Tag Archives: Terms

Logical Gal – Multiple definitions can be confusing!

24 Sep

A recent devotional I read mentioned the Apostle Paul’s use of the term Israel to refer to FOUR different concepts.

I thought a brief account of how ‘Israel’ is employed would serve as a useful reminder to clarify terms before jumping into a discussion/debate or argument with someone.

The first question ALWAYS to ask is: What do you mean by X?

Hebrew people

‘Tabletalk’ is a monthly magazine with articles and daily Bible teaching by Dr. R.C. Sproul. I’m a month behind, but the 18 August 2014 piece was based on some verses in Romans 11.  Dr. Sproul mentions that in Romans 9-11, Paul uses ‘Israel’ to describe 4 different groups of people (his exact words follow):

  • The group of ethnic Jews who have true faith in the Lord
  • The entire corporate nation that is made up of all ethic Jews, including those who do not trust in the Lord
  • Ethnic Jews who have not placed their faith in Jesus
  • And finally, the term Israel can also designate all of those who believe in Jesus, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles

Just reading about these distinctions reinforced in MY mind how ‘nuanced’ the Bible is.  I’m beginning to realize that words in Scripture are often a shorthand description that needs to be amplified.  For example, I’ve often been puzzled by the first 4 words in Paul’s statement: To live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)

I now realize that we in contemporary America speak in an equally symbolic but well understood way when we announce boldly general statements such as:  “Gardening is my life” or some such thing.  So to say ‘to live is Christ’ would probably mean that Christ is the most important person and truth in my life and I base everything on Him.

If we invest the energy and time actually to think and ponder, we CAN deal with layered concepts that might at first seem to stretch us.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle to practice with, one that maybe you can unravel.  Just as there are equivocal definitions of the term Israel, there are several possibilities for the adjective ALL or EVERY……  I often hear people announce hyperbolically:

  • All of New York turned out for the parade
  • All the OTHER kids get to go to the party!
  • Everyone knows that…..

Here’s my challenge:  What does Paul mean when he boldly writes to the Christians in Rome – All Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26)

All Israel will be saved

Before we get into a theological back and forth, we had better work to clarify the following:

  1. which category of Israel is meant?
  2. what does ‘all’ really mean?
  3. and in what sense will that group be ‘saved’?

Only then can a discussion proceed!

Would that as a matter of course I could be so restrained in my conversations.

 

 

Logical Gal: those Martian men and Venetian women

27 Aug

It’s true – we really are different!

Besides the physical and emotional distinctions, what else separates us?  Our definitions!

We view and use terms in ways that are not always identical.  As St. Exupéry’s Fox informs the Little Prince:

Renard (Little prince)

“Le language est source des malentendus” (Language is the source of misunderstandings)

Friday my husband and I bought a new car for me in a town south of where I teach school.  It has been more than 10 years since I’ve had this experience and this latest 4WD small SUV came equipped with bells and whistles that were overwhelming.  So as Mike and I set out to convoy home from the dealership, I said I would ‘follow’ him.  I felt it was challenging enough to drive the new car safely without having to hunt for signs to the interstate.  Over 50, I sensibly have stopped clinging to the false notion that I can multi-task.  The idea of setting and following ‘Miss Bossy GPS Lady’ was too much for me!

All was well in this ‘following’ maneuver until we reached the interstate.  I now KNEW the way home, so didn’t feel the need to stay directly behind my husband’s car.  I was, after all, behind him in one sense of the term and in MY lexicon that qualified in the wide definition of what it means ‘to follow’.

The only problem was that this dear Martian man of mine was NOT privy to my unpublished Venetian glossary. Unbeknownst to me, he grew more and more aggravated as I fell behind.  So he attempted to catch my attention by driving erratically.  My reaction, at first, was to think that something was wrong with his Subaru.  So I prayed.  Then it occurred to me that he might be suffering a stroke or at the least low blood sugar since we were now past the dinner hour.  (These 2 scenarios were unlikely for his car is only 2 years old and he doesn’t have any physical condition that would justify my imaginings!).  But I prayed even more earnestly.

When we finally reached our cove and pulled off the busy highway, he stopped to get the paper.  I rolled down my window and said: What is wrong with you! Are you alright?

Well, that caught him by surprise because he was about to ask me the same questions.

