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Thank God for the Complexities of Life

Quantum Mechanics may not be a subject you find yourself discussing every day over lunch, but at least for the next few minutes I want us to think about how science has provided a bridge to matters of faith.

Werner Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize for his theory of quantum mechanics in 1932. Through a later discovery, Heisenberg created one of the greatest scientific revolutions in the twentieth century. Prior to Heisenberg, the scientific community believed in a clockwork universe that was predictable and measurable. Heisenberg came along and proved that we cannot know the precise position and momentum of a quantum particle at the same time. He demonstrated that sometimes matter behaves like a particle, where it is in one place at a time. And sometimes matter behaves like a wave, where it appears to be in several places at the same time. This became known as Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle” which goes like this: “The imprecise measurement of initial conditions precludes the precise prediction of future outcomes.” Or, to put it in non-scientific terms: Life is filled with uncertainty.

If the world around us—even to the smallest sub-particle of matter—is filled with uncertainty, then where can we go to find certainty? Some of us appeal to faith as the great problem solver of life, and we place our trust in the Creator and Redeemer as the immutable One in whom we find certainty. In reality, however, we are not looking for certainty; we are looking for comfort in the midst of uncertainty.

Consider this: Benoit Mandelbrot is the father of fractal geometry and demonstrated that shapes, like clouds and coastlines, are infinitely complex. The smallest detail can be magnified to reveal even more detail ad infinitum. The technical term is “infinite complexity.” Fractal geometry is what theologians call the incomprehensibility of God. Mark Batterson puts it this way, “Just when we think we have God figured out, we discover a new dimension of His kaleidoscopic personality.”

So, the world around us is infinitely uncertain, and the God above us is infinitely complex. We look for any semblance of stability, certainty, and simplicity to no avail. Our families, work, culture, and, yes, even church seem to perpetuate the very uncertainty and complexity from which we are trying to turn.

Some people have a false perception that faith reduces uncertainty and complexity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Faith embraces uncertainty and celebrates the infinite complexity of God. Why? Because if we could reduce life to a simple series of certain equations, and if we could reduce God to a completely explainable being, there would be no need for faith, and our lives and world would be very bland indeed.

We will never have all the answers this side of heaven, and some people never come to terms with this truth. Some people believe that following Jesus should simplify their lives, and when life is still complicated, they wonder if they’ve been looking for answers in the wrong place.

All I know is that marriage is complicated. Raising children is complicated. Pastoring a church is complicated. If you make a lot of money, your life can be complicated with taxes, insurance, and schedules. But we should thank God for these complications, because these complications stretch our faith and grow our spirits. We enter into a relationship with Jesus, not because He’s going to solve all our problems and fix our uncertainties. When we follow Jesus, God complicates our lives in areas where they should be complicated to cleanse us from the complications brought on by sin.

Faith is the great connector between our infinitely complex God and our infinite uncertainties. One day we will enter the eternal realm of God’s infinity, and He will wipe away our uncertainties. How do we live until that day comes? “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope and love abide, these three: but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13).

True Freedom is Hard to Grasp

One of my favorite books is Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl. First published in 1963, this Jewish author recounts the horrors of living in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. The Nazis took everything away from Dr. Frankl—his wife, children, home, job, and all earthly possessions. They even took away his name and replaced it with a number, Prisoner 119104.

From this background of persevering through unimaginable atrocities, one would think that when he and other prisoners were liberated, their response would have been an overwhelming expression of joy. But not so for Dr. Frankl and so many others like him.

He describes their liberation with these words:

With tired steps we prisoners dragged ourselves to the camp gates. Timidly we looked around and glanced at each other questioningly. Then we ventured a few steps out of camp. This time no orders were shouted at us, nor was there any need to duck quickly to avoid a blow or kick. . . . “Freedom”—we repeated to ourselves, and yet we could not grasp it. We had said this word so often during all the years we dreamed about it, that it had lost its meaning. Its reality did not penetrate into our consciousness; we could not grasp the fact that freedom was ours.

Dr. Frankl goes on to write that as he and his liberated companions grew tired, they did not know what else to do but go back to the now unguarded prison. One friend secretly said to the other, “Tell me, were you pleased today?” And the other replied, “Truthfully, no!” Dr. Frankl writes, “We had literally lost the ability to feel pleased and had to relearn it slowly.”

This is a picture of the Church. We yearn for freedom. We talk about freedom. We pray for deliverance. We know intellectually that “for freedom Christ set us free” (Galatians 5:1). But like those liberated prisoners, we have a hard time grasping what this freedom means. “We had literally lost the ability to feel pleased and had to relearn it slowly.”

True freedom is hard to grasp. We have been indoctrinated to live as prisoners to the point that freedom has lost its meaning. We know not else what to do except to go back to our prisons . . . or create new ones. I once spoke with a Muslim woman who told me she had converted to Islam from being a Baptist. I asked her why she converted, and she said, “Because I like the structure of Islam and being told what to do.”

Freedom in Christ is not about being told what to do. It is about being restored to the purpose of our creation—to be in relationship with God. We are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). Freedom is opportunity for right relationship, right purpose, and right living—not because we must, but because we are so overjoyed we can’t help it. Yes, this process of enjoying our freedom in Christ is a slow process. No, we “do not use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13b). But when we walk out of our concentration camp of alienation from God, we walk into love, which leads us to serve one another (Galatians 5:13c).

May the words of the Apostle Peter exhort us to move beyond the prison gates: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). That, my friends, is true freedom.

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