A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The cross and the self

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

What does it mean to "deny himself"? To "take up one's cross" and to follow?

We might, at first, be tempted to think of it in terms of the death of self. Indeed, we might then rush to tie in Saint Paul's declaration: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me!" (Gal 2:20)

Taking up one's cross in the sense that Jesus speaks of it in Luke 9 must be equated with the death of self, which is surely what Saint Paul speaks of in Galatians 2.

But then we are immediately at odds, or so it seems, with the Kierkegaard quote at the top of this blog, the quote that stands ready, like a sentry, to guard and protect and to cultivate the self with its warning - a warning so pertinent and germane to our generation, as though Kierkegaard himself had uttered it for 21st century humanity:

For a self is the last thing the world cares about and the most dangerous thing of all for a person to show signs of having. The greatest hazard of all, losing the self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. (The Sickness Unto Death p. 32-33)

But the first thing I note is that for Kierkegaard a "healthy" self is one that is connected with its Creator. Thus, "the self is healthy and free from despair only when, precisely by having despaired, it rests transparently in God." (p. 30)

But what then does it mean to "deny" one's self? To take up one's cross? Or to concur with Saint Paul and say that it is no longer I, but rather it is now Christ who lives within me?

There is, perhaps, something of a war of "selves" at work within. On the one hand, there is the pure self. This is the Kierkegaardian self. This is the self as it was made in the beginning: To rest transparently in God. Having been made in the image of God and in the likeness of God this self was meant to mirror God and be united, through Christ, with God in rest. [Crf. Heb 4]

But the denying of one's self is different. In the case of Saint Paul we return to Galatians: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." (5:24) This "self" is connected with the sinful nature, and it is this "self" that Saint Paul declares to be crucified. I believe this also is similar to what Jesus had in mind in speaking of taking up the cross, as he says in the verses immediately following: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (NIV) Other versions translate "self" as "soul," and yet the concept remains. That is, that there is a pure self, in the Kierkegaardian sense, and in order to truly understand this self - and to truly cultivate this self there must be a death. A death of desire, and a surrender to the bearing of a cross. Even more! To a "taking up" of one's cross - a willing denial in the order of Christ's taking up of his cross.

It seems as though in our age we desire to cultivate desire and passion, but to put to death the pure self that was created to transcend and to worship the Creator. In this sense, then, we have things turned in an awful reversal. Through the marketplace we seek to buy the self, when in reality we are only putting to death the purity of our selves and gratifying desire. We seek to purchase the self and only consume it by overconsumption. We buy and consume. We purchase things and consume things. We consume people and consume relationships and consume the other selves around us.

In the end we have consumed and put to death the true self, crucifying the image of God within us, and completing the disconnect with the Creator and even with other selves. What we should have been putting to death is what we rushed to gratify and what we should have cultivated is, in the tragic end, the very thing that we have crucified.

To Kim

45 comments:

Melody said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melody said...

So...kind of like in the Screwtape letters when Screwtape is complaining about how when Christians gives themselves over to God he makes them more themselves than they ever could have been on their own?

Jason Hesiak said...

What if Kierkegaard was modern (meaning that he asserted an individualized self that did not even exist some time previous)?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I read Kierkegaard as a rogue artist - confined neither by the modern zeitgeist, nor as a post-modern.

Do you see K as "modern"??? Or are you just trying to stir the pot?

Jason Hesiak said...

Actually I do kind of see K as a modern. In the sense that he challenged the authority of the church, basically in the name of individual autonomy...and not even his own individual autonomy, it seems, but individual autonomy - in general - in relation to God. So then when I hear the quote at the top of your page I hear that challenge - which belongs the the general and central thrust of modernity - as its backdrop. But keep in mind that I haven't read any K directly yet.

Melody said...

So wait, did you just base your entire opinion of some guy on a quote Jon has at the top of his blog?

Jason Hesiak said...

Melody...no...the opposite. I based my opinion of the quote on what I already knew about this "some guy", who is very famous.

Jason Hesiak said...

Erdmanian...but keep in mind that I was aware that such a statement would stir the pot :)

Melody said...

Absolutely, I bet I could stand outside Walmart and ask people their opinion on Kierkegaard.

No? Mmm, right, so famous to ivory-towered, smart people who have more than a bachelor's degree...but for the rest of us...some guy.

Jason Hesiak said...

