Everything Everywhere All At Once: Nihilism, Irrationality, and the Search For Meaning

Keep in mind that I still (I think) really like the film Everything Everywhere All At Once

And I am definitely elated to see the film single handedly carrying independent cinema on its shoulders with its surprising theatrical run. It is one of the more important film stories of 2022 on a number of levels.

The more the film persists in conversation however the more it intrigues me to see the ways it is translating to people with differing perspectives and worldviews in different ways.

One of the key aspects of the film on a thematic level, and a theme that I find people don’t always recognize is actually there in the film, is the problem of nihilism and it’s related form fatalism. Key to this theme is the question of meaning. If all of existence is inherently meaningless how then do we find meaning in this world. Do we create it? Do we make it where it otherwise wouldn’t exist? Is meaning an illusion? A simple trick of the mind that can be manipulated?

Where this film.has fostered division is in its wrestling with this question in light of the problem of suffering and evil. And I found this divide to exist irrespective of religious/non-religious lines. Some feel like in its efforts to answer the problem of nihilism it essentially romanticizes existence while ignoring the problem of evil and suffering, pretending like it doesn’t exist or suggesting that we can ignore the problem in favor of our own happiness. It appeals to the illusion of meaning by pretending it is true and creating a logical fallacy in its wake that can’t hold water when held up to the light of reality. Others find it to be message that says there can be meaning in this world, and that the answer to the problem of evil and suffering in the world is to be kind and enjoy life. This is, for some, what frees us to call existence meaningful.

Within this are people who had legitimate emotional responses to the film on both sides of the fence. Some walked away from it feeling duped and plagued by hopelessness. Others walked away feeling liberated and hopeful. Which is precisely why I think this film makes such a fascinating case study when it comes to how we tackle some of these big and weighty philosophical, and even theological issues. As I’ve been watching and engaging in some of these ongoing discussions, which have resurfaced in light of the films recent physical and digital release, I’ve been reminded a lot of Justin Smith’s A History of the Dark Side of Reason. In that book Smith argues that we all, religious and non-religious alike, depend on irrational claims when it comes to meaning making processes. It is when we ignore this truth that our meaning making processes become potentially dangerous and ignorant and, as Smith argues, more irrational in the negative sense of the term.

If there is a key takeaway from Everything Everywhere All at Once it is perhaps this- that we can’t tackle the problem of nihilism without appeal to irrational belief systems that allow us to assume meaning in an otherwise meaningless existence. I have seen professed atheist critics suggest that this film is a polemic against religious delusions. What they miss by doing this is not only their own appeal in this film to a delusion of reality, but the potential of their view to deal with evil and suffering by ignoring the problem and pretending it doesn’t exist and is not a problem. Likewise, those who found the film to be an expression of hopelessness or, at the very least, dishonest in its whitewashing of reality, miss the film’s appeal to the idea that all of us, religious and non-religious, are engaged in necessary meaning making exercises that depend on irrational belief systems in order to be upheld. When this point is missed there is equal danger in using our claims to meaning and truth to ignore the problem of evil and suffering.

Somewhere between those two potential divides is a pathway to greater truth and greater meaning. Perhaps the most pointed observation contained within the film’s interest in nihilism is the fact that one of the very real outcomes of embracing Irrationality is that it holds the power to shift our focus from oursleves to the other. That seems to be the point where meaning is able to surface. I’m not convinced the film gets the relevance of its own message- it is possible it falls into the trap of romanticizing an idealistic vision of the self and the world at the expense of the very real problems inherent within, but it does present potential for further fruitful discussion to happen across divided lines.

Tolkien, The Ring of Power, and the Power of the True Myth

I always find it a lonely space to occupy as a considerate Tolkien fan and follower. There remains an inevitable divide between those who miss his ability to critique his Christian worldview and allegiances while also very intentionally writing stories and creating treaties steeped in what he saw as the “true myth” of Christ which could make sense of all the worlds stories.

