Wednesday, December 02, 2009

2 Entropy

After a two week hiatus for Thanksgiving, attached to this week's eNews is the in-some-places anticipated second chapter of “the book.” To my surprise, I've actually received a modest reaction from internet readers expressing delight and interest in the first chapter. I truly hope the work continues to pay off.

This week's chapter was quite difficult to work on, especially because when dealing with areas that are not ones own expertise (like the small amount of physics which introduces the chapter) one always must be careful to get the facts straight. Here's hoping! Also, there are footnotes. I'd like to put them "on each page" but you can't really do that online, so you'll have to scroll to the end if you want to read them. Most are Biblical references, and I've included that quoted text right there.


The problem is decay. Along with the rest of us, you are caught up in a life-long epic struggle to make life about you, and this has everything to do with the kind of world we live in. When God created humans, he made us to live in an environment surrounded by strong feelings of well-being and personal assurance. As revelation tells the story, God did not create you to live in the middle of a spinning, uncontrollable chaos. He made you fine-tuned to live in a safe environment, a place where you would always have full certainty that all your needs would always be met.1 You were made with a built in need for security.

The problem is that the world we live in is not very secure. The whole planet rolls out of the wrong side of the bed every morning into a dangerous uncertainty, full of constant change and chance which bring with them inevitable friction. Even though all of human history represents one grand attempt to force some kind of stability onto our environment, a lingering shadow hangs over even the best golden ages and epochs, not to mention the best days of your own life. This is the shadow of decay.

When physicists were plying their trade during the rise of the modern era, one of the chief scientific problems confronting them was explaining the problem of “waste heat” and energy losses which the newly made engines and mechanical devices plainly displayed. What they found was what later came to be called a Law of Thermodynamics, that nothing ever runs with 100% efficiency. As engines convert energy to work, some of that energy is lost. This energy loss effects the environment around it giving the entire observable universe a bizarre tendency towards disorder. Nature almost perfectly is tuned to degenerate into a state of greater and greater disorder – greater and greater entropy.2

Now all of this is less a lesson in physics and more a fancy way of saying what grumpy old men have been saying on front porches since time immemorial: the world is falling apart. Entropy, the tendency of our world towards disorder, presents a phenomenal problem to a bunch of creatures who, by nature, cannot stand to live in uncertainty. The entire effort of civilization arises precisely to combat this great inconsistency. Each of us lives floating between the delusion that there aren't any problems at all and a full-throttle personal attack on the disorganization of the world in the hope that by some herculean effort we might succeed in creating a source of security which won't fail us.

It's as simple as weeding the garden in order to feel better and as complex as the efforts of Caesar Augustus to stem the bleeding of the old Roman Republic. History is the story of men and women who are caught up, one by one, in a war against the decay of the world. Mankind fights both together and alone to impose order on the disorder. He builds walls against the hostility, erecting safeguards, pillars, fortresses and even religions. All of these are his efforts to convince himself that somehow this life is worth living after all. The problem is that all of this hasn't fixed the problem. Not one bit.

Stuck In the Middle of It All

Rome fell and the weeds came back. The problem with both civilizations and people like you and me trying to establish a source of security is that whatever we use is part of this same system which is plagued by the “energy loss” we want to escape.

It goes like this. You need something to feel secure, so you find something to cling to, anything, from a caramel latte to a million dollar home. Let's call it a security blanket. But that security blanket is still a thing in this insecure, decaying world. Before long the security blanket is no longer doing its job of securing. Rather, it has become your ever-vigilant job to keep your security blanket safe. It is the only thing that matters. It dominates your thoughts and actions. You can't live without making certain that nothing has happened to it. If your security blanket were lost, so would be all your security. Your security blanket is, in fact, incredibly insecure, and it is then up to you to sacrifice whatever it takes to secure it. You must secure your source of security.

But the entropy is everywhere. Nations are decaying and religions are failing and fortresses blow away like a house of cards under the winds of time. All the things we lean on turn out to be unreliable. Worse than that, we find them leaning on us. The idols of ancient paganism are the prime example. Statues of wood and stone erected to protect the people from all manner of evil must be cared for, cleaned, and defended. So our quest for security leads us into an endless war waged in protecting those things that were supposed to protect us. The more sources of security you create in order to protect your security, the less secure you actually become as you are forced to fight all the harder in order to juggle their countless needs. The richer you get, the more money you need to keep it all safe. The more powerful you are, the more power you need to protect yourself from those who want your power. The more you scrap and scrape to establish a safe life, the more you increase the risk, pain, strife and worry that must inevitably come to bear when that safety is lost.