I don't have more than a bachelor's degree. And my life is lived far from an ivory tower. And University life for a professor isn't all peachy anyway.

Would you argue with a brick wall over the merits of Starbucks?

Melody said...

Hmm, somehow I had the impression you had more that a bachelors.
Ivory towers and higher learning go together...they just do. But obviously you can't get one unless you have more than a bachelor's.

I don't see what university life has to do with anything.

Or starbucks for that matter.

Well, I'll let you get back to discussing people I don't know anything about with Jon...have fun.

Jonathan Erdman said...

How does the anti-establishment thing fit in to Kierkegaard being modern?

K was, by the way, fiercely anti-Hegelian as well as something of a fideist, suspicious of faith that rests upon reason. The latter would be at odds with Cartesian objectives.

Jason Hesiak said...

melody...university life IS the "ivorty tower" you were talking about. and starbucks has NO RELATION to a brick wall, unless you spill the cofee on the wall....hence my comment....

The Erdmanian...

"How does the anti-establishment thing fit in to Kierkegaard being modern?"

First of all, K wasn't just anti-establishment, but he was anti-Catholic-church. On top of that, he was anti the authority of the catholic church. For K the individual itself has a certain level of authority and grounding...the very authority and grounding that the church itself had always claimed to have, really. but to me that's not just a matter of church vs. modern individual. the idea of the individual's submission...ANY individual...to the larger community or communal good or the very life of the community in the first place...to me belongs to the very fabric of being that fits with the ancient picture of life and the cosmos. to me the catholic church is a particular of that ancient generality. so then to assert individual utonomy and authority the way that K did is, to me, quintessentially modern.

"K was, by the way, fiercely anti-Hegelian..."

I know. But to me they are 2 sides of a modern coin.

"...as well as something of a fideist, suspicious of faith that rests upon reason. The latter would be at odds with Cartesian objectives."

yes but to me modernity - in terms of a whole big overall picture - is of course about more than just cartesian rationality (as per the above).

ktismatics said...

Hey Jason, you're an architect -- maybe you could design an ivory tower with a brick wall around it?

Jason Hesiak said...

funny there Erdmanian. how bout if we feed the monster at the top of the tower with starbucks to keep him at bay.

Jason Hesiak said...

OH CRAP THAT WAS THE DOYLOMANIA! sorry, dude. i mistook you for a tornado!

ktismatics said...

"'Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.' (Gal. 5:24) This "self" is connected with the sinful nature, and it is this "self" that Saint Paul declares to be crucified."

Surely you are aware, Erdmanian, that what this corrupt translation calls "sinful nature" is "flesh" in the Greek. This makes it sound as if Paul had studied under Augustine.

"Having been made in the image of God and in the likeness of God this self was meant to mirror God."

Why "mirror"? Why doesn't it mean that we are already just like God?

"to truly cultivate this self there must be a death. A death of desire"

I commend to you my exegesis of this passage in Galatians and my contention that for Paul the desires of the flesh come not from the imago dei but from the law, which can be found -- assuming, that is, that Blogger's comments are handling html properly today.

Jason Hesiak said...

And oh yeah! What if the wholse "sinful nature" thing doesn't really add up either? That was the other thing I meant to comment on, and forgot. So far as I know, there is, in a sense, only one Ground. But with K's individual autonomy and the Protestant "sinful nature," then everything that exists suddenly starts to look like a Ground.

ktismatics said...

Nope, I guess Blogger is failing again today.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
"Having been made in the image of God and in the likeness of God this self was meant to mirror God."

Why "mirror"? Why doesn't it mean that we are already just like God?


"image of God" is a vague term. That's why I use the mirror metaphor. I don't know, for sure, what it means that we were created in the image of God, but as I explore various aspects of human nature, such as the issue of desire the metaphor of imaging God seems to make sense as it is applied to becoming a more authentic individual. To say that we are "just like God," however, seems to stretch the metaphor farther than it can go. We "image" God in some way or another.

I remember your posts on exegeting desire and your interaction with Paul. I recall agreeing quite a bit with the majority of your main points - pretty much the same thing with the post you provided above. Obviously, I prefer Paul over and above the atheist route, but that's just a difference of preference...or desire???

