Inspiration: Saved by Faith, Kept by Faith, Galatians 2:21-3:5

Paul poses a questions twice about whether effort was “for nothing”.  “… if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (2:21), and, “Have you suffered so much for nothing – if it really was for nothing?” (3:4).   Faith for nothing?  I usually associate nihilism with existentialism, not religion.  Is Paul suggesting that Christ faced an existential dilemma? A criticism of faith and religion by humanists and atheists is that people believe in external ideas which cannot be verified.  And, those in power use these beliefs as ways of controlling people.  This can be carrying out rituals based on ancient texts and traditions, regardless of whether they have any apparent relevance to modern culture or issues (e.g. Orthodox Jewish dietary and sabbath practices).  This can be moral requirements based on interpretations of a deity’s commandments and subsequent upholding by a supreme religious leader (e.g. the Catholic church’s prohibition on birth control).  This can be basing one’s sense of identity and meaning on some higher power (e.g. the Beatles and guru what’s-his-name).  Humanists and atheists would rather that people make decision about nutrition and family planning based on verifiable information about what foods are healthy and whether a couple can afford financially and emotionally to rear children.  As for the Beatles, they would just like or dislike their music, but not hum, “Let It Be” (was that Mother Mary or marijuana, oh, what the heck…).

The idea of nihilism in existentialism is basically that nothing has meaning, except whatever meaning we give it.  If  “Christ died for nothing”, this suggests that the Christians believed that Christ died for something, because, as Paul has argued extensively in his letter to the Roman church, Jews following the law was not sufficient for something.  Had Christ died for nothing, there would be no meaning in his death. Had Christ died for something, meaning would exist.

Taking this as a premise, that Christ’s death had meaning, the question arises, from where did this meaning come?  If Christ and/or God generated the meaning, then this perpetuates the problem that meaning is external to the individual.  This salvation is something that happened and exists out there, obligating someone to take on this meaning.  If individuals generate this meaning, they then have the dilemma that they have to verify this meaning or are just fulfilling their wishful-thinking.  Does it really matter whether someone gains his sense of meaning from following religious rituals, adhering to the Popes edicts, or humming from “Let it Be” to “My Sweet Lord”?

Paul factors in two other concepts to this discussion, faith and experience.  Even those who witnessed Christ’s death and resurrection missed the point and doubted the verification of what they saw.  The Galatians, as we, did not see these events, and therefore must apply their ability to believe.  And, they had the experience the transformation in their lives, which not only brought joy but suffering.

So, what type of meaning do we wish to construct?  A meaning that is essentially nothing?  A meaning which is mainly adherence to someone else’s standards?  A meaning which is only our private revelation?  A meaning which is self-indulgence?  A meaning which might transform?  Regardless of where we seek our meaning, we must have faith in our decision.  Our validation would be our experience of that meaning.

Until next time, Inspiration Seekers.


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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One Response to Inspiration: Saved by Faith, Kept by Faith, Galatians 2:21-3:5

  1. The Vicar says:

    Existentialist philosopher and beloved sage of the postmodern era, Fredrick Nietzsche wrote, “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man”. If God is merely a construct of mankind to explain the unexplainable, then hope in that construct is false hope, and false hope is no hope at all. Whether we believe that God does not exist or that we are capable being godly through our own efforts, the outcome is the same. In the absence of God, we create new gods which we worship. The god of personal freedom, the god of personal happiness, the god of social justice, the god of financial security … in which case Christ died for nothing. CS Lewis writes that in the absence of the belief in God, the danger is not that one will believe nothing, the danger is that they will believe anything. If all truth is objective, then we are tossed about like a boat on the waves. Everything can be justified or rationalized (… after the fall, man created lawyers …).

    Paul seems to be indicating that God is real and through Jesus life, death, and resurrection, Paul has moved from death to life. To live apart from God is death not life (John 5:24-25), therefore Nietzsche’s construction of life apart from God could be seen as his attempt to give meaning to life as he saw it, but it could be a false reality based on the law of man.

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