My deep and abiding love for the recent Tolkien biopic contrasts with criticisms from the Christian world saying it betrayed his Christian convictions, missing the ways it captures his critique of the Tradition he holds dear, while my deep and abiding love for LOTR and related stories contrasts with those who remain critical of christianity and/or those who do not believe in christ who write disertations and think pieces meant to distance LOTR from anything Christ-centered, missing how his stories also operated as a critique of the world at large that he occupied in time and space from within his Christian worldview.

The Inklings remain the product of the perfect confluence of time, space, culture, circumstance, and opportunity. Something unlikely to be replicated but which remain an inspiration, and for me Tolkien remains one of its most captivating voices, a timeless critique that slices through the center of our divisions with something more hopeful. This article captures some of that with the recent Amazonj limited series.

“Why does America need to remember Tolkien again? Because we’re mired in Westeros, playing the game of thrones. When you hear words like “fight fire with fire,” or “make them play by their own rules,” or “punch back twice as hard,” or “wield power to reward friends and punish enemies,” you’re hearing an ethos that declares, “win or die.”

“Tolkien wasn’t naive. He knew that world. He’d confronted it directly. That’s why characters like Boromir or Fëanor resonate so strongly. In the quest to confront the enemy, you become the enemy. Yet faithful people understand, in Faramir’s words, that they “do not wish for such triumphs.” Instead, they fix their eyes on the “high beauty” that is forever beyond the shadow’s reach.”

Schools In: A History of American Education and Recovering the Need For Wisdom

An interesting podcast episode on the history of the American Education system (with obvious overlap here in Canada, albeit with a slightly diffeterent emphasis) to kick off a new school year.

Interesting to note the religious roots and how secularization also emerged as a way of controlling ideology and assimilation.

Uncovers a common tension between the accumulation of wisdom and economic interest.

I was also reminded of Louis menand’s book The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War.

There he touches on the historical development of post secondary education and the creation of and rise in America of a distinguishable youth culture. The formation of later high school grades and post secondary college/universities were established so as to extend the market of youths who were seen as the engine of Americas economic machine and its enusing appeal to an emerging culture of individualism. Thus this formulated a culture that isolated youth from the same family systems which governed the rest of the world, the image of the “youth” becoming the new symbol of eternal life and the aged person being relegated to a burden.

A reminder that when we invest in educated societies we are investing in wisdom as a virtue, and wisdom as a virtue always leads to the betterment of the whole. That is the value of education that we find in the ancient world where art and theology and philosophy were seen as equal to and of the same mind as the maths and sciences. It is when we exchange wisdom for economic function and a need for progress that we end up with something quite different, which then tells us something about the ideologies lying underneath the systems.

The Dangers of Ideology and the Discovering the Worth of Uncertainty

Came across this article recently and I thought it provided a great discussion on the dangers of ideeolgy both within religion and within society at large. Sparked a question for me- how do we hold to the hope that Jesus represents in and for the world while also recognizing that true intellectualism asks us to uphold the necessary questions and uncertainty that can drive us to greater wisdom.

Here’s a paraphrased quote:

“We live in an age of ideology. The world is complex and hard to understand, so we look for a theory that can help make sense of things. This is understandable. Throughout history, people made sense of the world through cultural and religious traditions. But as the world has become simultaneously more connected and more secular, as our awareness of complexity has increased while religious and cultural traditions have weakened, people now exist with a heightened sense of uncertainty. Many of us are unmoored, finding it harder to make sense of the world—and making it more attractive to latch on to simple explanations. This need, along with several other influences, has created the conditions for increased ideological thinking and an inability to consider different perspectives…

What is ideology and what are its sources? Ideology is not merely a set of ideas or principles that one believes in. We all have that to some extent, and it is essential to live one’s life. By ideology I mean a theory that purports to explain reality. One way to understand it is: Ideology is the opposite of philosophy… Human beings don’t like complexity, and ideology provides the comfort of a sure answer.