We laugh now,

reconciled husband and wife

but lesson learned:  Be clear about terms.  Ask one another, “When you say you’re going to FOLLOW me, what do you actually mean by that?”  I also learned that when I change my mind about something AFTER I have told him what my intention was, I should communicate that too.

I guess Martians are not mind readers.

All joking aside, good clear thinking is foundational to logic.  And formal logic always starts with clarifying terms.  If two people can sort out, pin down distinctions and agree to abide by certain definitions, then much aggravation is avoided.

Question: when has language gotten in the way of communicating with someone you love? 

 

Logical Gal and why you want a PERSONAL God

20 Aug

How ‘personal’ is your God?  Does it matter?

Christian theologians will tell you that the God of the Bible is personal and not impersonal.  Those terms have always been a bit foggy to me.  Maybe you’re like me – not quite sure what kind of difference that makes in one’s deity.

But like anything that adds value in life, if you want richness and depth, you need to dig in and spend some time THINKING.

I teach school and am used to students JUST seeking a quick answer.  They don’t want to take the time and THINK for themselves, because thinking requires effort.

Effort

But not THIS much effort!

Let’s exercise the gray cells and ponder what the concept of ‘personal’ might include.

Let’s consider the arena of personal fitness, for example.  Just what does a personal trainer do?  He or she:

  • focuses on you by listening to your concerns and your desires
  • assesses where you are
  • creates a plan just for you
  • teaches you the program, watching to see that you get it
  • exercises patience
  • innovates when the original exercises don’t quite do the job
  • applauds your improvement whether you are a recovering stroke patient learning to walk again or a marathon runner wanting to improve time
  • genuinely feels pleasure and satisfaction when his or her client moves closer to the stated goal

Even more important, someone who is personal in whatever capacity of interaction acts INDEPENDENTLY, exercising free will.  There is nothing mechanistic or deterministic about personal attention.

Personal waitor

The meal this couple is being served is a far cry from an impersonal vending machine, wouldn’t you say?

So, let’s now think about what it means to say that God is a personal God.  First, consider what an IMpersonal god might be like. There would be only one way for ‘it’ to act, given a set of circumstances. There would be no individual attention, no taking into consideration our weaknesses and frailties.  There would be a one-size fits all series of events triggered by circumstances.  The code might be complicated, but whether I was Nancy Sue Smith or Alice Marie Jones, as long as I fit the parameters, the god would respond the same. And we wouldn’t get the sense that ‘it’ had emotions and cared one way or the other.

Au contraire, a personal God is one who (not THAT):

  • devotes Himself to His creation
  • desires our best
  • longs for us to be with Him
  • angers over sin because it harms us
  • protects us from evil
  • plans good things for us
  • delights and boasts in us
  • sees through our flimsy deceptions by looking at our hearts
  • considers himself Father which directly implies an individual relationship

God loved

  • and someone who loves
  • therefore, someone who dies for His creation

To actually FEEL the difference, think for a moment about what an impersonal deity would be like. Among what would be missing, other than all the above, here are two aspects that matter to me:

  • what I would miss most is the sense that the creator of the universe actually cared for me, that He empathized with my weakness, that he understood and that He had a plan for my good for the rest of eternity
  • there also would be no purpose to my life other than as a mechanistic cog in a system

And I’ve only scratching the surface.

Vending Machine God

Question:  If you are a theist, do you believe that God is a personal or impersonal force?  Why?

Logical Gal and the ‘good’ life

6 Aug

Good Life - Rob Lowe Cigar Aficionado  “Good” – Once again we bump up against the importance of clarity in our language.

Rob Lowe, apparently, exemplifies someone enjoying ‘the good life’.  To wit, ‘Cigar Aficionado‘  even has a regular feature by that name. Just what IS the ‘good life’?   And what is meant by ‘good’?   The word good is one of those equivocal  terms that refer to different concepts.  The differences in meaning and usage range from-

  • the moral good – John always does what is good in the eyes of God
  • the effective good – This device is good for opening cans
  • the expedient good – What good timing, that John arrived in time to take the children home
  • the good player – John is good at tennis – skilled in a sport
  • the pleasing good – Your dinner tastes good;  the photo is a good representation of me
  • the thoughtful good – It was good of you to stop by with my mail

“Yes, well….what’s the big deal?” you say.  Good question!  (in this case, good means ‘appropriate’). The rub is the time one needs to clarify meaning.   Making distinctions takes time. It’s much easier for person A to be sloppy with terms or accuse person B of a contradiction or even portray person B’s view by means of a strawman fallacy.  (Distorting someone’s argument so you can knock it) Strawman Fallacy

I heard such an exchange the other day when a young Christian man announced that God had contradicted himself, citing several places in the Bible where God claims to show NO partiality:

  • For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. (Deut 10:17)
  • ...because God does not show partiality. (Rom 2:11)

Yet, (the young man continued), God also says that He chooses some to love and some to hate.