You've got a bucket with a hole in it. You've got an engine losing heat. You've got a planet where entropy is one of the laws built into nature. And there you sit, relentlessly pursuing a life about you because who else is going to get you the security you can't live with out? But the more you tie it down, the faster it unravels. Over a lifetime of the things wearing thin, you start to wear thing. The battle has chipped away at your very ability to breath, until at last you, just like the rest of us, are thrust into the finish line of that insecurity we're all trying to avoid. The cold darkness of a tomb in the earth ends your world with the knowledge that the world is going to keep spinning out of control long after you're gone, and there is nothing you can do about it at all. There is no escaping it. Things are falling apart. Entropy is a weak metaphor at that. You walk in the valley of the shadow of death. The days are evil. And that's just the way it is.


While this “security loss” is a real problem, the root problem behind this vicious cycle is our belief that we can somehow stop the entropy. In spite of everything history has to teach us, we play the part of medieval alchemists, trying to transmute led into gold. It would be easier to turn off the solar system's gravity. But we need security so desperately that we would rather live in delusional hope and feigned progress than admit the bleak reality, which is that, despite what it seems from time to time, we don't actually have control over anything at all. In spite of the age of reason and the greatest technological revolutionary age in the history of our species, the planet is as flush to capacity with calamity, disease, pain and death now as it ever has been. Maybe more so. It is chaotic, uncontrollable and a constant threat to the livelihood of everyone who lives on it. It's right before our eyes for all of us to see. We just can't stand to see it, so we close our eyes hard and pretend it isn't so.

But if we can't stand to believe the way things actually are, even more disgusting to us is the reason why. As much as we don't want to admit that our universe is obviously ruined, even less can we believe that this is because our universe is actually cursed.3 As impossible as it is to accept that you don't really have control over all the terrible things that keep happening in the world, it is infinitely worse to face that fact that God is in control of everything, and, therefore, is the reason it is happening. From the spilling of a glass of milk to the horrors of modern warfare, everything about this life which we call evil and spend our lives trying to put a stop to – if God is actually God – then everything and all these things are, in some strange and alien way, God's work.

Of course, it is easier to refuse the idea that God is the source of all your insecurity. Rather than believe that God is God, its easier to believe in a god – one who would create a world more to your liking, who would never tear down the barns you build or bring the rain when you pray for sun. But if God is God, if God is the God of the Bible, then he most certainly is the reason why things are the way they are.4 The reason why you are forced to toil and sweat day in and day out for your food is because he ordained the world to fight against you.5 The reason why you struggle in relationships, especially in those closest relationships of family, is because God has set families against each other.6 The reason people are dying every day from war and famine and disasters is because God is killing them.7

Of course, believing what the Bible says about God is even less popular today than it was in the middle ages. But think about it his way: if God is the one who has cast this planet (which he created for good and for security) into chaos, then before we run around denying it, we might first ask if the God who is God might not have a good reason why. And suddenly, a lot of other things start to become more clear. After all, if God is the source of your insecurity, is it any wonder that all of your attempts to force some security into your life never seem to get off the ground? If every time you try to fix the world, you are actually rebelling against what God is trying to do, is it any wonder you keep losing the war? If all of your many security blankets keep getting stolen and soddened and threadbare, maybe it's because God doesn't intend for you to grow up and head off to kindergarten with your thumb in your mouth, dragging a soiled rag along behind you.

The Jump

The Bible is clear. The God who created heaven and earth is also the one who set the decay and chaos into motion. The one who made us with a built-in need for security as also made it his current policy never to let us find it. The God who made you is treating you like an enemy. And this is because you are his enemy.

If we take the Bible seriously, one of the first things it teaches is that God created you to be his servant.8 He formed you perfectly for the task of being a steward, a caretaker, a guardian, given the task of tenderly watching over whatever small plot of earth he placed you on.9 But the Bible also teaches that you never got the chance to experience this amazing opportunity. Long before you were born, one of your most ancient relatives took a good long look at this offer and said, “No thanks.”

In recent years, the media picked upon on scientists who were claiming a surprising discovery. They had found that all humans come from the womb of the same ancestral mother. “Mitochondrial Eve,” they called her, named both for the small cellular mitochondria which led them to this discovery, and for the Hebrew name of the woman God first created. Eve was married to Adam, and being made by God, they were given the wonderful gift of a life of perfect servanthood. They had security. They had stability. They had safety. But, not knowing any other way, they decided to say, “No thanks.”

Adam decided to make himself God's enemy. He believe that he could actually do a better job at being God than God, and when he saw a chance to try, he took it. Sometimes this epic fail decision is called “The Fall,” but that's really not accurate. This wasn't some slip on a banana peel It wasn't any accident. Adam walked up to the ledge, took a good long look, girded his loins, and jumped. He thought that he could be his own source of security. He thought that he could take on the perfect world and make it better. It probably seemed like a very grand and noble idea at the time. But the old proverb holds true: “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” The Jump is what happened when man tried to fix the world the first time. The chaos of history is all our attempts to fix it ever since.