Philosophy—philo-sophos—is the love of wisdom and the pursuit of truth.

Here I am addressing Christianity, though I think it applies equally to Judaism, religion does not claim to explain everything. God creates and calls us to participate in, and complete creation. We have to figure things out on our own. We have to use our intellects to engage in philosophical and scientific discovery. There is no full solution to the problem of life… properly understood and practiced, religion is not ideology, because by its very nature it is open to revelation. Religion is a simple response to reality. It may not be correct, but like philosophy, religion is a response to something outside itself, whereas ideology is a closed system.”

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On: The Space We Occupy

Some thoughts on this film partly inspired by this Podcast conversation

First, this is a perfect example of the kind of film you might not think requires the big screen experience, but if you have the chance i would say absolutely engage it in that setting, not only because it deserves and needs your support but because it’s built on a very intentional use of size, space and setting that cannot be fully appreciated (or understood) on the small screen.

Second, the use of size, space and setting becomes a way of building the films themes in a surprisingly emotional way, something the above Podcast helped to give words for. The film is both about loneliness and togetherness. Isolation and community. On the first front we get a series of scenes fleshing out how loneliness breeds fear in Marcels life, although this isn’t made immediately clear. The way he sees the world is with a contemplative and compassionate spirit that desires to see the best in things and in others. And yet what remains uncertain is his own expectation of himself.

There are a couple key sequences that help bridge the loneliness with this sense of togetherness or connection. One significant one is when Marcel is given a chance to see beyond the confines of his home. He is taken for a car ride where he is able to see the city from the top of the hill. It’s a scene that uses his smallness to contrast the bigness, at once exposing his smallness in relationship to his surroundings but also opening him up to the vastness of the world that does surround him. This scene operates in dialogue with an earlier one where he posts a video and watches it go viral. In this scene he seems big in relationship to the computer screen, inviting him to wonder about the vastness of these comments and its relationship to real community. This is a point where the full length feature film morphs into an interesting commentary on the shorts that inspired it.

As these two scenes collide it then moves us into a picture of togetherness and connectivity, imagining this process emerging from necessary points of transformation, something that comes when Marcel opens himself up to the possibility of change. What he longs for can only come when he learns how to let go of that which holds him in place. A way of seeing himself in relationship to a much bigger world, all of us bound together by way of the common spirit that draws all things to itself.

Finding Beauty in the World

From N.T. Wrights On Eartb as in Heaven:

“If the earth is full of God’s glory, why is it also so full of pain and anguish and screaming and despair?

Isaiah has answers for all these questions, but not the sort of answers you can write on the back of a postcard. The present suffering of the world- about which the biblical writers knew every but as much as we do- never makes them falter in their claim that the created world really is the good creation of a good God. They live with the tension. And they don’t do it by imagining that the present created order is a shabby, second-rate kind of thing, perhaps (as in some kinds of Platonism) made by a shabby, second-rate sort of God. They do it by telling a story of what the one creator God has been doing to rescue his beautiful world and to put it to rights. And the story they tell indicates that the present world really is a signpost to a larger beauty, a deeper truth.”
– N.T. Wright

Trading Individual Salvation For God’s Faithfulness to the World

Call it Protestantism. Call it Reformed Theology. Call it American Evangelicalism. Call it Calvinism. Call it Western Christianity. Call it whatever you want.

But this is the version of the Gospel I grew up with- I sinned, my sin needs punishment, God took the punishment on my behalf so that I can be saved.

Now, we can spin this version of the Biblical story in both directions in order to say that the ultimate point of being saved is_____ (fill in the blank), but that doesn’t change the fact that the point of the story is shaped around me and my salvation. From this flows anxieties about assurance, theological systems intended to speak to these anxieties by way of implementing a grace-works divide, and necessary depictions of Gods character and action needed to fit the punitive and penal form of such a Gospel.