You said: my contention that for Paul the desires of the flesh come not from the imago dei but from the law,

I'm confused by this. On this post my basic direction is to say that putting off the "flesh" (sarx in 5:24) is what enables one to rediscover Kierkegaard's notion of self. Actually, it is something of the opposite: That one who is consumed by the desires of the "flesh" is thereby unable to connect with the true self of which Kierkegaard speaks. The discovery of authentic self is when I then contend that one can discover more truly what it means to mirror God.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I don't follow the "Ground" theme, and why do you see this as a negative thing?

ktismatics said...

"Obviously, I prefer Paul over and above the atheist route."

Hey, I'm playing on your turf here -- I don't see anything in what I say that demands an atheistic slant. "Image and likeness" is I think a lot more than "reflection," and I think it's important to acknowledge that. If we're only reflections then we have no substance, so we'd better find somebody to animate us, and Jesus is as good a choice as any I suppose. But if we're like God, then we're self-animated.

The whole Galatians discussion is about the uselessness of the Law. It's not the old story of how we can't in our own power obey it. Rather, it's about how the Law itself creates the fleshly desires that are prohibited by the Law. In Romans 7 Paul makes this same point. So the "flesh" isn't natural urges corrupted from the Fall; it's those urges as perverted by the Law. "I through the Law died to the Law that I might live to God." I'm no longer motivated by what's prohibited, but by what I'm drawn to.

Even as I'm writing this my daughter is in the kitchen getting some ice cream, after already having 4 cookies. I tell her (which I rarely do), "you should eat more regular food and less of that junk." To which she replies, "you realize that just makes me want it more." I said, "you're exactly right."

The "no longer I but Christ" is weirdly zombie-like, I grant. But then the verse continues "and the life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith..." So I'm still alive somehow, no? The Cross revealed that the powers behind the Law will kill you. But presumably Christ came back to life after he died, and so does the person who dies to the Law come back to life in the flesh. He no longer lives tormented by competing desires to obey and to disobey the Law; rather, he has faith that his God-imaged inner drives now move him toward God.

Jason Hesiak said...

"I don't follow the 'Ground' theme, and why do you see this as a negative thing?"

Well, firt of all I don't necessarily see it as "negative," like blatant sin or something. I see it as more of simply an untruth...and so negative by extension.

As for your not following it...I don't really know what to say to that. What was it that I said specifically that you didn't follow? Besides my use of the the term "Ground"?

samlcarr said...

I like the confusion. It tells us that we are missing something rather central. Could it be that the key lies in the Erdman's economic musings towards the end of this post?

For Jesus the cross was his route to putting all others above his own 'self'. "Take up the cross" is then an invitation to each to do the same.

When others (other selves) are more important to us than our own selves, then rather than consumption for self gratification, we would have something else entirely, a new economy, based on deferrence to others needs, perhaps.

"love one another as I have loved you" "greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life..."

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
the Law itself creates the fleshly desires that are prohibited by the Law....Even as I'm writing this my daughter is in the kitchen getting some ice cream, after already having 4 cookies. I tell her (which I rarely do), "you should eat more regular food and less of that junk." To which she replies, "you realize that just makes me want it more." I said, "you're exactly right."

Your insight about the Law and your emphasis on it as something that makes desire more intense and more difficult to manage is an important contributions.

Would you say, though, that desire is completely a production of the law? In other words, if there were no law then would desire disappear? Probably not. In your illustration your daughter's desire for ice cream is present prior to law, but something is stirred with the presence of law. Perhaps rebellion?

Tie that in with what Sam said and the idea of consumerism. Desires seem to be the desire to consume and consummate.

At the point that law enters the pictures do desires now want to consume even the law? So, that now there is not just desire to consume, but the law that would threaten the consumption of desire? Like a forest fire that suddenly has new kindling?

Sam's thought on love would, in this case, be the opposite of desires as an all-consuming fire.

Or is love just a different kind of "desire"? One that doesn't consume, but that self-sacrificially gives grace and empties one's self for God and neighbor?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

Are you saying that the individual autonomy is a "ground" for Kierkegaard? If so, then this would make him "modern," right? A kind of "screw-the-system, man" mentality that goes-it-alone???

What about Protestant sin nature? How is this a "grounding"? Or were not saying that it was a grounding?

Could one perhaps say that K was a Descartes in his own right, but that rather than reason he saw faith as that upon which one would "ground" one's self? If so, for K it was not a secure ground. His faith was an intense struggle and his life filled with a sense of failure and despair. His ground was a bit more shaky than Descartes.

ktismatics said...

"If there were no law then would desire disappear? Probably not."

