The Problem of Definitions

“Time for the random passage of the day,” I say jokingly.  I open the bible to a random place.

I open to Corinthians.

“Expel the immoral brother,” I say reading the heading.  “That is the verse of the day.”

“Well, are you immoral?” Mark asked.

“How do you define immoral?” I asked back.

“Well, someone who is not moral.”

“Well, then what is a moral person?”

This is the question of questions.  There is a major problem trying to define almost anything because people often use the negative or the opposite to define it.  This has brought me to a major question in my life.  What is a definition and how do we know what anything is?  For instance, we ask the question, “What is moral?”

Is it someone who doesn’t do certain actions?  If so, then we are defining moral by what you don’t do.  If you do define moral by a set of actions that you do, then we define morality situationally.  For instance, if one says a moral person helps people, then we have limited morality to helping people.  Does this mean that a person who helps animals is not moral?  Perhaps it would be better to define moral as someone who helps, but we then have to figure out what it means to help someone.  We know that the world “help” has a certain denotation in the western world.  We certainly could continue on in this debate trying to define what it means to help someone, but it is very difficult to show this without examples or without criteria that somehow limits the definition of “help.”

In the same way, we have difficulty with words like “God” because we do not want to limit the definition of God by saying “God is [fill in the blank].”  We do not wish to do this because we do not wish to limit God.  It is true that God is good, but is not also true that God holds wrath?  It is true that God is love, but it is not also true that God is capable of anger–even if it is the most righteous kind of anger?  We find ourselves again and again at a loss to describe God.

As I write this, I realize my finite abilities in even writing any of these words.  Language is a powerful thing.


3 thoughts on “The Problem of Definitions

  1. Well, for the record, I was joking. But yes, it is true nonetheless. The cool thing, or rather, a cool thing about God is that our definition of Him doesn’t change anything about Him. God is still God regardless of whether we call Him loving, fatherly, or wrathful.

    And I think morality is treated well in The Divine Conspiracy in the first chapter. Although, I don’t think Willard actually defines it.

  2. All of the Prophet (saas)’s words, decisions and measures have led to good and positive results for believers as well as mankind. Al-Qaadir (The Able) (The All-Powerful) He is the One Who is able to do as He wills. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone.

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