Inspiration: Romans 8, In Christ Jesus

Dear Inspiration Seekers,

In the closing verse of chapter 7, Paul returns to neuroscience: “… I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (NIV).  Maybe the Vicar can clarify how the original language text word for “mind” is defined.  He then combines this with the theme that we can serve sin or righteousness.  I remember C. S. Lewis commenting, possibly in The Screwtape Letters, that every vice is a virtue misused.  C. S. Lewis also stated elsewhere that he viewed phenomenon in dichotomies (pairs), such as right-wrong, good-evil, etc.  This conceptualization works well with Paul’s idea that we can be slaves to sin or righteousness. 

I differ from C. W. Lewis in regard to dichotomies.  Rather, I see phenomenon as occurring on continua.  The distinction between “right vs. wrong” is a threshold somewhere along that continuum.  Thus the question becomes how do we discern where to draw the line.  The two ends may be obviously.  The middle ground is what we squabble over.  Morality, ethics, standards, social norms might each provide some direction.  Laws, civil and religious, outline the answers, but Paul has already argued that this is a no-win game.  The grey-areas are usually our attempts to rationalize doing what we want to do when we know that it would not meet the law’s criteria.

In my attempt to answer my rhetorical question, let me illustrate what I mean by a continuum of behaviors.  Let’s return to the comment I made in the blog about neuroscience that storytelling and lying come from the frontal lobe of the brain.  The difference between storytelling and lying is that in the former, the storyteller is attempting to entertain us with events that did not happen, while the liar is attempting to deceive us into believing falsehood as truth.

The continuum of behavior, which I illustrate, might be defined as “authenticity”.  At one end of the spectrum could be “truth” and the other end “falsehood”.   The difference between the two ends could be defined as the degree of accuracy of the information and the speaker’s intent for presenting information, either accurately or inaccurately.  The degree of accuracy could be verified, by review of the data, corroborating facts, and authority of the sources.  Measurable facts and consistent observations by several people during several situations would carry more weight than second hand accounts and hearsay.

Obviously, completely fabricated reports and reports with no source lean more toward falsehood, unless the speaker has some worthwhile intent and the listener realizes that the person is making up the information.  This brings us back to the motivation of the speaker.  As I brought up earlier, a storyteller (novelist, playwright, screen writer, et al.) is making up events that did not happen.  However, we are aware of this.  We suspend our belief in order to follow the plot and characters.  The storyteller’s intent might be primarily to engage our imaginations with the suspense, mystery, and intrigue of the story.  Or, he or she might use the narrative to illustrate themes that enlighten us to aspects of life, thereby enhancing our own lives.  While not actually true, we would not condemn storytellers as wrong.

On the other hand, when storytellers infiltrate the news media, political offices, and business leadership, with the intent of furthering their position through promoting inaccurate information, their deceitful narratives may be detrimental to many people.  When the morning or evening news becomes tainted by reports that have not be thoroughly fact-checked, we lose our trust in their reports, thereby reducing the function of the news media to inform us.  When political and business leaders generate or perpetuate inaccurate information, more people become disenchanted with public and private institutions, make poor decisions for their homes, families, and communities.  More likely, people become complacent or apathetic, allowing these same leaders who deceive us to make more decisions for us.  We would probably easily decide that these people have crossed the threshold into evil.

Now what about half-truths, white lies, exaggerations and omission of details?  Each of these is more or less a variation on the idea of relaying some accurate data, while neglecting other data.  Technically the speaker could argue that he or she did not pass on any overt falsehood.  This could be well intended, for instance when I have reviewed a patient’s chart and noted MRI results, which the doctor has not reviewed with the patient.  I will withhold these results, directing the patient to discuss this with the doctor, who has the authority to review this data.  This could be less well intended, as when I might have not completed an assignments, but I stay “under the radar” in anticipation that I will have it completed sufficiently soon that by the time someone inquires, I will have it finished.  This is getting close to the concept that I am “not guilt until caught”.  More likely, being a storyteller, myself, is the case of exaggeration.  I can take an event and add a few embellishing details to make the story more compelling or entertaining. Technically, the added data did not happen and therefore falls into the category of lying.

So, here is our dilemma: if the threshold for truth vs. lie is set high, then we will probably put all but the most consistent and verifiable comments into the lying category (law = death); if the threshold for lying is set too low, then our communications become suspect for lack of standards.   I suggest that few of us are truthful, and few of us are outright liars.  Therefore, most of us live in this muddy region.  Few of us have the ability to step over the high threshold to truth.  But, can we move our behaviors a little farther away from the low threshold off lying?

If we take Paul’s advice to not expect that we can be justified by the law, but should live a transformed life because of God’s grace and mercy, my conceptualization of continua of behaviors can be helpful.  If, in regard to authenticity, we identify a number of behaviors that represent authenticity, we can start to spread them out along the continuum between truth and lies.  Then, we can consider how accurate and considerate our style of communication might be.

If we tend to tell white lies, then maybe being accurate about the half-truth, and omitting some data is better.  When we get better at doing this, then maybe exaggerating might be a little better.  Then, maybe relaying events accurately is better.  If we use distortions of data primarily for our own benefit, to either gain something or to avoid some responsibility, maybe we could start considering how much effort we have to expend to keep up with what we have said to whom.  Maybe then we could start to realize that being more truthful enhances our relationships, even when we have to admit our shortcomings and errors.  Maybe we could start to develop empathy, to see how someone else might view what we are communicating.  Our goal might be to communicate accurately, with the other person’s benefit ahead of ours.  Rather than giving in to habit, change will be a conscious process over many experiences.  Otherwise, we are slaves to our sin.