But what if scripture is asking a very different question? What if in scripture the question surrounds the faithfulness of God rather than the individual? What if the central question we encounter is, how can we know God is faithful to who God has revealed Himself to be in name and action? In other words, how can we know that Jesus accomplished what He said He did “in the world”, which is liberating a world enslaved to the Powers of Sin and Death, a metaphor and an agency that allows us to give what is evil a face rather than making humanity the face of evil.

This is, I believe, what shapes the anxieties that we find in the lives of the Biblical authors, their audiences, and the characters contained within. What would happen if the Western Church decided to abandon its hyper focus on individual salvation and started to think bigger in terms of Gods saving work “in the world”. Would it heal divisions? Shape our hope differently? Shift the emphasis from us to them?

I genuinely believe this is the most crucial question concerning the familiar debates in the Western Church regarding “individual salvation”, something scripture never makes to be the main part of the storyline. A renewed creation is in fact just that- a renewed creation. Does this include individuals? Of course. But the questions and anxieties change when we set this in proper perspective, within the larger narrative of the Biblical story. It shifts our view from us as the central point to what God is doing in the world. It shifts our view from the future to the present. It shifts our view from faith as a necessary and defining doctrinal statement to faith as participation in what God is doing.

The ancients would never have questioned whether grace was a gift or whether faithfulness was necessary. Both were assumed by those formed by Law (Torah). The question for them was, rather, if this is who God said His name was by way of his acting in the world, how can we know this is true when the world appears to look the same as it was. If this is what Gods covenant promise said God would do, how can we trust this when reality looks different. This is a fundamentally different concern than “am I saved” in the modern sense of the question. Those asking this question in scripture were asking it because of what they had seen and heard regarding Gods name and work in the world. And in scripture they are asking it from two different directions- as those faithful to the Torah and as those standing outside of those boundary markers. What must I do to be saved is fundamentally attached to the question that would have been clear to anyone in the ancient world- the defining marks of loyalty to a patron god or ruler. This is what makes the revealed nature of Israel’s God in name and action so powerful- this is a God who came down the mountain to dwell with the creation, the God with us incarnated in flesh and blood, the God who breaks down boundary markers in order to demonstrate a name and action that is “for the world”. This is what gets missed when we make the Gospel all about individual salvation. The free invitation to individuals and communities and nations and collective parties to participate in the saving work of God is actually what flows from the salvation story.

The I of Romans 7: Resisting the Need for Opposition

Romans 7:7-20
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”a]” style=”font-size: 0.625em; line-height: normal; position: relative; vertical-align: text-top; top: auto; display: inline;”>[a] 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.b]” style=”font-size: 0.625em; line-height: normal; position: relative; vertical-align: text-top; top: auto; display: inline;”>[b] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

I’ve been relatively quiet for a while on my continued journey through Paul’s letter to the Romans, mostly because I found that much of my study has been challenging and reforming old paradigms and belief systems as I go. Better to let it settle.

This is one learning that has been sticking with me however, relating to the above verse. It came from Jackson Wu’s wonderful book Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission. He tackles the confusing and much debated shift in chapter 7 from we to “I”, challenging common readings that attribute this passage to Pauls own confession and experience. To do so, Wu writes, is to lose site of the larger narrative concern Paul is painting and can lead us to hear Paul setting his Jewishness against his belief in Christ as well as feeding theologies such as the “total depravity” of the human race unnecessarily.

Wu sees the “I” as assuming the voice of Israel and maintaining the collective vision of Israel’s story. He writes,
“Why does Paul use “I” to refer indirectly to Israel? How does the extended monologue of Romans 7:7-25 relate to the “you” and “we” of Romans 7:4-6? Paul is mindful not to give wrong impressions about fellow Jews. By speaking in the first person, he lumps himself with Israel, needing Christ’s redemption like all who come from Adam.”

