend to equilibrate, taking time and using energy. Disequilibrated systems do anything that takes time and uses up energy, as long as it lessens the disequilibration. Often, order arises, emergent phenomena. A simple example is a dust devil in a dirt field. The ground heats unevenly under the sun, and the air warms slower, disequilibria. A warm thermal begins to rise, often beginning to spin, and up arises a dancing, self-organizing, dust devil, chasing the warmest spot near it. It is a dissipative system, more efficient at increasing entropy than simple convection. Assuming atranscendence, the dust devil is the same as any choice I make, any idea I conceive, any action I take. It all, only, tends to use up time and energy bringing the universe back to closer to the absolute and eternal nothing of its beginning.

Given my definitions above, the options are god or not-god.

That is, god is that which is eternal and transcendent.

Not-god is that which is yet eternal but nothing, that which momentarily and currently is subject to unwinding the initial winding of the singularity, and the unwinding is simply the using up of time and energy. (It makes no difference in this assumption whether the big bang is a single freak occurrence, or if it is quasicyclical, repeating randomly for all eternity.)

If we accept the god assumption, we are faced with eternity. We exist in time, but we will exist in eternity (and perhaps have always existed in some sense). The questions religion and philosophy address boil down to this: In eternity, with-god or without-god? One choice with two options. We will enter eternity having chosen god or refused god.

In that assertion, I’m assuming the god condition of eternal and transcendent reality. Given that assumption, the choice, the ultimate choice, true agency, is between with-god and without-god.

There either is choice, or there is nothing.

I admit I am defining nothing as meaninglessness.

I’m defining eternal and transcendent as meaning, reason, and rationality. It is my assertion, my premise. It is fundamental within me. (It is fundamental within the universe.)

Choice, agency, is the only thing that matters. If not-god is the reality, then there is no choice, no meaning, no rationality, no reason, nothing. If god is the reality, and there is no choice, no agency, regarding eternity with god or eternity without god, then we are back to nothing, back to no choice, no meaning, no rationality, no reason.

Given any reality approximating that, truth has no meaning in any case where choice, true agency, isn’t foundational and intrinsic. Individual agency must be real or there is not even anything that can be called truth, not in the abstract, not in the concrete, not in the ideal, not even in the notional. If I have no choice in the matter, no agency, nothing matters and nothing is the only true reality. If there is such a thing as reality, choice is real; agency is real.

Obviously, I cannot get away from the notion of truth, and one might argue such persistence makes it deeper, more real, than choice. No. First, we must not conflate Truth with Reality. That which is real is not the same as that which is true, not even in the ideal. It goes to meaning. If the not-god reality is real, then all that we seem to know is simply a random confluence of quantum fluctuations that happen to have congealed into a mass hallucination. If my mind is merely matter and energy and chemical processes running in patterns dictated by quantum fluctuations, I have no mind, and I have nothing on which to base any assumption. I can have no reason to assume any of it will continue. I have no real reason to base any of it on.

In that case, I have no reason. There would really be no reason and no such thing as reason, only matter, only energy, only a persistent, sequential running down and unwinding.

Frankly, I find it unreasonable to assume there is no such thing as reason.

I find it irrational to assume there is no such thing as rationality.

It seems as certain as anything else that there must be an eternal transcendent actor. Being confined to time and nature, we cannot hope to know this super-nature directly. We can only hope to systematically and rationally investigate it and aim at truth, as we do with all of nature. The nature of nature, our reality, seems to include something transcendent that we typically call mind. There isn’t a significant difference between “mind” as we use it, and “spirit” as we use it. There is no quantifiable reason to suppose mind is any less real than matter. Consciousness is really a thing, a thing we do not understand. Our religions may be so far from truth as to be laughable, but so may our sciences.

Again, without choice, there is no truth.

If I am not really a free agent capable of making real choices with meaningful consequences, then there is simply nothing, at least nothing that has any meaning, nothing that matters.

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