Sometimes life feels utterly empty, meaningless; even the light seems dark and the sun fails to warm. Instead of the open gate of heaven, the sky just seems blank, sealed-up; prayers seem to die on your lips and fall useless to the ground. Nothing seems to have a point or a purpose; all seems merely absurd, vain. “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” says the Teacher; “Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless.”
Sometimes disaster or tragedy can strike like a snake on a summer day, leaving you battered, bereft, bewildered.
Sometimes I feel like I’m standing in the midst of a howling darkness and void like that at the start of Creation. I feel as though the darkness and chaos will consume me; that I will be pulled apart, fragmented, disintegrating into countless parts; that there will be no me left at all. I gaze into the empty darkness and see nothing; I feel no sense of self, nothing uniting me or holding me together.
At times like these the terrible inevitable laws of the physical universe seem to be all that there is: entropy, gravity and inertia; disintegration, dissolution and decay. There seems to be a great gaping black hole at the heart of all things – and in our own hearts – sucking into itself all light, all hope, all goodness; a raging, insatiable void from which nothing can escape. Is this hell? If we fall down, down, down into this swirling dark will we fall forever? Will we find ourselves deep in the ruined heart of the one who has no love, who has lost and destroyed all the goodness he ever had? Or will we instead find that ‘underneath are the everlasting arms’, and that the end of hell is actually the back door of heaven?
In this post I’d like to look honestly at the forces of chaos and destruction in the universe, and consider if they do have the final word as it sometimes seems. Does entropy win in the end or can we legitimately hope for something else?
Entropy, Gravity and Inertia
Entropy, gravity and inertia seem to be three of the most fundamental, inescapable laws of the universe. When you think about what that means, it doesn’t present a cheering picture.
Everything falls apart; everything falls down or falls over; everything comes to a stop and an end.
Everything breaks; everything collapses; nothing lasts.
Everything returns to how it was – emptiness, chaos, void, darkness, nothingness.
All earthly endeavours ultimately fail; all empires and nations crumble; all art fades; all human loves die; kings and commoners, heroes and criminals alike return to dust.
As time’s arrow moves on, what was new becomes old and worn and broken; what was clean becomes dirty. Tall towers fall into ruin and rubble; mighty mountains are ground away into mud and sand.
You can resist entropy, gravity and inertia for a while by sheer sustained effort – you can build and make, tidy and clean; you can climb high and fly high; you can keep on keeping on. But in the end, you will run out of energy, run out of life. Your sandcastles will be washed away by the tide, your footprints erased, your work undone. The inexorable march of entropy can only be delayed by human effort, never halted or reversed.
Entropy’s ultimate end is complete, formless chaos and dark. Gravity’s triumph is a black hole from which not even light can escape. Inertia’s goal is the abolition of all change, growth and development, all thought and volition and action.
(NB pedantic note: on its own, inertia means that moving objects won’t stop unless a force is applied. I’m using it to mean inertia-plus-friction, meaning that all moving objects do ultimately stop – and won’t then start moving again.)
A Deeper Magic?
So are entropy, gravity and inertia the ultimate and inescapable rules of the universe? Will they always get the final word? Must cosmos ultimately and inevitably return to chaos, the universe’s brief day swamped in eternal night, and alllives and lights and loves be lost forever among the timeless aeons of emptiness, cold and dark – no longer even a memory, for there are none left who can remember? Is this the Deep Magic against which all are powerless?
Or is there any sign of a Deeper Magic – of other, deeper forces and more fundamental laws at work within (and beyond) the universe? Might there be powers that outlive death, outlast time and defeat entropy?
Even within the physical and temporal universe, there are some phenomena that by their very nature do manage to oppose and resist the forces of entropy, gravity and inertia, at least for a very long time. And it may just be that these point us to deeper realities that are truly able to oppose entropy and gravity, not just for a time but for all time – indeed, beyond time.
I mentioned lives and lights and loves, and I believe that it’s with these that an answer begins.
To be continued…