This in effect has three primary implications-

  1. Wu writes,
    “What gets lost amid the shuffle of proof texts supporting one view or another is the fact that “I” presents himself as sin’s victim, not merely a perpetrator of sin. He is deceived by sin. He has no ability to do the good he desires but is compelled to do what he hates.”
    To put it in other terms, Paul is not shaping some systematic doctrine regarding the depravity of the individual but rather articulating the story of Israel as a means of addressing the present Greek-Gentile-Jew divide within the Roman Churches in a world that shares their enslavement to the problem of capital letter Sin
  2. It shifts our focus from placing humanity as the primary opposition to God, common with Reformed circles, and places the focus on the problem facing humanity in its divided state- capital letter Sin, which is itself the very expression and agency of Evil that stands opposed to the goodness of God and God’s creation. Wu writes,
    “Paul in effect puts sin on trial. ²³ Having upheld the rightness of the law, he now vindicates the “I,” who represents Israel in exile due to sin. Sin enslaves them just as Pharaoh did their ancestors. The prophets foretold a new exodus that would bring God’s righteousness. As with Pharaoh, God uses a sacrifice to condemn sin (Romans 8:3). This reflects a purpose of the Passover lamb—to “execute judgments on all the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12; Numbers 33:4). Once sin is put to shame, the Spirit of Glory leads God’s children not back to Canaan but into a renewed world (Romans 8:9-30; 4:13). In short, Paul looks forward to the ultimate hope of the “I.”
  3. It prevents us from equating flesh with the world as though this is the Evil we in the Spirit must oppose. In fact, a crucial part of Paul’s argument regarding the Law is that the Law reflects the inherent good that exists in a world enslaved to Evil. This is why God’s revealed nature/image comes by way of God’s action in the world and God’s call to the whole of humanity to recognize their true nature as image bearers for the sake of the world. This tendency within Reformed Theology to erase distinctions so as to reassert a theology of the total depravity of all humanity misses what Paul is doing in Romans in erasing boundaries for inclusion in the Kingdom of God. This is why the phrasing “all in Adam” runs into a wall with the phrasing “all in Christ”, and why some Christian Tradtions supply interpretative moves by interpreting the all differently. The problem is such a move undermines both the problem and the hopeful solution by applying one universally and one only partially. This collapses the necessary parallel, What Wu’s careful analysis does is reframe the “all” to describe two competing realities laying claim to the true identity of God, humanity and creation rather than allowing the I to turn humanity or the world into the necessary enemy of God. The Law is the expression of fundamental, rudimentary truths evident in the world that give definition to what is good and what is evil according to its potential to oppress and liberate. Adherence to the Law in a formative sense within the life of Israel is both to locate goodness in God and thus in God’s creation and to proclaim the hope that God’s faithfulness to this goodness in name and action brings to a world enslaved, a world that seems forever mired in oppressor-oppressed paradigms. For the I to locate this very tension within the story of Israel is to move towards Paul’s larger concern for healing the divide between Greek-Gentile-Jew in the Roman Church, a healing he locates within the hopeful expression of Christ as the fulfillment of Israel’s own story and the means by which we can trust that God is in fact faithful and true to the covenant promise to be and act for the sake of the world.

Social Conformity, Tradition and The Opinions that Matter

This quote stood out for me. I read it at the beginning of summer but it has been sticking with me. As it says, “how we look at other people also
shows our standard of honor and shame”, and so many of the sins we wrestle with daily come down to this. How we look at others affects what we strive to protect in ourselves. How we see others is intimately related to how we desire others to see ourselves which is the basis of much sin. And sadly we too often use Traditon, customs and history to mask this fact as Christians.

“Paul’s words challenge us to examine our
hearts to identify those whose opinions matter
most to us. Who, with a single comment, can
make or break our day? Who can most easily
change our mind or crush our spirit? These
questions reveal our motives and our moral
compass. How we look at other people also
shows our standard of honor and shame.
Whom do we criticize or praise, and why?
Shame is usually associated with noncon-
formity, yet conformity also can be an expres-
sion of sin. As long as we satisfy social expec-
tations, we can handpick certain sins to con-
demn while we ignore others. So long as we
gather with people who agree with us, we can
overlook our own vices. We face the subtle
temptation to use tradition, custom, and his-
tory to justify behaviors or attitudes as normal
and right.

