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The Christian Self, Part II - Meaning, Ambiguity, Co-Creation
THE CHRISTIAN SELF SERIES
Part II: Meaning, Ambiguity, Co-Creation
“Meaning” = “the end, purpose, or significance of a thing”
Meaning ≠ Truth
“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking
makes it so.”
- Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2, lines 250-51
“Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild
animals and the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see
what he would name them; and whatever the man called each
living creature, that was its name.”
“Ambiguity” = “doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention”
-What is freedom?
- Is it better to be happy or to know the truth?
- Is intelligence the same thing as wisdom?
- What did Sally mean when she told Sam that “everything’s fine?”
- What did Sally’s death mean? Her life?
- What does Christ mean when He says that “few shall find the narrow gate?”
Genesis 22 – Abraham told to sacrifice Isaac. How old is Isaac?
“A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered?
‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not
adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your
father and mother.’
‘All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give
to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him
and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.’”
AMBIGUITY IS PURPOSEFUL
Eric Auerbach – Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in
the Western World
Biblical Style – “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Homeric Style – “Awe and wonder.”
Why is the Biblical Style the Biblical Style?
Without ambiguity, without some flexibility of meaning, the will is not free.
Creation of meaning is the primary mechanism for the assertion of the will.
Ambiguity results from the difference between the infinite (God) and the finite (man, but
also everything else).
In the establishment of free will, there is a (partial) withdrawal of God from us, so that the
absolutism of the infinite does not overpower us, stripping us of our individuality.
AMBIGUITY AND FREE WILL
Secular Existentialism and Christian Existentialism
“Existence precedes essence.” – We start our philosophical discussion
from the premise that things are, not what things are.
Secular existentialism leads to the idea that there is no meaning in the
universe. See Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Albert
Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, etc.
This leads to existential angst.
“If nothing we do matters, the only thing that
matters is what we do.”
THE “SACRED PARADOX”
Secular Existentialism: There is no meaning.
Secular Humanist Existentialism: Because there is no inherent meaning,
the only meaning is the meaning that humans make. Humans make
meaning; that meaning has power.
Christianity: In creating, God has given meaning to everything
Ambiguity is the space between the two halves of the paradox.
Søren Kierkegaard: God and the love, hope, and faith that flows
from Him are the only solution to existential angst. See The Sickness
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
The indirect style of Christ’s teachings.
“…life is ambiguous because it unites essential and existential elements.”
-Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 29
“essential” – (absolute) meaning created by God
“existential” – relational meaning created my Man
“So my life oscillates between the possible and the real and requires the surrender
of the one for the other—the sacrificial character of all life.”
-Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 42
Ambiguity is, by definition, doubt.
The resolution of ambiguity, that is, the creation of relational meaning, is an act of faith.
The Christian places her faith in God, as revealed through scripture, tradition, reason, and
experience, when making meaning and resolving ambiguity.
Though we cannot fully understand essential meaning because of its source in the infinitude
of God, God nevertheless whispers hints about essential meaning (i.e. truth) to us. See C.S.
Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 1, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the
DOUBT AND FAITH
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MAKING
“If we survey the Law in another point of view, it is supreme, unchangeable reason;
it is unalterable rectitude; it is the everlasting fitness of all things that are or ever
John Wesley, “The Original Nature, Property, and Use of the Law”
Our responsibility: Aligning essential and existential meaning.
Making Meaning and sin.
Is our ability to create (particularly meaning) what makes us “in the image of God?”
Unlike God, we cannot create ex nihilo.
Instead, we create through reference and relation—by taking things that are and
combining them to make something new.
IN THE IMAGE OF GOD?
See Anne Foerst, God in the Machine: What Robots Tell Us About Humanity and God.
Fiction writers—particularly fantasy writers.
Sir Philip Sidney
In Defence of Poesy (1579, published 1595)
The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1580’s)
“Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad
-Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2, Line 226.
The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval. The human mind,
endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction, sees not only green-grass,
discriminating is from other things (and finding it fair to look upon), but sees that it is
green as well as being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that
produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incarnation in Faerie is more
potent. And that is not surprising: such incantations might indeed be said to be only
another view of adjectives, a part of speech in a mythical grammar. The mind that
thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would
make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still
rock into a swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did
both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we
have already an enchanter’s power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that
power in the world external to our minds awakes. It does not follow that we shall use
that power well upon any plane. We may put a deadly green upon a man’s face and
produce a horror; we may make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may
cause woods to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, and put
hot fire into the belly of the cold worm. But in such “fantasy,” as it is called, new
Form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”
My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I
learnt in the nursery. I generally learnt it from a nurse; that is, from the solemn
and star-appointed priestess at once of democracy and tradition. The things I
believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy
tales. They seem to me to be entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies:
compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion
and rationalism are both abnormal, though religion is abnormally right and
rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of
common sense. It is not earth that judges heaven, but heaven judges earth, so
for me at least it was not earth that criticized elfland, but elfland that criticized
the earth…. But I deal here with that ethic and philosophy come from being fed
fairy tales…. I could note many noble and healthy principles that arise from
them. There is the chivalrous lesson of ‘Jack the Giant Killer’; that giants should
be killed because they are gigantic. It is a manly mutiny against pride as
such…. There is the lesson of ‘Cinderella,’ which is the same as that of the
Magnificat—exaltavit humiles. There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the
Beast’; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable.
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, “The Ethics of Elfland”
(1)Everyday questions of meaning are writ large in
fiction and fantasy.
(2)World-building in fantasy lays bear the process of
(3)Literature causes us to question the meanings
we’ve given to the things in our life.
WHY IS FICTION SO POTENT?
WHY DOES ALL OF THIS MATTER?
(1)We are called to participate in the world and in the
making of meaning.
(2)We have a responsibility to bring the kingdom of
heaven to earth; we do this (in part) through the
existential/relational meanings we assign things.
(3)The co-creative process is essential to spiritual