I interpret Paul as saying that desire WOULD disappear, that dying to the Law kills the desires of the flesh. I think Paul frequently uses "desire" as a technical term, referring specifically to corrupted drives. So you can have a taste for ice cream, but the taste becomes a desire when it confronts someone saying "thou shalt not" or "moderation in all things." Then the taste becomes a craving, a coveting, intensified and insatiable. It's neither the taste nor the law itself that causes this corruption: it's the interaction between the two that's incompatible.

Here's Paul in Romans 7:7-8 -- "I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COVET.' But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead."

The word “covet” here is the same Greek word that’s translated as “desire” in Galatians 5 -- "I would not have known about desiring if the Law had not said, 'you shall not desire.'" The law turns natural tastes, drives, etc. into a lack that you are prohibited from filling. Desire is the urge to remove the sense of lack that's both created and prohibited by the law. To seek fulfillment of your desires isn’t just to seek natural satisfaction; it is to violate the prohibition that created the desire in the first place. That’s why desire is sin in Romans 7. And that’s also why fulfilling your desires can’t satisfy you. Desire = prohibition; fulfillment = violation.

When Christ sets you free from the Law, he eliminates the prohibitions that create desire, which in turn eliminates the temptation to violate the prohibitions. Is the Law evil? God forbid. Is human nature evil? God forbid. It's the interaction of the two, of human drives and commands to restrain them, that's bad.

You can see the law-desire interaction already at work in the Garden, where the mere act of prohibition stirs up desire. The curse God metes out after the Fall has nothing to do with depravity or the impossibility of doing good. In the very next chapter God tells Cain not to be so pissed and demoralized: "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" The fallen human nature interpretation doesn't really take hold until Augustine. For the Catholics you get rid of original sin through baptism. It's Calvin who really pushes depravity back to the Fall, and who makes it not just a technical flaw to be removed by ritual but a besetting human condition.

"It is for freedom that Christ set us free," says Paul at the beginning of Galatians 5. The Spirit brings freedom from the Law, from prohibition, from desire, from violation. Someone who remains enslaved to the Law experiences desire as a corrupted fusion of passion and prohibition. The Law-bound person can never do what he wants, not just because what he wants is prohibited, but because his wants are themselves distorted by the prohibitions attached to them by the Law. Under the Law want is inextricably bound to the desire to sin. There is no freedom in this kind of desire. But the Spirit releases want from prohibition, fulfillment from violation. Only in the Spirit are you free to “do the things that you please.”

I'm not saying that Paul is arguing for licentiousness here. I think he's saying that, without the artificial prohibitions imposed by Law, which serve mostly to turn natural drives and tastes into unfulfillable lacks and cravings and urges to violate, someone who is led by the spirit will find that his passions spontaneously find themselves moving toward natural, god-like fulfillments.

This implies that people may also have instincts to love one another, if that instinct isn't stifled by prohibitions not to be selfish. Whether these are natural image-of-God instincts or post-resurrection infusions of Christlikeness is a separate topic.

The economy runs not on fulfilling natural tastes and passions but on stirring up desires -- artificially-induced lacks and cravings for products that can never satisfy, because desire feeds off its own lack.

I won't be offended if you don't engage in detail on this stuff, which I worked on for a week at Ktismatics. Nor do I say that this reading explains everything. I just ask that you give it an opportunity to percolate without feeling compelled to argue against it. Besides, you're at the office with more pressing things to attend to.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
I won't be offended if you don't engage in detail on this stuff, which I worked on for a week at Ktismatics. Nor do I say that this reading explains everything.

Not at all. These thoughts have a direct bearing on the things that are bouncing around in my mind on this topic.

To say that your reading does not explain everything is important, but it takes nothing away from what seems to me to be an accurate (or at least legitimate/justifiable) reading of Paul's view of L/law. At this point, I think the view of law in relation to desire explains on part of what desire is and how it operates. It is, undoubtedly, an important one. And one that I have tended to overlook.

Let me ask this as I try to sort out the implications: How do you view Paul's own "laws" that he sets down for the churches. He tells them to not do certain things, quite emphatically at times. And, as you say, Paul is not advocating a moral free-for-all. So, Paul may talk about the law producing evil desire, but then he turns around and lays down laws, which, by implication, would then stir up evil desires, right?

How do you read Paul's own imperatives to the churches as it relates to his analysis of the law???

