Thursday, December 08, 2005

Word of the Week

DISSIPATION, n. (From Webster’s 1828 Dictionary).

1. The act of scattering; dispersion; the state of being dispersed; as the dissipation of vapor or heat.
. . .
4. A dissolute, irregular course of life; a wandering from object to object in pursuit of pleasure; a course of life usually attended with careless and exorbitant expenditure of money, and indulgence in vices, which impair or ruin both health and fortune.

Example (from Webster): What! Is it proposed then to reclaim the spendthrift from his dissipation and extravagance, by filling his pockets with money? (I’ll resist the urge to run off on a political editorial here).

Dissipation. What a good word to explain human sinfulness. In our rush to simplify English vocabulary, we are losing some rich and descriptive words.

When people do not have the fear of God before their eyes, they do not hold onto the truly valuable things. Sex, money, spiritual experiences – whatever serves for momentary pleasure – is wrenched out of its God-given context and scattered to the wind; this is what the pagans do (even many that would consider themselves Christians).

While the goal of the worldly pleasure-seeker is satisfaction, when they live for themselves, they are throwing God’s good gifts to the wind; they are wasted, lost, dissipated.

I began thinking about this word because I was reflecting on 1 Peter 4, particularly verse 4: They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you (NIV. Instead of dissipation, other versions have debauchery, ESV; excess of riot, KJV; join in with the old gang, The Message ;) ).

My BAGD Lexicon allows for ‘dissipation’ as an option for defining asotia in 1 Peter 4:4. Strong’s Concordance suggests that this word may be a negation of sozo, ‘to save,’ that is, ‘not saved.’ Hmm. I’d love an expert opinion on that. BAGD doesn’t mention this word relationship. I am not a Greek scholar – I just have a couple of rusty semesters from seminary a decade ago (sorry, Clint).

I was thinking about this word as I was driving to Edmonton yesterday with my family. What led me to post on this subject however, were the thoughts that came to mind as I sought to identify dissipation in our culture. Yes, the usual suspects of money and sex are prime examples of pagan dissipation, but what about the big picture?

Could the Western fascination with eastern religions (albeit quite superficial in most instances) be a reflection of a culture of dissipation? Isn’t the goal of Buddhism, Hinduism and New Age spin-offs ultimately a form of dissipation? Ceasing to exist as an individual and being absorbed into the cosmic – whatever – that is Nirvana!

In secular paganism, the trend to scatter cremated remains seems to speak to this philosophy of dissipation, while the Christian instinct to bury bodies and treat them with respect speaks to a hope of resurrection. I don’t mean to offend here, cremation vs. burial is not my point here, but rather what the scattering may represent to people without faith in Christ.

Many people believe that this physical dissipation after death is all that there is at the end of life. God declares that there will be a resurrection of everyone, not just believers (Daniel 12:2), and all people will stand before God’s throne of judgment.


Clint said...

I'm no expert, Terry. I'll weigh in nonetheless.

Louw-Nida's Lexicon of semantic domains describes 'asotia' as "behavior which shows lack of concern or thought for the consequences of an action - 'senseless deeds, reckless deeds, recklessness "

I don't see any link to sodzo (I save)in the NT contexts(pos or neg) without reverting to a root-fallacy (eg. butterfly-->butter + fly?).

However, your connection between the English word "dissipation," the greek word 'asotia' and our culture is poignant. The order of beauty and the truth of goodness which should reflect the rulership of Christ over man is disordered, scattered and 'dissipated' by sin.

Keep fighting the vocabulary fight, Terry! In our culture's attempts to redefine sin it is great to see a solid word retrieved that concretely confronts us once again.

Thanks for the insight.

stauf46 said...

Thanks, Clint!

I appreciate your insight and encouragement.