The Enemy

Because of Adam and Eve, life on earth is not the test that many people want to think it is. Life on earth is the failing grade. Neither you nor I can remember that temptation which destroyed the world, but what you or I remember is of little importance compared to what is. What matters is the blood that is now flowing in our veins. What matters is that our bloodline, from our one mother, carries with it the curse of corruption, from generation to generation.10 That bad blood is keeping you alive, but it is as cursed as the ground you walk on. Every other person you meet got off the same boat.11 The more we try to deny that we are our parents' children, the more we end up resembling their rebellion. The very fact that the first thing we manage to do (if we are able to believe that Adam and Eve were real people who jumped) is to go and point the finger of blame at them is the classic proof that we are nothing but chips off the old block.12

You are the face of your worst enemy because you are the child of the enemy of God.13 As much as you'd rather blame your father, you're the one who still can't accept things they way they are and stop your ceaseless trying to fix it. You are the one who can't dream of praising God for all the worst, cursed parts of the life you live. You are the one who keeps making your own epic fail decisions, chasing your lust for security and worshiping whatever promises a moment's reprieve. You are the one who's own inner meaninglessness threatens to shorten your already short life. You are the cause of all your problems. And every grasping attempt you make to fix them only causes you to fail, blunder and jump further into the chains which you have forged.

Yes. It really is that bad. Life on this planet is hopeless. By yourself, along with the rest of us, you live, move and have your being beneath an irremovable Word of damnation. All these problems and frictions and toils and deaths are the wrath of God. If God is God and God is good, then the only reason you can possibly be experiencing all this is because you deserve it. God's hand is upon your back and he is pressing you down, crushing you like an imperfect clay vessel until the endless heat loss returns you to the dust from which you came.14 You are cursed, and nothing you can do will remove this supernatural hex.15 You cannot hide from this wrath.16 The only one in all the universe who can do anything about this hand of God on your back is God himself.17

The Good News is not only that he wants to. He already has.

The Good News

This is the wisdom of foolishness, and everything the Bible teaches centers right here. From the very moment when god spoke his damning Word upon all the universe and your life with it, he also spoke another Word. Along with the bondage to decay that he cursed his creation with, he also spoke a promise that disorder and insecurity would not last forever.18

It has now been two thousand years since a single, chosen, lonely man walked a lonely road facing the same question Adam faced, only this time accompanied by the weight of a heavy cross upon his scourged back. His name was Jesus of Nazareth, and the primary teaching of the entire Bible is that he is the Christ of God. He is the Answer. The Security. The Seed born of woman to crush the chaos, the Word sent by God to speak forgiveness upon his enemies among the children of men.

Jesus of Nazareth walked that lonely road to the hill where he would be nailed to the cross he carried because Jesus was being punished. He himself had never lied, never cheated, never stolen, never lusted – never once had he so much as rebelled for a moment against the curse of God in which he had lived for thirty years. He built no earthly kingdoms, sought no place to securely rest his head, and knew that life was about much more than food and clothing.19 He faced all the temptations of insecurity flawlessly.20 And because of this life of pure goodness, obedience, love and mercy, God wanted to kill him more than anyone else in all of human history.21 God ordained Roman soldiers to drive the whips and the spear which pierced him.22 God sent the crowds to scoff and mock him.23 God made Jesus the fullness of his curse, electing even that the sun would cease shining on him that day because when God looked at Jesus on that cross, he didn't see his beloved Son. He saw you. Killing Jesus, Jesus died in your place.24

Amazing as this is by itself, doubly powerful is the fact that Jesus Christ didn't only die. Because he is the Christ of God, death could not contain him. After three days of being in the grave, even as the prophets had foretold, Jesus the Christ was raised from the dead by the same hand of the Father who had slain him. He rose and he revealed himself to be the one we'd all been waiting for, the Son of Man, the seed of Eve, the one who in having his heel bruised by the curse, would crush the curse once and for all.

All this Jesus did because he knew that once he had risen from the dead, then, when God looked at you, he wouldn't see the enemy and rebel who needed to be cursed and damned. Instead, he would see his only beloved Son. Jesus rose from the dead and defeated the curse in your place.25

The Key

This is the foolishness of wisdom,26 and everything else we can learn about the lives God is planning to give us gravitate around this one place where the heat loss of the universe was reversed. Here the decay worked backwards. Here insecurity birthed a foundation which will never fade. The only thing in the history of the universe that matters is this man and what he did. Life is not about you. It's about him, and being connected to him is the only thing that matters.