Community, denomination, and cul-
ture mask our injustices and insecurities.
We scarcely hear the voice of conviction
amid the applause of a crowd. Those in the
church might confuse social conformity and
godly character. We secure good reputations
by following social rules. At the same time,
those norms can blind us to sin. No one is free
from sin simply because other people do not
know about it. Greeks boasted in wisdom, yet
this is precisely why they excused prejudice to-
ward “foolish barbarians.” ²⁰

As with wisdom, many of God’s gifts can
become reasons for shame.”

– Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission (Jackson Wu)

Discussing Romans 3 and Romans 10: A Snapshot of Some Online Discourse

Thought I would post a couple threads from one of my online groups where I was walking through Romans. Romans 10 in one thread and Romans and in the second Romans 3. In the Romans 10 discussion I am jumping off a statement regarding faith as best rendered faithfulness:

Excerpt 1

So what will really blow your mind is entertaining faith in its proper context as faithfulness or allegiance.

How does chapter 10 begin?
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”

So who is the audience? A majority if not all Gentile community divided over whether one needs to be a Jew in order to follow Christ. And the concern is if not, then what was the point of Isrsel. Some of the Gentiles this is addressed to have been degrading and looking down on Jews, others have used their insistence that they must become Jews to look down on those who are not doing so.

So this is primarily an appeal to the worth and privilege of the Jewish story, the story of Israel. It functions as a kind of apology for rumors caused by Pauls ministry that he has been degrading his own Jewish heritage. He wants to clear the air and demonstrate that he is not doing this. Quite the opposite. Here he is pointing out the zeal they have for their faith, and yet this zeal did not/does not have the knowledge of Christ as God’s righteouness, righteousness meaning the right ,making work of God. But they do have the Law, and Christ is the fulfillment of the Law.

A couple points there. One possible reference is to the unusual problem that Jews in general have been rejecting Paul’s Gospel. If this is the case then this is important because such rejection does not diminish them or their story in Paul’s eyes. Again, Paul is demonstrating the opposite based on his telling of the story of Israel and why it matters. A part of Paul’s larger point is those under the Law are bound by it, and those not under are not bound by it. But both must be true to that which gives conscious to their faith, or their faithfulness, meaning their participation in the saving work of God in Christ. This is the point of the Law bring written on the heart rather than stone, itself an OT reference.

Paul’s point is, if the Gentiles are not bound by the Law, meaning circumcision (so not the reformed idea of works of the Law), then Israel likewise can’t be held accountable for never having heard the Law of Jesus.

This is where Paul then goes on to say “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Christ comes “so that” everyone who believes can have righteousness, meaning participate in the right making work of the kingdom of God (so not the reformed idea of moral righteouness).

Here we come to a contrast-
Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them”

Followed by a “but”: “But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”[b] (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’”[c] (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”

So what is the contrast? If the focus is on the Jew-Gentile question of needing to become a Jew (under the Law) to follow Christ, then what this contrast is pointing out is boundary markers. What is the “these things” Moses is speaking about? Ritual Law (such as circumcision and sabbath keeping and sacrificial gift giving) and Torah (in a formative sense). These are the boundary markers. The contrast in righteousness by faith is, don’t say who ascends and who descends, rather the righteousness that is by faith says, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” For the ancient hearer of this letter in Rome they would have been transported back to Sinai here. Only what Paul is doing is breaking down the boundary markers so as to say,

“Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[e] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.”

Paul’s concern is for establishing the Gentile in Christ as one who is not under the Law, meaning they have not been circumcised. What is crucial to note here is that Paul, in the letter as a whole, is not diminishing the role of the Law nor the need for Jews to follow and abide by it. The Law is how they are formed by the Kingdom of God.

