The book of Job, chaos, and the nature of wonder

chaos1Nobody likes to think of themselves as being in a box. But the reality in which each of us lives is determined by our perceptions. The things we believe, our experiences, what we know, our cultural background, our values, our memories all determine how we process everything we encounter and make decisions about them. These perceptions create the borders within which we operate. Our box with our definitions written on the inside walls of the box.

God, this mysterious suffering will not stand. An explanation would really hold the pain together.

The Book of Job is about a guy named  Job who experiences a run of horrendous disasters that don’t fit in his box: Job’s kids die in a tornado, his crops all die, Job gets boils all over his body.  Job can’t understand why this series of unfortunate events would happen to him since he’s such an upright individual.

Job’s friends show up to help him analyze the situation and figure out why he’s had such a crap-load of trouble. Their conclusions: He must have sinned to bring down this level of wrath. Job’s wife’s box is even darker. Her response is  “God has betrayed and abandoned us: curse God and die.” Job maintains his innocence and decides God owes him and explanation.

After thirty or so chapters of whining and conjecture and Job insisting that he is innocent, in chapters 38-40 God shows up and goes through a series of questions regarding nature, patterns and origins. Where you there, Job, when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined its dimensions? , God asks.

God basically tells Job to embrace the mystery, and then restores Job – because God is into restoration. God never gives Job an explanation about his problems.

Let’s talk a minute about the Book of Job. It’s one of the oldest books in the Bible. Recent scholarship thinks that it may be translated from a different original language. The beginning of Job offers an explanation but a lot of people, including me are bothered by it.

The explanation is that Satan tells God that if Job lost everything he wouldn’t serve God anymore. God gives Satan permission to do everything except kill Job. Job and Satan make a bet on whether or not Job will crack.

Think about that. They are basically the two old men in the movie Trading Places.  So I have a theory. What if the beginning is some sort of meta commentary about the audience. What if the real theme of the story is that life is mystery and wonder, there aren’t answers and even if there are God doesn’t owe us answers. That was, after all, the thing God addresses. So maybe the beginning is an acknowledgement to the audience that the writer knows that they too want explanations, so right up front the audience is supplied with the silliest explanation possible: it’s a bet.


chaos-3Paul pushed on the sides of the box when he explained the Unknown God to the Greeks in Athens -this is in Acts 17.  I want to talk to you about the One you already worship without full knowledge. The Lord of heaven and earth does not live in shrines you can make and is not served by human hands as if He needs anything. He gives all life, and breath, and every thing. From one he made from one every ethnicity and appointed time and boundaries to them so that they would seek God, perhaps, grope for Him and find that he is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist.

In 1 Corinthian 2 Paul speaks of the wisdom of God, a wisdom that was hidden in mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory, which no one of the rulers of this age did know, for if they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; But, according as it hath been written, `What eye did not see, and ear did not hear, nor has the mind of man imagined, what God did prepare for who love Him. (referring to Jesus) But the Spirit who searches every thing, even the deep things of God, has revealed the mystery to us.

Paul quotes Isaiah here Who has known the mind of God so to advise him? a Job-like question.

Then says We have the mind of Christ.

On his blog post, Steve McVey wrote I was so wrong for so long about so much while so strongly believing I was so right that I don’t have any rocks left in my pocket for anybody. I’m so done with that. The human tendency to want to explain, to assign blame or responsibility, to try and make sense of things can often cause us to point fingers at others or at ourselves. When we do this we not only can hurt others but we can also prevent ourselves from exploring the mind of Christ if we are already certain what we will discover there.

I get wanting explanations. I get wanting predictability. I think flexibility is a key feature for getting out of the box and exploring the mind of Christ that we are in. This is an idea that knocks the sides off every single box. This is an invitation into mystery and wonder.

I heard McVey speak at a conference in Orlando a few years ago. He said that God changed his mind – renewed his mind rather. He explained that these days he states his position as where he is right now and is not ruling out the possibility that God will change it again. I like that. It’s flexibile.

