Back to the beginning: Reality From Language – OGB #4 Genesis by Robert Alter

Reality is how we talk about it. In times of chaos and change, it’s helpful to backtrack to some fundamental order and start over. Genesis (translated by Robert Alter 039331670X) is one example we can read to remind ourselves what’s real.

Bottom Line Up Front

What if reality is a chaos soup: cells and atoms bouncing around. Humans evolved to survive and thrive in the chaos soup over many lifespans. To do this, the collective consciousness of humanity started to recognize patterns in the chaos. They did this by bootstrapping a biological tool: language.

This tool gave the emergent human collective brain a way to set order from the chaos. Humans recognized the cells and atoms consistently bouncing around into a drinkable source of water. We named “stream” as a “drinkable source of water.” This shared understanding gave power to each individual within the collective to navigate the world using “streams” for drinking water and finding fish. This ability is so powerful and so unlikely that it seems God-given. Genesis explains the origin of reality as the use of language. Furthermore, the text relies on the same tool to communicate itself down through generations of humans.

Example

In Genesis, God speaks reality. In the first six days, God creates things. The biblical text follows a structure of God “saying” things, then God saying the words, which results in: “so it was.” Creation comes from speaking into being.

“And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered in one place so that the dry land will appear,” and so it was.” (Alter, 4)

Since the steps of “saying” and “so it was” are separated by an “and,” it’s not clear whether God does two actions or one. It seems as though the speaking suffices without any other action. Speaking is the magic here: by invoking language to call a pattern of chaotic soup into a name which can then interact with other named things. Humans can then navigate this system of named representations much better than the chaos soup.

Every word has meaning and contributes to reality. How we use language builds our world. Being honest and speaking truth builds a more durable reality.

Was language the reason why reality exists as it does to us today? Could God use any other tool to create this reality other than language?

Praying intentionally as a way to gain patience, oneness, and optimism

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Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

In April 2018, I began to pray. I had never really tried that hard to pray before. I had learned to pray before meals and pray before bed. Both of which are important. But the words I was reciting felt empty and meaningless. Inspired by Pastor David Platt and my renewed interest in spirituality, I began praying more intentionally. I tried a different approach.

I started to speak from my heart with meaning. I did not ask for things I want, rather I asked for guidance. And before asking for anything, I submitted myself to gratitude. I said, “Thank you, God. I am so grateful for the blessings you’ve given me. I don’t deserve any of this, and yet you’ve chosen me.” When I pray, I hear an echo in reply. I don’t know from where the echo responds. But the voice guides me when I submit my weakness and ask for help. It gives me answers and hard truths.

God is many things to many people. I changed from asking for things I don’t have, to thankfulness for what I already have. This is because I realized who I was talking to: God. Jordan Peterson put it best in his conversation with Sam Harris. I understand the gravity and magnificence of God in these terms:

God is how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence of an action of consciousness across time; as the most real aspects of existence manifest themselves across the longest of time-frames but are not necessarily apprehensible as objects in the here and now…

So God is that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth. That’s a fundamental element of the hero mythology.

God is the highest value in the hierarchy of values; that’s another way of looking at it.

God is what calls and what responds in the eternal call to adventure.

God is the voice of conscience.

God is the source of judgment, mercy, and guilt.

God is the future to which we make sacrifices and something akin to the transcendental repository of reputation.

Here’s a cool one if you’re an evolutionary biologist. God is that which selects among men in the eternal hierarchy of men.

-Jordan Peterson, https://youtu.be/jey_CzIOfYE

Since I’m still early on in my spiritual journey, I am interested in my own relationship with God through prayer. I’m not interested in telling everyone else what to do. In my personal experience, my prayer resulted in newfound patience, self-integration, and optimism.

I became more patient because I stopped asking for things that I wasn’t getting. Instead, I asked for guidance and strength in the face of difficulty. And even then, I knew that the world could crash down on my family and me in an instant. Through it all, I would get what I need, not what I want. This meant that I learned patience. Usually, I demanded results and progress. But I soon discovered that I often don’t know what’s best for me. And I receive what’s best slowly.

I became more self-integrated. As I spoke from my heart, I said whatever came naturally. That is genuinely what we care about – not what we want ourselves to care about. I began to notice the things that bubble up to my thoughts, but I don’t flesh out. Maybe because I’m embarrassed about them. Instead, I give them to God through prayer. And when I put them into words, God accepts them and replies with an answer. In this way, I accept myself as speaking these words, because God accepts me. I could say what I think is the worst thing, but if God responds and accepts me regardless, then I can own this part of me without ignoring or suppressing it. In this way, I can integrate the not-so-good parts of me and control them, instead of suppressing them and risking that they overcome me.

Lastly, I have a newfound optimism. So far, I’ve shared the deepest thoughts of my heart to God, and he still calls me forward. In this way, I know that there’s nothing that I can do that will separate us. Of course, I’ll make mistakes as I search for the best path toward the good life. Calamity will happen and test or break my will. But I can rest assured that I will not be alone through the adventure.

I should pray about the things that I don’t understand because I need help in those areas. If I pray the same way every time, and I ask questions that I know the answer to, I don’t gain anything. By digging deep and intentionally building a relationship to God through prayer, I have more patience, self-integration, and optimism.