From this point Paul is connecting the hearing and believing passage, which comes in the form of a question (how) and a admonition (bring the good. news);
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[g]

Remember, this is speaking to Gentiles. What is the good news? That they are saved by faith. Why is this good news to Israel which, as Paul is about to show, resisted God’s hand (the story of Israel)?

Paul begins here with a statement-
“Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself.” And he attaches this in the same way we see in the story of Elijah- a faithful remnant. Why is this good news. Paul goes on:
“What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened.”

This leads to a repeat of the what then question.a second time:
“Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!”

Now here is where it gets really good. “Because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”

Who’s transgression? This is talking about the hardened, not the remnant. So what about the hardened? “If their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

So why is this good news? This goes back to a problem Paul has addressed earlier. There are circumcised who are not faithful and uncircumcised who are faithful. So where does this leave Israel and the Law? Why does the Law then matter at all? It matters because it tells the story of God’s faithfulness. That is the point of the remnant. And in God’s faithfulness hope comes to the whole of the world. Paul goes on to link himself with the hardened, saying he hopes his ministry makes more gentiles envious. This is one of the great reasons why Paul wrote the letter of Romans, is he is trying to sell his mission to Spain and create a great foundation to step off from in that endeavor within these Roman communities. They are the ones he is telling to send the good news. To whom? To the ones disparaging the Jews by saying the Law doesn’t matter and those disparaging the ones not under the Law by saying the Law does matter. Why? Because Paul wants that foundation to be strong and healed..

How much more will their (the Jews) inclusion bring. Paul concludes by saying “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way[e] all Israel will be saved”

This is why this passage is not speaking of a spiritual Israel, but rather Israel itself. And I will add this. This is also why when it says “saved” it is not talking about Indivual salvation in the way we Protestants have been trained to think of it. It is talking about who and how one or a whole is made free to participate in the kingdom of God. This is why Paul’s ongoing appeal to faith as in “faithfulness” earlier is so important. Salvation is not indivual salvation but Gods faithfulness to the promise through the work of Jesus in and for the world, and what flows from this good news is, here in Romans, about the who and the how one can participate in the new reality Christ’s work brings about, which concerns the Jew-Gentile question directly. That is the primary concern of Paul’s unfolding argument in relationship to the Jew-Gentile question and the place/role of the Law (circumcision as a necessary boundary marker). If Israel stumbled and was hardened, then the fact that Gentiles not under the Law are following Jesus, which means faithful Gentiles participating in the Torah, which is fulfilled in Christ, is good news to the stumbling and hardened story of Israel because this means that unfaithful Israel under the Law can be saved by faith, meaning they can participate in the new reality Jesus brings about through faithfulness. They don’t stand condemned under the Law in terms of a broken covenant, they stand liberated in faith because of Jesus fulfilling the covnenant.

Excerpt 2

So, assuming you see the scripture he is referencing as Romans 3:23, if I point simply to the work of Beverly Gaventa, Michael Gorman, Scott McKnight, and Aaron Sherwood, all of whom penned important commentaries on Romans and who sit within different Tradtitions, and all who would strongly contest that verse saying anything about total depravity or a universal sinful nature, would you accept that as proof? I can add a bunch more to that mix.

First of all, the phrase “deserving death” is a theological imposition from the post being lobbied back on to Romans 3. If you follow Paul’s flow of argument in Romans he begins with the particular (speaking to a majority if not all Gentile community of Christ followers divided over whether one needs to become a Jew to follow Christ or not), and then moves to set it within the Genesis-Exodus story, thus bringing in a cosmic point of view. This is done to parallel the liberation of Israel with the liberation of the whole of creation in Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension.

This leads us to Romans 3 which, again, is speaking to a majority if not all Gentile community of Christ followers. The key emphasis? That division above. Beginning with 3:1

“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?”

Followed by this in verse 9,
“What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage?”

So what’s between these two questions?