Paul tells the Romans that Ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature have been seen, understood through what has been made by Him. Rom. 1:20

This idea is not nearly as defined as boxes where our own limited perceptions create our reality. Nature is about patterns and rhythms of life. Perhaps these patterns and rhythms reflect, at least in part, how we are all living and moving and having our being in Him whether we are aware of it or acknowledge it or not. These are the perceptions of the eternity in our hearts spoken of in  the Book of Ecclesiastes, the mysteries and wonders in the mind of Christ.

Job, Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?

Think about the pattern of God’s own existence and nature. Trinity.

Three is the smallest number required to make a pattern.

There is rule of three in writing.  For whatever reason we tend to be able remember and repeat things that are presented in threes. Preachers give three point sermons. Public speakers and essayists usually make three points. It shows up in fairy tales like The Three Bears.
In jokes- ” a minister, a priest, and a rabbi walk into a bar” because it’s not as funny if it’s just a priest and rabbi.
In the Good Samaritan parable there’s Jesus tells the one about the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan.. Later Jesus tells a trio of parables: The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son; in the parable of the Sower the seeds fall in three bad spots: road, rocks, thorns.

Patterns is the way of the Trinity. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Col. 1:20

Patterns occur in creation whether you look through microscopes or a telescopes.

fractal2A fractal is a never ending pattern that repeats itself on different scales.
Fractals occur in nature and in math. Fractals are infinitely complex. In math fractals are formed by calculating a simple equation thousands of times. What would something that appears to be so predictable have to do with chaos?

A chaotic system can actually appear very orderly. The dictionary definition of chaos is “turmoil, turbulence, and undesired randomness,” but that’s not the kind of chaos we’re talking about here. In science chaos is something “extremely sensitive to initial conditions” and addresses the question of whether or not it is possible to make good long-term predictions about how a system will act.

Chaos is about surprises. Expect the unexpected because chaos is nonlinear and unpredictable.

So we might be able to predict the shape a fractal will take, but we can’t predict it’s state. So fractals reflect both pattern and chaos.

According to Edward Lorenz who coined the phrase “the butterfly effect” in Chaos Theory we know that” the present determines the future but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”

Even the most rigid routine lived inside the sturdiest box will not keep us from the unpredictable. Just ask Job.

Even when the Messiah shows up, He doesn’t look or behave as expected. Just ask the 1st century Jews. His message is about the law but not the way they predicted – or at least the way they interpreted the predictions. And yet few saw Him as He was and nobody saw Him fully as He is (in His constant state of being from before the foundation of the world.)

Jesus would have knocked the sides off the Pharisees’ boxes had they not so frantically reinforced the sides. Maybe that’s what happened to the 10 commandments – it’s propping up the door to some Pharisee’s box. The Pharisees are like scientists desperately trying to prove determinism when chaos theory is being demonstrated right before their eyes.

Jesus’ choices seemed non-linear to the legalists and unpredictable even to those following Him. Perhaps grace is a little like chaos to the deterministic systems religion has established. In both cases our responses are often driven by sensitivity to initial conditions – our limited perceptions may influence how we respond – strange attractors may change our state, but we are all still held together, shaped, informed by His image. We accept the uncertainty and mystery.

The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is” or “There it is” because the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17:20-21

Now we are children of God. It is not yet revealed what we shall be, and we know that we will be like Him because we shall see Him as He is. 1 Jn 3:2-3

What is the likelihood that how we see Him now and how He really is holds a few surprises? What is the likelihood we are not right now the way we will end up – and who among us knows what that will look like?

Not knowing is part of the wonder and awe.

It is not that we don’t see Him at all or that we are not like Him at all.

It’s just that unpredictability and complexity lie within the pattern of His likeness and the kingdom that connects us to each other and to Him.

fibonacci-treeThe Fibonacci sequence, is another concept in math that is used in computer programming and characterized by the fact that, every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones, so, because the sequence of numbers grows exponentially fast, the Fibonacci sequence is used in programming algorithms.

