Tag Archives: Good

Stop equivocating!

26 Nov

Dad with daughter

My Dad must have repeated that warning weekly throughout my teen years.  Vaguely aware that he meant it to mean ‘stop arguing‘ or ‘enough of this twisting around of my words!

It wasn’t until ‘logic’ came into my life that I learned both the potential confusion AND danger of equivocal words – those terms that are spelled alike but point to completely different concepts.

Think about pitchers.  Two sorts spring to mind:

Pitcher of lemonade Pitcher throwing ball

 

It’s only in context that one’s sense becomes clear.

I thought about equivocal words again while mediating on one of God’s teachings in the book of Acts.  The passage is found in chapter 10 where Peter (the leader of the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension) explains to the Roman officer Cornelius the details surrounding Jesus’ work on earth and his future return:

(verses 42-43) “…..And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

What got me thinking was how some people unfamiliar with the Bible think that God will judge the good and the bad.  Those are the juxtaposed groups they describe.  Yet that is a category error, if one relies on the Bible as the definitive word about God’s judgments.  In the above passage, the people groups mentioned are the living and the dead.  What we can safely infer is that this categorizing is both exclusive and exhaustive.  All humans who ARE living or who HAVE EVER lived fit into one of these two groups: the living and the dead.  

I’ll come back to this teaching in a moment; first let’s look at the erroneous initial division of humans into good and bad.  Here is where my reflection about equivocal terms brought me – pondering the sense of the term ‘good‘.   Many Americans are kind-hearted, generous and desirous of helping their neighbor.

Humanitarian acts

I’m sure you know just such good people.  These God-enabled humanitarian works DO make our world a much better place.  Undeniably.  Yet the term good is problematic precisely because it’s one of those troublesome equivocal words.

Here’s what I mean:

How do we reconcile Jesus telling a well-to-do young Jewish man:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good--except God alone.” (Mark 3:12)

And in the Old Testament the Psalmist writes:

Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3)

Clearly there is good and there is good!

And we could talk about many other examples of how good is used:

  • good to eat (tasty and/or nutritious)
  • good at playing the piano (skilled)
  • that’s good! (almost meaningless, but communicates your acknowledgment of the news)
  • good weather for fishing/sunbathing/growing your garden (conducive to ______)
  • a good dog, child (well behaved)
  • a good wife (meets my expectations)
  • a good report (complete and accurate)
  • and last but not least, a good deed (kind)

You can probably thing of  more uses.

But the distinction that God describes in His word is one that has eternal consequences.  If

  • no one but God is good (per HIS use of the term) and if
  • He is going to judge the living and the dead

Then, knowing the category He uses is crucial.

Back to the apostle Peter’s explanation to Cornelius; obviously if none of us is good in God’s use of the term, and He separates all into either the living or the dead, then knowing that there IS a way to be reconciled and pleasing and loved and favored by God is pretty important.

 

Bottom LIne

And the news is ‘good’! (life-giving, joyful)

Reprising the 2nd verse (Acts 10:43) where Peter describes Jesus and his work on earth the first time:

“….To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Hmm…I spot another tricky term: ‘believes‘.  We’ll talk about how to understand the proper sense of  ‘to believe’ next time.

Until then, pick up and read all of Acts, Chapter 10 for yourself.  It’s a short account of what’s important.

Logical Gal and what is ‘good’?

21 May

Good

What is good?  That depends!

The concept of ‘good’ varies. So we need to ask some questions.  As I grow in being a logical gal, I’m gradually getting better at remembering to pause, think and ask clarifying questions before going any further.  I’ve often misunderstood the pre-suppositions behind someone’s statements or even their questions and responded inappropriately.

So here are points to consider and clarify:

  • Does the speaker mean have in mind something …..objectively good? or just subjectively good? For example –  It is good to care for widows and orphans is an objective value that is true no matter the culture or period of history.  Mint-chocolate-chip ice cream is good is a subjective evaluation based on the subject (in this case – me!) and her preferences.
  • Or is the speaker thinking of ……..something effective at gaining results?  For example – Completing one’s homework and preparing for tests is good in the sense that it leads to desired results.  Staying up late and partying without any advanced preparation for tomorrow’s test is NOT good.
  • Or does the speaker have in mind ……..something more along the lines of ‘good for’?  Like taking a combination of Echinacea, zinc and vitamin C is ‘good for’ fighting a cold.

 

Good for a cold

I’ve been pondering the various meanings of the term good ever since I heard a philosopher discuss the ‘problem of evil’. The new twist for me was how the speaker narrated  this problem as something Neo-Darwinian Atheists had to solve.  For these materialists, ‘good’ refers to traits that are adaptive.  Adaptive means these characteristics get passed down to the next generation because they help the species survive.  So ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ would be how one describes ‘maladaptive’ traits – those that DO not help the species survive.  Theoretically they would then NOT be passed down to successive generations, right?  (unless there is something ‘wrong’ with the whole natural selection mechanism…but that’s ANOTHER problem!).

Maladaptive

Hence, the question: What explains the continued existence of evil or bad stuff in our world?

See what ‘good’ can come from all these questions!  I’ll look forward to some of your thoughts on ‘good’ and/or on this ‘problem of evil’.

 

Logical Gal and the danger of sound bytes

31 Mar

Limits of language

All those labor-saving devices and we still don’t have enough time for thought-ful discourse! Have you ever read any of the speeches from the Lincoln-Douglas debates?   Have you at least read about them?   People would swarm into the towns where each of the 7 debates were held in 1858.  Each one lasted about 3 hours.  People sat and stood in conditions ranging from  sweltering heat one day to a cold, steady downpour another.  Evidently ordinary folk could not only follow reasoned, deductive discourse, but they made the effort to travel specifically to learn from and support their candidate.

Today, we have teleprompters and twitter.

Tweet length

And here are the limits of language.  If someone proclaims, “All men are created equal,” little is communicated. We need amplification to give that proposition meaning or value.  We must ask some questions like:

  • Equal in what way?
  • Who are the ‘all men’?

In a podcast discussion I followed the other day, a thoughtful person took the time to compare and contrast men and women. He explained that though men and women were equal in value, they were not equal in roles.  Given our physical and emotional differences, each gender excels in certain areas and not others.

Another meaningless term (unless teased out) is the word ‘good’.   If you say, ” Ice cream is good,” you haven’t said much!

Ice cream

To communicate ANYthing at all, we need to ask:

  • Is ice cream good, ontologically, in its nature or properties in and of itself?  A son who is good is one who acts kindly and with consideration.
  • or do you mean it is good for something, like soothing a burn or providing energy to run a race?
  • or is it good in that it is authentic, not fake.  People talk about something being as ‘good as gold’
  • or does it mean good as in effective or perfect like 20/20 eyesight?
  • then there is good in the sense of skilled.  We talk about a good ballplayer
  • there is also a good deal when you feel you came away with more value than you parted with

But who takes the time to ask these questions?  And if you start to communicate at this depth, people politely change the subject, or impolitely check their electronic device to let you know that you are not worth their time!

I’m not sure WHAT can stem the tide or reverse the direction.  Maybe it is just an individual choice to live more slowly and thoughtfully.  Maybe communicating less often, but more richly will make someone stand out. What do you think?

All I know is that my mind grows stiff and rooted in a rut unless I exercise it.  And I, for one, don’t want to take the chance pay the price of past laziness and fall into Alzheimer’s!  I think the research is still out on ways of preventing this sad decline.  But if regular mental exercise might help, then bring on deep thoughts and well-written books!

Alzheimer's couple