Paul’s use of the interlocutor (a fictional Jewish opponent to Paul’s claims about establishing the importance of the Jewish story in relationship to the Gospel coming to the Gentiles “apart from the Law”) raises objections. Some key points? The Law is not works in the Reformed sense but circumcision, and righteousness is not moral righteousness but rather referring to who and how one is able to participate in the Kingdom of God, meaning do they have to become Jewish or not. The natural objections of the interlocutor flow from the fact of the story of Israel apparently reflecting failure, so what then was the point of it. Why say it mattered.

What would be the advantage of a Gentile who becomes a Jew, meaning under the Law if there are circumcised people who are not faithful and uncircumcised who are faithful?

Here Paul answers his fictional opponents question of whether Israel is then meaningless and a failure with

“Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin”,

He fleshes out the story of Israel later to demonstrate why there is an advantage to being under the Law, but here he is telling the Gentile story in relationship to the Law. To make his point here Paul cites the OT to demonstrate a story of Israel being held accountable to their unfaithfulness, pointing out that “whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law.” Again, what’s in view here when it speaks of the Law? Circumcision and I would add Torah- the identifying markers. Later on he is going to fully flesh out that these markers still matter to Jews because they are expressions of their allegiance to the Kingdom of God and therefore relate to their conscious awareness of this faithfulness/allegiance. For Gentiles not under the Law it is not in the same way. Paul’s larger purpose then is collapsing the division this creates.

This is the point then of verse 20,
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

Righteousness again is not moral righteousness but dealing with who and how one participates in the Kingdom of God. No one being made righteous is not a phrase that denotes salvation by works. It is about who and how one can participate in the Kingdom of God, meaning it is about boundary markers.

Now we come to the central issue leading to the division –

21But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify”

To which Paul says, effectively collapsing the categories of the divisions,
22This righteousness is given through faith in h Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,

Key interpretive issue here- does it read faithfulness to or faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Either way faith requires a proper recasting in terms of its force of meaning towards allegiance and obedience. For what it’s worth I think the general consensus is that it is referring to the faithfulness of Christ relating to Gods faithfulness to the promise.

Then we get to the pivotal moment:
23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

The actual phrasing is for all have sinned and “lack” the glory of God. Glory is a word that implies image and presence, meaning the true image. Meaning, just as Israel neglected their true vocation as image bearers so have the Gentiles. This is NOT making some statement about total depravity or suggesting that God needs to punish sin with death to satisfy His wrath. That’s not only a bad defintion of Gods wrath given the same community he is working to celebrate has been said to be a recipient of this wrath because of their participation in Sin, storing up the wrath aimed there for themselves, it makes no sense of Paul’s larger concern and argument. The emphasis here is on uniting Jew and Gentile in the story of Gods faithfulness as a matter of who and how one participates in the new reality Jesus has brought about (the new liberated creation). All have sinned and lack the glory of God is more of an invitation to faithful participation than a condemnation in this context, and the entire emphasis is not on a sin nature but a shared reality emphasized in verse 9 as “all under the power of sin.”

Here Paul adds,
“All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

What is the grace gift? The work of Jesus which is Gods faithfulness to the Covenant promise. And what is Paul emphasi,emphasizing as the good news of this gift?
26he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

In other words, in line with his argument thus far it is “faithfulness” or allegiance to the Kingdom of God that breaks down boundaries to who and how one can participate in the new reality Christ brings about. As Paul is going to show, it is the story of Israel then that is good news to the gentiles and Vice versa.

“27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.”

Why no boasting? Because anyone can freely participate on the basis of faithfulness. Does this diminish the Law?
“Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”

Meaning that we don’t diminish those who are not under the Law and those who are under it should uphold it. Gemtiles do not need to become Jews to follow Christ, amd Jews do need to obey the Law to follow Christ because of the Law writte on the heart of all. What this means is that neither should ridicule or diminish the other on this basis, as all share the same reality of living in a creation enslaved to Sin.