Trees branches grow according to the Fibonacci sequence. The generations of bees as they reproduce generation by generations follow the Fibonacci sequence as well. The numbers also figure into another pattern called The Golden Ratio. When we take any two successive Fibonacci Numbers, their ratio is very close to the Golden Ratio of 1.61803… (like Pi, The Golden Ratio, also known as Phi, is an infinite number).

golden-ratio-natureThe Golden Ratio is a specific proportion that shows up in nature and is used in design and architecture. It happens when you take a line and divide it so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part.
For example you can take your height and measure the distance from the top of your head to the end of your fingertips in a straight, vertical line. The ratio of the two measurements should be close to 1.6.

In addition to the rule of thirds, artists use the golden ratio as another pattern in design. Both produce interesting and pleasing compositions.
When you put these proportions into rectangles with smaller squares inside them and keep dividing them by the same pattern – like a fractal – these appear in a spiral that shows up all over nature. The Fibonacci numbers are part of the equation.

In galaxies, DNA, sunflowers, weather patterns, pineapples, seahorse tails, nautilus shells this universal constant of design assures the beauty and unity of creation as it grows. The ratio of width to length of a single double helix in a strand of DNA is 1.619, pretty darn close.

The nautilus for example grows, and as it grows, its shell grows proportionately so that no matter how large the nautilus becomes, the shell will always be the same shape. It will always have the same mathematical proportions. It will always adhere to the golden ratio. And yet it doesn’t live in a static box but in a container that grows with it.

youre-biggerI love the Chronicles of Narnia. In Prince Caspian C.S. Lewis proposes the idea that as we grow our capacity to interact with God and our perceptions of Him grow with us. This idea is more like living in a nautilus shell than it is like living in a box because the container that holds our current reality is growing with us.

Perhaps today God would ask a modern-day Job: Did you set the patterns in nature? Did you do the math?  Did you create plants and creatures a ratio that maximizes their function in a form the whole world would find beautiful? 

Scientist discover these things they don’t invent them. Science is observation of patterns and structures in nature and experimenting to see it these patterns are regular enough to predict. Just as in Genesis God gave Adam the job of naming things, maybe science is the how we explore and name and comprehend the creation.

Math, however, is a human invention, in that it is the language that we use to describe the structures, principles and patterns we discover through science.

All mathematical models approximate reality. All of the models eventually need revision to accommodate new discoveries. We can look at science and math – and everything else – from inside the box or from inside the shell.

This is why quantum mechanics, physics, and the math that goes with them are so hard to nail down – there is debate as to whether the so called “real world” and “quantum world” are the same world. This is just one of the mysteries emerging from the mind of God that science is exploring.

Were you there Job, when the morning stars all sang together and the sons of God all shouted for joy? Job 38:7

starsThe more we insist on boxes, the more definitions we write on the sides, the more we confine our thoughts to what we already know and already think we can prove, the less wonder we experience. The Golden Ratio, Fibonacci, and other patterns can’t be used to prove God any more than chaos can be used to disprove Him. – these things can awaken mystery and wonder.

Instead of the boxes that limit the reality we deal with we might, instead, find ourselves in the infinite space that is the mind of Christ. It is in this space of wonder and mystery to which God has reconciled us. We can now can form perceptions about life, ourselves, and each other that are ever expanding and adapting to the growth we experience.

Andre Rabb wrote: Jesus does not come to exhaust the revelation of who and what God is but he is the introduction into an ever unfolding revelation, and ever unfolding experience that is larger than ourselves. If Jesus is indeed the self-revelation of God, then He is also the end of our concepts about God. He is the icon that eliminates our idols, our abstract theories with which we try to define the infinite and confine the limitless.

Belief is full of wonder. Belief includes what we know and what we do not know.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Heb. 11:1 Faith is not proof or certainty. It’s belief. It’s trust. It’s confidence and assurance that God’s pattern is one of love and goodness but His pattern, His nature, does not make Him predictable or controllable.

We grow in those spaces between our certainties. We have the mind of Christ when our minds are flexible enough to receive Him. We discover wonders when we leave our boxes behind to reside in faith containers like nautilus shells that grow with us so God can continually be bigger than we perceive Him now.