There's also a verse in Philippians 3 that came to mind:
2Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.


Paul here seems to be saying that he was "righteous" in terms of law. How does this tie in with commentary on law producing fleshly desires. Is Paul saying that he was able to overcome these and still be "faultless"???

samlcarr said...

Ktismatics reading of Galatians, Romans and Paul's discourses on the law are a fascinating study in themselves, but however one reads the gospels, there is little of Paul's theology evident in Jesus's words. This is not to put the two in opposition but on the contrary, it is by meditating rather deeply on Jesus and his messiahship that Paul comes to his own conclusions about the meaning of freedon "in Christ".

The ground on which Paul's theology is set is in fact the same cross that Jesus urges his disciples to take up. This act of love is what will result in transcending the law not least because the law itself is only a stopgap whose purpose is societal even while it perhaps points to the higher ground that Jesus saw in it.

ktismatics said...

"Paul here seems to be saying that he was "righteous" in terms of law. How does this tie in with commentary on law producing fleshly desires."

Jesus said that whoever lusts after a woman commits adultery in his heart. One can comply with the law outwardly, yet the law works its way into the flesh, creating the desires it intends to suppress. This sort of lustful desire is itself sinful in Jesus's book, and in Paul's too. So even though Paul was blameless behaviorally, he recognized the inner turmoil generated by interaction of flesh and Law that kept him in thrall.

I too wonder why Paul issues his own thou-shalt-nots. Maybe he just got pissed off and frustrated. Maybe he was being a psychologist, proclaiming laws in order to induce desire in his readers -- just trying to demonstrate to them how the whole thing works. Again, the laws themselves aren't evil, so Paul's prohibitions aren't wrong. They just end up inevitably being useless at best and provocative at worst.

Jason Hesiak said...

"Are you saying that the individual autonomy is a 'ground' for Kierkegaard? If so, then this would make him 'modern,' right? A kind of 'screw-the-system, man' mentality that goes-it-alone???"

Yeah I think modernity produces both the system and the individual against it. K seems to have been one of the early folks who stood against it.

"What about Protestant sin nature? How is this a 'grounding'? Or were not saying that it was a grounding?"

I was in fact referring to the "nature" of something as a kind of ground. The nature of something is like the grounds upon which it acts. Both in the sense of a ground to stand up on and appear in the world, and in the sense of a "grounds" with a set of limits, in the sense that the limits of the "grounds" determine the limits of the "field" or "range" of actions.

I don't think that sin is itself a ground...a "nature." I think one of the basic or essential things about modernity is the fact that things that once were considered objects in the playing field, so to speak, action figures if you will (to refer to a figure/ground relationship), begin to be taken as grounds themselves.

I think you could make the argument that this was partially the case back in the day when like a Roman Emperor was worshipped as a god, but I think it was different then. That involved a different relationship between what is hidden and revealed.

The most significant part of the ground is what's underneath. The emperor can do what he wants; he doesn't really have to SHOW his reasoning to anyone. But in modernity: A) everything is forced out in to the open and B) things that appear out in the open - and not just the "surface" of the ground - are taken themselves to BE grounds.

"Could one perhaps say that K was a Descartes in his own right, but that rather than reason he saw faith as that upon which one would 'ground' one's self? If so, for K it was not a secure ground. His faith was an intense struggle and his life filled with a sense of failure and despair. His ground was a bit more shaky than Descartes."

I guess that would make sense. But a true ground isn't really secure to the figures standing on it, becuase the bulk of the ground - and the very stuff that truly makes it a ground - does not appear to them. But that's I think a major point of tension these days in philosophical discussions. A basic aspect of modernity was to push everything that lies underneath out into the open (i.e. expository preaching). Then folks react to that B.S. by pointing out the rediculousness of it and also along with that pointing out the illusory nature of our contemporary ideas of "security." Then those who think they are more "secure" shoot back with automatic accusations of "relativism" ect.

But then those at whom they are shooting believe in a kind of shifting and moving ground, I think. Which I don't agree with. I do believe in a created "nature" of man (and only one of them), which is good.

Jason Hesiak said...

Speaking of a "sin nature" as a "ground"...

"The fallen human nature interpretation doesn't really take hold until Augustine. For the Catholics you get rid of original sin through baptism. It's Calvin who really pushes depravity back to the Fall, and who makes it not just a technical flaw to be removed by ritual but a besetting human condition."