When you see a locked door, it's only normal to look for a key to unlock it. But when it comes to the very real, cursed problem of our universe, there is no key. There is not even a keyhole. There is a locked door which is infinitely impenetrable to all your attempts to open it.27 This door might as be a wall because it stands in the way of all your hopes for security in this life. This door is a veil which keeps you from even being able to believe in or worship the true God.28 Such knowledge would be too wonderful for you.29 You don't have the blood for it.30 Not by yourself. “Who then can be saved?” the disciples asked Jesus when they learned his hard truth of our world. “With man it is impossible,” he answered. “But you are dealing now with God.”31

Jesus is not a key that you can take up to this door and open it in order to fix this world. Jesus is a different doorway to a different reality altogether.32 He is not a way to remove the curse. He is the curse removed. He is not the way to stop energy loss. He is the source of all energy. He is not a foolishness that will teach you how to find wisdom. He is a foolishness which is wisdom. The rest of this book and the rest of your life are meant to be a discipleship which helps you discover how in this one, simple truth, which won't fix a single bit of the entropy you face every day of your life, you nevertheless have more moment by moment certainty for staring down every and all situations in the kind of faithful courage that none of your security blankets ever let you dare to dream was possible.

You've found Jesus. The truth is, he was never lost. You were. So keep reading, because Jesus has found you. Welcome to the Kingdom of God.

Inwardly Digesting

The Foolishness: The answer to the problem of decay is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Verse: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

Prayer: Jesus, Seed born to end the curse, you have stood in my place in the death I deserved on the cross. You have won me back from the insecurity of the grave by rising from my death for me. I could never have done this. I could never have made you do this. I can never repay you. Oh Lord, give me faith to believe this Good News, scorning all other temptations. Complete your security within me, strengthening me against my doubts and my chasing after lesser gods which cannot keep me safe. Give me the confidence of grace and a clear conscience, that your Holy Spirit would lead me to believe all Truth as you have written it in your Holy Word. Ever bring me back to your great work, that I always remember the goodness and mercy in which I may follow you all the days of my life. Amen.

Remember, God is with you, as always, in your baptism,

your Pastor

  1. This account of our history as a species is detailed clearly in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. I highly encourage you to take some time and read or reread those first chapters of the Bible.

  2. Nature should inexorably degenerate toward as state of greater disorder, greater entropy.” Strogatz, Steven, The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, 2003.

  3. Genesis 3:23-24 “Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

  4. Job 38-42, while too long to quote in this footnote, is the classic text on this point.

  5. Genesis 3:17 “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,‘You shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”

  6. Genesis 3:16 “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

  7. Genesis 3:19 “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Revelation 6:8 “I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.”

  8. Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, 'Let us make man.... And let them have dominion over...all the earth ....'”

  9. Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

  10. Exodus 20:5 “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.”

  11. Genesis 8:15-16 “Then God said to Noah, 'Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives with you.'”

  12. Genesis 3:12-13 “The man said, 'The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit....' The woman said, “The serpent deceived me....'”

  13. James 4:4 “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

  14. Genesis 3:19 “You are dust...”

  15. Micah 2:3 “Thus says the Lord:...I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks...”

  16. Isaiah 59:6 “Their webs will not serve as clothing; men will not cover themselves with what they make.” Romans 3:20, Revelation 6:16.

  17. Isaiah 41:13 “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “...I am the one who helps you.”

  18. Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Romans 8:20-21.

  19. John 18:36 “My kingdom is not of this world.” Luke 9:58 “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 6:25 “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

  20. Hebrews 4:15 “[He] in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

  21. Isaiah 53:10 “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;” Colossians 1:19-20 “In [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

  22. Jonah 1:17 “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Ephesians 1:5, 7 “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will... through his blood.”

  23. Exodus 4:11 “Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”

  24. Hebrews 10:12 “Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.”

  25. 1 Peter 3:18 “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Romans 6:5 “We have been united with him in a death like his... we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

  26. 1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the word of the cross is folly.”

  27. Isaiah 14:13-15 “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; ...I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.” Proverbs 15:25 “The Lord tears down the house of the proud.” James 4:16 “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

  28. Exodus 33:20 “He said, 'you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.'”

  29. Psalm 139:6 “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

  30. Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” 8:21 “The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth.” Romans 3:12 “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

  31. Matthew 19:25-26 “The disciples...were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

  32. John 10:7-9 “So Jesus again said to them, “I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves.... I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”

1 comment:

RevFisk said...

I can't figure out why blogger is giving me so much trouble with fonts, ect. But I think it's legible. XD Enjoy!

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