Monday, September 21, 2009

God is Weird!

I've been musing about infinity recently. No, not the car! The thing that looks like a lazy “8” . Everybody thinks they know what infinity is, right? It's something really really big. But that's not the half of it! The first time I was confronted by something infinite was in math in high school. I was in "mathletics" (yes, I was then and always will be an egghead), and came across something like the following problem:

solve for x, whereand the “...” means “continuing on infinitely”. Well, x is obviously, uh, well, I guess ...something. But what? After failing to solve that problem in the time allotted, I spoke to my math teacher. Since the number of square roots in infinite, you can take off the first one and still have

and since you know that's equal to x, you just substitute the x right back in place of the whole inside shebang, like so

so you square both sides, simplify and solve

Piece of cake! And I went about my merry way thinking that you could do the substitution because taking one square root operation off an infinite series made so little change it didn't matter. But wait! That's not really true. Taking one thing off an infinite series doesn't make a small change, even an infinitely small change – it makes no change, and that's the cool thing about infinity - “normal” arithmetic doesn't work!

I never knew until my father's funeral that his favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace”, but when I heard it I knew that one of the things he probably liked about that hymn was the stanza

When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.

You see, my dad was also a math geek (took after me, no doubt). As a mathematician, you can tell the author “gets” infinity. He doesn't say “we still have lots of time left” or some sissy statement like that, he says “no less” (well, grammatically it should be “no fewer days,” but we'll forgive that).

And that's the freaky part of God. I have friends who say that God can't possibly care about them because why would the creator of the universe want to waste time worrying about some idiot on a flyspeck planet in the corner of nowhere. But consider now an infinite God. He could spend a billion years contemplating whether or not you stub your toe tomorrow morning, and how much of His (infinite, remember) time has we “wasted?” None! He still has an infinite amount. Multiply that by a a million years of toe stubbing by 6 billion people and now how much has He wasted? None! The person who doubts God based on “finite resource” arguments simply doesn't understand God or infinity. And why should they? We never encounter infinity in “real life”.

Of course, there's another reason why a million years means nothing to God. Since time seems to be an artifact of being in our universe, and God is outside the universe, then I imagine God doesn't experience time in any sense we can imagine. He is outside of it, and superior to it. It must have been quite a thing for Jesus to experience the universe as a human being!

Being outside time has some very interesting implications. A young child may wish something could “un-happen”, but as we grow up we are taught that this is impossible. And yet, it is not impossible for God. How do you know that something terrible didn't happen yesterday; something so bad that you prayed with all your heart for it not to have happened, and so it didn't. It's kind of like some science fiction alternate reality story, and yet that's only form our perspective. From what I imagine would be God's perspective it would be a perfectly reasonable scenario, although one must assume that if God made it un-happen there is no difference between that and God not allowing it to happen in the first place. Thus, to us God cannot change his mind, but this is not a limitation on God, merely a limitation on how we are capable to thinking of things. For to change your mind means you thought different things at different times, and the idea of God being confined by our linear notion of time is nonsense.

My point it that God is as freaky weird as any mathematics you can dream up (and I mean that in the best possible way). We can say “God is infinite” all day long, but we can't imagine what that even means, and we rarely stop to think about what the consequences are (like actually being able to care for all those sparrows, and us).


Post a Comment