And Doyle - after reading the following - I think I understand better what you were saying in your Galatians thing.

"I'm not saying that Paul is arguing for licentiousness here. I think he's saying that, without the artificial prohibitions imposed by Law, which serve mostly to turn natural drives and tastes into unfulfillable lacks and cravings and urges to violate, someone who is led by the spirit will find that his passions spontaneously find themselves moving toward natural, god-like fulfillments."

"How do you view Paul's own 'laws' that he sets down for the churches. He tells them to not do certain things, quite emphatically at times....I too wonder why Paul issues his own thou-shalt-nots. Maybe he just got pissed off and frustrated."

I think maybe those would have been rules rather than laws. Where rules are like a subset of Law that are strategically implemented in the actualization of Law. Meant as regulations ("rules") on how to act in such a way at to draw nutrients from the "higher ground" (to reference Sam, who I am about to quote). Like regulations on how to LET the nutrients be drawn from the ground as they "naturally" tend to do. Instead of how we usually view "rules", which are as objects or hedges that restrict our movement. We usually don't view rules as things that participate in the natural order of things and ALLOW it to occur (fully), but we usually view rules as things that hinder our desires.

I like:

"This act of love is what will result in transcending the law not least because the law itself is only a stopgap whose purpose is societal even while it perhaps points to the higher ground that Jesus saw in it."

Jason Hesiak said...

"Yeah I think modernity produces both the system and the individual against it. K seems to have been one of the early folks who stood against it."..."Could one perhaps say that K was a Descartes in his own right, but that rather than reason he saw faith as that upon which one would 'ground' one's self?"

I am in my mind, however, making a distinction between Descartes and then later folks who we now actually term "individualists." Such as K or the American Romanticists. I also distinguish between K and the Romantics, but I think that both K and the Romantics were "individualists" in such a way to to be distinguished from Descartes.

And there is something about K that relates him to the Romantics in such a way to to be separate from Descartes, as well, in terms of how he (and the Romantics) seems to relate to "nature" (his "fiedism" seems to be significant here). In other words, there seems to be a kind of correspondence between how K and the American Romantics relate to "nature", both of which are different I think from even Descartes.

Jonathan Erdman said...

K:
So even though Paul was blameless behaviorally, he recognized the inner turmoil generated by interaction of flesh and Law that kept him in thrall.

Is it constructive to introduce the "law" vs. "Law" distinction? That perhaps there is a law written upon the heart (Romans 1-2) that is distinct from Sinai Law (capital "L").

The same principle would apply, however, in that as soon as conscience says, "thinking about her that way just ain't right," we find it even more desirable.

This would seem to be the same in regards to conscience as triggered by social/ethical constructs. The difference between this and the "law written upon the heart" would be difficult to distinguish, of course.

I too wonder why Paul issues his own thou-shalt-nots. Maybe he just got pissed off and frustrated. Maybe he was being a psychologist, proclaiming laws in order to induce desire in his readers -- just trying to demonstrate to them how the whole thing works. Again, the laws themselves aren't evil, so Paul's prohibitions aren't wrong. They just end up inevitably being useless at best and provocative at worst.

Maybe Paul was just realistic. He knew the effect of law, but also that laws were necessary. This is something of what I picture deconstruction as: Seeing that necessary ideals/values/etc. ultimately might undermine themselves. But knowing this does not (contra the alarmist absolutists) necessitate that we do away with these things.

samlcarr said...

Seems to me that most of Paul's 'prescriptions' are more in the line of suggestions than edicts. Jesus on the other hand was quite definite about how his law of love would work itself out in practice, and in relationships.

Scholars seem quite uncertain as to how much, if any, of Jesus ethical teaching Paul was familiar with but I find that it makes a whole lot of sense for not only Paul but his hearers also to have become as familiar as they can with whatever Jesus traditions were made available to them.

In fact, it seems to me to be quite in line that the pericopeal nature of the teaching means that it was intended to be the heart of the teaching of 'the gospel'.

So, if Jesus has already spelled out 'the way' of the cross, then one is less than surprised by Paul's own reticence to be overly prescriptive, though the fellowships were not likely to be in much doubt about his opinions.

ktismatics said...

Sam, the reader is left to wonder whether Jesus or Paul is the more radical teacher, whether Jesus or Paul is more foundational to the theory and practice of Christianity. We usually interpret Jesus through Paul; I wonder what happens if we were to interpret Paul through Jesus?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hesiak:
Like regulations on how to LET the nutrients be drawn from the ground as they "naturally" tend to do. Instead of how we usually view "rules", which are as objects or hedges that restrict our movement.