I have used only one type of behavior, authenticity, to illustrate my concept about a continuum and threshold.  We could take any number of other behaviors or attitudes, and arrange them along continuum: rage to elation, peaceful to distraught, anticipation to worry, etc.  One way to start personal change is to ask yourself: When do I doubt what I do?  When do I question whether I should ask for permission or advice?  What do I hope that I can get away with?  Whatever actions come to mind could give you a continuum to work on.  Next, think about similar actions that are a little worse and little better.  Those become the actions to avoid and to strive for.  Mercy and grace are not hall-passes to continue sinning.  Righteousness is a process that takes effort to strive to improve.

Until Next Time Inspiration Seekers.

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About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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8 Responses to Inspiration: Romans 8, In Christ Jesus

  1. The Vicar says:

    Hi Hermit, it’s time to do a little catching up on your blogs now that summer is coming to a close. I had this post all ready to submit and then the page was gone, drat!

    Paul bookends chapter 8 to the Romans with “no condemnation” and “no separation” from God because of Christ work on the cross. So with the concept of life existing on a continuum, I will offer that the continuum can be seen in the distinction between “right vs wrong”, but always exists in the sense that we are moving either towards God or away from God.

    The usage of “mind” seems to indicate where we direct our attention. My actions follow my thoughts, so what I focus on informs my behavior. I have a choice to follow my natural desires or spiritual desires. In the absence of choosing to follow spiritual desires, it’s easier to set up laws to measure compliance. Adherence to the law measures “in” or “out”, but leaves little room for life on a continuum. Likewise, those who reject the law and do as they please center their reality on themselves. Both are slaves to different masters. The flesh and the law are both equally far from God. Jesus comes down hard on the teachers and Pharisees for their self righteous approach to life as detrimental to themselves and others. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matt 23:13). This is one of 7 woes (8 if you include verse 14 which is omitted from the NIV) to those that form barriers to God through their use of the law.

    Through Jesus, God has not only given us the ability to turn in a new direction on the continuum, but also the power to move forward on that path. Paul write to the church at Ephesus of this life on the continuum, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13). So we exist on this continua between our natural desires and our spiritual desires, which by it’s very nature bisects and informs every other continua in our life. As Paul states, all creation has suffered and is groaning, waiting for mankind to live in freedom.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Vicar,

      Thanks for catching up. I have missed your insights, but respect that you were expressing your values by attending to those whom you were with, rather than reading blogs on vacation and retreats!

      This idea about continuum come from a group activity that I use sometimes in therapy. Many of my clients believe that their thinking and moods are not normal. This brings up the question of what is normal. On a white board, I draw 2 concentric circles, creating 3 open spaces. The middle, I label “Chronically Normal”, the middle area, “The Fringe”, and the space beyond the circles “Way Out There”. I then ask the group members to name activities. We then debate which area to place these in and how close to the center, some theoretical “nom”. Of course, knowing where I am gong with this, I place similar actions along in a line, which I will later draw into a continuum. Often two continuum join, radiating out in opposite directions from the center. For instance, your statement that “natural desire” and “the law” are really opposites works here. We might place luxuries and treats in the Chronically Normal range, indulgence and gluttony in the Fringe, and hedonism as Way Out There. Going the other direction, we might consider the rule of law as Chronically normal, rigid thinking and legalism as Fringe, and asceticism as Way Out There. The question then become, not can we move a little closer to the idea from where ever we are.

  2. The Vicar says:

    By “move a little closer to the idea from wherever we are” you must be referring to Plato’s idea of a “first form” by which all others are known. 🙂 Jesus then tells us that we must take this knowledge and go to the margins of life.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      First, to correct some typo’s (it must have been the sun while I was harvesting 500+ pears this morning), “nom”, should be “norm”, and “idea” should be “ideal”.

      A graphic image which I cannot represent on a white board is that these circles and lines are actually in a three-dimensional form, not a two-dimensional plane. When we are looking at the board, we have sliced a sphere in half, thus all the lines look line they spread out on a flat plane. If we reconstruct the sphere, then the line can be going in all directions, potential intersecting somewhere around the middle. Obviously, I am also using this in a (secular) group setting to stimulate the group members to consider where their thoughts, attitudes, and actions fit within accepted social norms. And, if they fall outside these norms, as we hermits do, how comfortable are they with that situation.

      To apply this to our discussion of faith, I would change the concept from the central sphere being a social norm to it being closer to God. Thus, if, as you have suggested, we assess where our behaviors fit along some continuum, we might consider getting closer toward the center. If we overlapped these two conceptual spheres, we would probably find that the Godhead sphere is on the margins of the social norm sphere.

  3. Dave says:

    two dimensional planes and three dimensional planes? While I can picture this, it’s starting to sound a lot like physics, which could lead to discussion on string theory and god particles.

    The beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) seems to concur with your thoughts that the Godhead does not see the world as we see it.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I actually contemplated the image of a black hole, rather than a sphere at first. You know, the power of the energy/light is such that nothing can escape it. But, the astrophysics of that metaphor does not go well with the free will concept coming up. So, is God a particle or a wave?

  4. The Vicar says:

    I think the god particle (as it has been explained to me – something science knows to exists, from which all creation derived, but has yet to be discovered) is the scientific communities attempt to explain the universe with out attributing it to God.

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