  • Even as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. (Rom 9:13)

Perceptive young man, he was, but the key to unraveling a seeming contradiction was to clarify the term PARTIALITY. Fortunately for me (and the young man), the pastor reassuring us that there was NO contradiction was John Piper.  He clearly explained that partiality was discrimination based on irrelevant considerations.

For example, if I am hiring the most qualified person to teach French, but overlook someone’s clear lack of abilities and experience because her mother  is my friend, or due to her skill in baking goodies for the teachers’ lounge or because she and I both happened to be  born in Atlanta, then I am WRONGLY showing partiality.

But if God chooses people on whom to show His favor according to HIS wise and good criteria as opposed to how the world judges what is appropriate, then we can still say with assurance that God does not show favoritism.

Just look at how God saves people from every kind of :

  • social strata and
  • people group and
  • age bracket and
  • income level

..and people with differing levels of education and aptitudes and experiences

…and regardless of the crimes they have committed or societal good they have done

These examples surely point to the FACT that God IS impartial.

What good news for you and me.  All we have to do is act on His encouragement….

  • “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)

Jesus knocking at the door

Do you see the importance of taking the time to exercise correct thinking?  Deliberately parsing out meaning from the different distinctions is WORTH the energy.

Question: What is a seeming contradiction that the ‘world’ tends to showcase, whether in  the political, spiritual or educational arenas? 

Logical Gal – speaking causes confusion

26 Jul

confused

Words are meant to clarify….often they confuse or divide!

Last time we mentioned that even the name/personage of Jesus was unclear by itself.  Saying you rely on Jesus doesn’t communicate who this Jesus is. Is he the Mormon Jesus or the Muslim Jesus or in fact the Biblical Jesus of Christianity?

This shouldn’t surprise us.  My husband Michael is completely different from any of a number of other Michaels in the world.

So the existence of more than one concept called ‘pray’ should come as no shock.

Early in my logic learning I vowed to practice ASKING questions before MAKING my points.  One afternoon I was enjoying a massage.  The gal who was working out six months worth of knots in my neck mentioned that her mom was undergoing surgery and that she was ‘praying’ for her recovery.  My first thought was:

  • Is she actually a Christian?  After all, she just admitted that she prayed!

Praying gal

When I asked her just what praying entailed, she described:

  • sending loving, healing thoughts through the air all the way to her mom in California

Good thing I asked what she meant!  Her clarification opened up a safe place for me to describe what I do when I pray.  I explained  how I make my request to the One who has created the entire universe and now sustains it.  I ask Him to heal a loved one because I know that He is real, alive and present as well as the powerful God of love.  She didn’t say much in return, but at least she HEARD a description of theistic prayer. I didn’t explain the gospel or say anything about Jesus. My goal was modest: to make the distinction between ‘new-agey’ practices and prayer to a real deity.

*

Unfortunately, I am NOT consistent in carrying out my resolve first to ask questions! I still succumb to my desire to make my point before I understand someone’s position.  It’s not only senseless on my part, but often a waste of time. Many times I am wrong in my assumptions drawn from someone’s cursory statement about their position on a topic. Why do I rush to get my ‘voice in edgewise’?  Probably because I’m impressed with my thinking!

Pride goes before a fall!

 

Question: When were you last wrong in your assessment of someone’s view?

 

Logical Gal asks: Will you go to heaven?

22 Jul

Eternal Life

God does NOT want you to be in the dark about whether you will be with Him eternally.

John writes this assurance  to believers :

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Well, is that it? Do you feel better now?

Wait a moment, you say.

John’s statement IS a powerful promise IF….

  • We clarify some key terms – ‘believe’ and ‘the name of the Son of God’
  • We flesh out the promise, by formulating a syllogism

Just the basics of logic, right?