Dude, that's, like, organic.

Based on what you say here, it sounds as if you are close to what I call the sensus divinitatis or perhaps even imago dei. These are two concepts that I think may have overlap. That is, SD might be a part of what it means that we are image bearers.

Jason Hesiak said...

Totally dude. But I usually try to avoid the term "organic" really, because I think it is highly colored by our American Romantic notions of "natural landscape paintings" and crap. I think God's "rules" are embedded in what is "oranic." To us the term "organic", though, usually itself connotes a certain "freedom" from those darned restraining "rules."

samlcarr said...

what happens if we were to interpret Paul through Jesus?

Very often scholars seem to prefer giving Paul precedence. Paul is considered to be the architect of Christianity - the one who took a local prophet-martyr's tale and set it philosophically on the world's stage.

Chronologically too, the Pauline epistles are considered to be much earlier and therefore much purer sources than the gospels. We generally don't try too hard to redact Paul!

I don't disagree with the appreciation of Paul's importance but the fact remains that not much attention is paid to Paul's gospel, or perhaps his gospel is seen through a very un-Jesuslike filter. The resulting distortion splits apart Paul (and us) from the one who inspired him.

ktismatics said...

Though I understand that emerging types are re-emphasizing the narrative parts of Scripture, there are aspects of Pauline theology that merit another look. Paul's discourse on the law is one of them, since it opens up a more interactive and dynamic way of looking at the tendency to sin. The idea of a corrupt imago Dei centers sin in the self, which in turn makes salvation into a kind of self-therapy -- which is the foundation of modernistic self-help in the secular culture.

samlcarr said...

The Erdman's favorite SD and ID combo! Yes, Paul definitely warrants much more than just another look! But I sense that something will always be missing unless it is recognised that he is centered on Jesus teaching, the way of discipleship, where the self becomes attracted to the Teacher and the resulting transformation of the self begins a process that removes both the dependence on law and the dependence on the faulty ID.

Freedom is always 'in Christ', whether we know it or not and that I think is again implied in Romans 2 as well as in much of Jesus teaching: You will know a tree by its fruit &c.

Jason Hesiak said...

"The idea of a corrupt imago Dei centers sin in the self, which in turn makes salvation into a kind of self-therapy -- which is the foundation of modernistic self-help in the secular culture."

Yeah but:
A) the imageo Dei doesn't have to be the foundation for modernistic individual ego-centered...whatever...
B) you could easily and justifiably place the imageo Dei in the community just as well as the individual, thus obviously negating the whole modern individualistic thing.

Jonathan Erdman said...

K:
Though I understand that emerging types are re-emphasizing the narrative parts of Scripture, there are aspects of Pauline theology that merit another look.

Very true.

Paul's discourse on the law is one of them, since it opens up a more interactive and dynamic way of looking at the tendency to sin. The idea of a corrupt imago Dei centers sin in the self, which in turn makes salvation into a kind of self-therapy -- which is the foundation of modernistic self-help in the secular culture.

I'm wondering if the issue of desire is one that can be explored on a variety of levels and from many, diverse perspectives. Paul's challenges centered on L/law. That was the most important context within which to develop theological reflections and dogma. The context had changed since Christ walked the earth and this necessitated theological reformulation. (Crf. the author of Hebrews and his recontextualizations of the OT.)

I agree with the Golden Ass in that imago dei can be explored within the context of community. (One might also tie in the communal nature of the Trinity.)

Is "self help" then a negative context within which to explore desire? I can't help but think that one reason people need so much help (myself included) in understanding basic human existence is because so much of what we do has changed contexts - consumerism, information age, digital age, the era of addictive disorders, etc. I think this is what Heidegger and Wittgenstein in their own weird ways were starting to explore as they lamented the turn of culture into technological domination. Could they have imagined life as it exists now???

Jason Hesiak said...

"I agree with the Golden Ass in that imago dei can be explored within the context of community. (One might also tie in the communal nature of the Trinity.)"

Jurgen Moltmann, dude(s)...

Jason Hesiak said...

http://www.pulpit.org/articles/the_triune_god.asp

I haven't even read this whole link...I just know that Jurgen Moltmann applies here...I did a search...and this is where I ended up...