Sincere apologies if I depressed anyone with the previous post. I think we have to face the darkness full-on before we can really see the light, but I could just have been getting carried away with my own melancholic eloquence… 😉
So last time I was getting all downhearted about entropy, gravity and inertia and everything falling apart. But then I mentioned lights, lives and loves and that these might hold an answer to resisting the downward spirals of the forces of chaos…
Life is, to be honest, a bit of an enduring enigma. We still don’t know with any certainty where it came from, how it arose or even exactly what it is beyond a basic description of how it behaves. I have no doubt that science will one day be able to answer to these questions, but even then I suspect life will retain an inherent mysteriousness. It just doesn’t quite seem to fit within this universe of rocks and stars, of entropy and gravity. It seems to have almost a spiritual essence, something that appears to stand apart from merely physical existence.
Life also has the almost magical ability to heal and regenerate itself, to replicate and recreate itself, to adapt and develop and evolve, to survive and multiply, to diversify and to specialise, all apparently in the face of entropy. You can concrete over the earth and life will spring through, pushing up between the cracks, breaking out into the light.
And in the galactic short term (i.e. for a few billion years), biological life on Earth is able to oppose entropy by borrowing energy from a greater external source, the Sun. While the entropy in closed systems always increases, every living thing is able to thwart entropy for a time by using the Sun’s energy. In the same way biological evolution as a whole is able to operate in apparent contravention of entropy, increasing order, diversity and specificity as long as life endures. Many Christians are suspicious of evolution, but in its ability to resist entropy it strikes a significant blow against the forces of chaos.
Light too is a riddle. Its precise nature is still a mystery – is it a particle, a wave or bit of both? – and may ever remain so.
Light is (probably) the fastest possible thing in the physical universe (pending further investigation of the recent CERN neutrino experiment). True, it’s slowed and bent by gravity – and black holes can suck it in and trap it. But light still manages to travel across unimaginable aeons of time and space to show us the far reaches of our universe, the earliest moments of creation.
Like life, visible light seems to have an almost spiritual, non-material quality. Like the mystical view of God, it is both one and three and seven – the pure unity of white light composed of the three primary colours red, green and blue, and refracting into the rainbow’s sevenfold spectrum.
Light is the universal symbol of hope, truth, goodness and purity since time immemorial. Light banishes darkness and it drives away fear; light exposes error and reveals truth; light gives us sight, insight, illumination. Light also represents reason and wisdom – the original ‘logos’ or divine Word; the law that shapes and forms the universe, making it a cosmos not a chaos.
Light, in one sense, changes nothing; it merely reveals what is already there, shows it in its true colours. But in so doing, it changes everything. We don’t often see light itself, but we see everything else by it. And when we do see light, it is one of the most beautiful things we have ever seen.
Love is perhaps the most mysterious of the three. Anyone who has known the tidal pull of love will laugh at the dead-eyed reductionists who claim that it is no more than a by-product of the need to pass on copies of our genes.
Love is a paradox: the greatest power in the universe and yet also the weakest; able to move mountains, break down walls and melt hearts ,and yet unable to force the weakest will to change or do anything; having no power to ensure that it is reciprocated or even responded to. Yet perhaps ultimately it is love, not gravity, that moves the stars; love, not entropy, that guides and directs the universe and evolution and history.
Love is real, but it can neither be physically measured nor manufactured, nor indeed destroyed. Again, it seems to have qualities that transcend the merely material universe of entropy, gravity and inertia.
And light, life and love are fundamentally interconnected. Love gives birth to life which grows towards the light.
Rumours of a new order
Together, life, light and love seem somehow to come from beyond the physical universe of entropy, gravity and inertia; to shine into it like the light of a new sun. In the physical realm, entropy, gravity and inertia win; but these are only temporal; the light that shines in is eternal. Life, light and love are the foretastes of a new kind of world, a new way of being.
Entropy, gravity and inertia are the rules of the old order, the world which under their direction is winding up and coming to an end. If we can view them in spiritual terms, they are perhaps what the apostle Paul refers to in Romans 8 as the Law of Sin and Death.
But within the shell of the old order, there are already hints that a new one is being formed like a seed in the ground, an embryo in the womb, a butterfly in the chrysalis. And the laws of the new order are love, light and life; wisdom, beauty and goodness. A new realm is being born among us, formed and transformed out of the transfigured material of the old creation. Even in this old world we see the hints and glimpses of these powers and qualities, though they seem so weak that at times it seems impossible they will survive the forces of chaos and darkness.
Then there are the tales, the whispers of something unprecedented, yet somehow always expected; something not predictable, yet clearly right and fitting. Rumours of incarnation: of the Word of divine wisdom made flesh, of Love born among us, of the source of Life born among decay, of the true Light beyond the stars come into the world.
And then, even more surprising, the other end of the tale: rumours of resurrection, of Love and Life and Light that cannot be contained or defeated by mere physical death. And now at last we see it: entropy reversed, gravity’s grave, inertia inverted. In the birth of Christ, imperishable love, light and life have been woven into the fabric of space and time; in his resurrection from death, the redemption of the cosmos has begun. Entropy and gravity and inertia do not have the final word; they are no longer the ultimate ruling powers of the universe. ‘The law of life in Christ Jesus sets me free from the Law of Sin and Death’, writes Paul. Sin’s gravity may drag us downwards, but grace raises us up.
So for now the old laws continue to operate, but they will not win. Love wins. Light wins. Life wins. They must do, for they are aspects of the very nature of God, who in his own being is Light and Life and Love; and the new realm being born among us is the Kingdom of God.
God is not then what we call our desperate attempts to construct meaning and hope in a chaotic universe; he is the one who confers meaning amongst the swirling maelstrom, who takes chaos and composes order. He is the great meaning-giver, the great pattern-maker, the artist and architect of beauty built from dust and ashes. So when I gaze at the dark abyss and feel it will tear me apart, I can know God as the Reality who holds all together and holds me together; who gives me a name, a true self and purpose and reality.