So what does ‘believe’ mean when it comes to Christianity?  If we substitute the word ‘trust and rely on‘ for believe, we come closer to the sense of the concept.  A Christian is someone who trusts what Jesus says, Jesus being in essence God himself. (I and the Father are one – John 10:30)

What did Jesus say?  that He came to suffer the punishment we deserve for our rebellion against God and that He came to live a perfect, obedient life which gets credited to the account of His true followers.  It’s an unbelievable 2-way exchange.  Our guilt for His righteousness. Both sides of that swap ARE the necessary work that enable us to be adopted as children of God.

Name of Son of God

Now what about His name?  That’s easier to understand.  The name represents His character and functions.  Just glance at the image above and you’ll get an idea of just WHOM it is that Christians trust and rely on!  So when someone announces,  “I believe in Jesus!” one should ask this question: Whom actually are you talking about?

Mormons refer to a Jesus who is the spirit-brother of Lucifer and was born the way you and I were born, through a sexual union.

And then there are Muslims who deny that Jesus is the Son of God or that He actually died on the cross.

Those characterizations do not fit the Christian Jesus, the eternal and perfect Son of God. Words, obviously,  can mask a great deal.

*Now for a syllogism to lead us to an assurance of salvation:

Premise 1: All people who trust and rely on the Biblical Jesus for both standing in as deserved punishment bearer AND for living a perfectly righteous life receive eternal life with God

Premise 2: Joe is a person who trusts and relies on the Biblical Jesus for…..

Conclusion: Therefore, Joe knows/is certain that he has eternal life with God

Is that it?  Well, there is a pre-supposition lurking and these are always good to uncover in ANY argument.

Gods word is truth

Yes, one must believe that what is written in the Bible IS truth.  So then the promise as recorded by the apostle John at the beginning of this blog post is reliable and valid.

Just a word of encouragement for you if you are a believer who at times doubts his or her ultimate salvation.  We can’t go by feelings OR our behavior.  The Bible does not say, “If  you FEEL close to God, or if you DO all that God wants you to do, you will go to heaven.”

Remember, there is a spiritual force of darkness whose goal it is to deprive you of  KNOWING you are saved.  He is called the Father of Lies and the Accuser.  We must choose whom to listen to.

Question: If you are a Christian, what is holding you back from resting in the security of belonging to God?

 

 

 

Logical Gal and how contrasts help

3 Jul

contrast

How to understand a new concept – that is the question!

I heard a writer say that drawing CONTRASTS brings CLARITY.

This resonated with me, because intuitively I’ve picked up seeking contrast.  Living with a mathematical and analytical kind of guy exposes me to many new concepts I would probably avoid if I could!  So when Michael attempts to explain something like ‘standard deviation’  I have NO framework at all on which to hang this new idea.  My first question in all these kinds of conversations tends to be like the following:

  • ‘standard’ deviation as opposed to what? non-standard deviation?  and is there standard ‘pattern-following‘ as opposed to standard ‘deviation’?

Those 2 questions probably sound lame, but I’m trying to fill in the blanks and mostly all is blank when I have no idea what he’s talking about.

Knowing what something is NOT establishes boundaries.  And boundaries help the mind’s eye.

boundary lines

Back to those standard deviations…..I found out that the contrast to ‘standard’ deviation was ‘absolute’ deviation.  And that ‘deviation’ refers to the spread among gathered information in a group or set of data points.

What FURTHER brought clarity was not just this CONTRASTing information, but how standard deviations could be used. Never mind how one calculates it, but the information gained from determining the SD is satisfyingly useful, even to me, Miss Non-Analytical.

One quick example: if you record your daily weight for a month and calculate the standard deviation of all your numbers (or let the spread sheet do it for you!), you  learn that 95 % of your daily recorded weights will fall within the boundary or limits of the average weight (they call it the mean)  plus or minus 2 standard deviations.  That’s the green area under the red curved line below.

standard deviations - 2

So….???  The way this is helpful is that if I step on the scale after a big meal eating out and my weight is NOT within the green area, I can say to myself:

  • Self – don’t worry.  This is just an outlier, not your norm.  Give it a day or 2 and your weight will be back in the green.  No cause to panic!

Who would have thought that an analytical concept could bring some degree of peace of mind?  Now what else have I missed?

Question:  what do you do to begin to understand or grasp a new concept?  What questions do you ask?