Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Are We Too Dependent on Miracles?

This is a sermon I prepared for our weekly Refresh worship time this past week.  I felt very convicted by it and thought it could use a share. 

On the surface of it, this seems like a pretty straightforward miracle story – a reward for belief.  The prophet said the flour and oil would last and the widow trusted they would and they did.  But, as you hear it, is there anything that doesn’t sit well with you?  Any questions or problems that come up?

Maybe its just the time we live in, but I’m bothered by the power dynamics here.  Widows and children are the most vulnerable people in society.  This woman is ready to watch her son starve to death – she’s that desperate – and yet this random prophet shows up and asks her to bring him water, and she just does it.  The servant class is so baked into her, she’s ready to obey whatever this guy asks.

I have to ask myself, who is this guy to impose this upon her?  Yes, I get that God has orchestrated this whole thing, and he trusts that God will work it out, but it’s awfully mean, isn’t it?  I mean, I get the story and why it’s there, but I also wonder if we haven’t heard too many of these miracle stories.  I wonder if we haven’t become too dependent on the idea of miracles.

Think about it.  We use all the fossil fuels and minerals on our planet under the assumption that, by the time they run out, technology will have figured out a way to do what we need without them.  This is why climate change has lingered for so long – it wasn’t that people didn’t believe in it, but that they believed in a miracle more – that science would figure a way out of it that didn’t require sacrifice.

Our economy is built on debt – we encourage people to borrow.  These billionaires out there, they don’t have any actual cash – they just borrow against the value of their stocks, with the assumption that value always goes up, that there’s always more money out there.  It’s miracle thinking.

I was reading a lot, earlier this year, on Amazon’s hiring practices, because I guy I went to high school with ended up being a sort of whistle blower from the Amazon HR department.  They realized that people’s productivity goes down after a few years at a menial job, like stacking shelves or packing boxes, so they’ve set up their system to be really attractive at the beginning, but pretty terrible after three years.  They’ve designed their system to run through employees quickly and now they’ve run out of people.  They’ve burned out to many low wage workers, no one will do the job anymore.

Elijah didn’t worry about food, because God always provided for him – but that kind of put him in a position to impose on this poor widow, whose whole life has been nothing but suffering and imposition.  When we have this miracle mindset, it’s the people at the bottom of the pile who suffer – and in our society, we’re seeing some of this come home to roost.  We’ve got a lot of upheaval, because there are a lot of people who don’t see miracles.  They’re stuck with nothing and, like the widow, expect nothing.

When I worked at an urban youth center in Kansas City, during seminary, we’d always have volunteers (usually white, middle class, suburban) who’d wonder why these kids always had expensive sneakers and satellite TV, but they rarely had enough to eat.  There were complaints about their priorities.

I had to learn myself, and then teach them, that those priorities only make sense, when you plan to have a long term future.  If money or a job or a place to live could be gone tomorrow, you’re not thinking long term – you’re going to do what you can for yourself right now.  This is a different kind of miracle thinking – only a miracle will make this situation right, so I’m going to do what I can when I can.

Whether its a polluter tossing more coal into the furnace or an impoverished kid in line to buy Jordans, they’re both just banking on a miracle down the line.  For the rich, though, its an assumption “things will all work out;” while, for the poor, it’s a pipe dream, “we’ll gather a few sticks, make one last meal, and die.”  One assumes there will always be enough and the other is assuming there will never be enough.  Two sides of the same problem.

The gospel lesson here – where the Kingdom of God breaks in to the story – is that there is already enough.  It’s not about expecting the best or the worst of the future; it’s about believing that everything you need is already here.

Sometimes these biblical miracle stories make it seem like God is creating the problem God later intends to solve, right?  He asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, then provides a ram from the bushes.  He asks Elijah to take this woman’s last meal, only to give her more.  But that’s not what’s happening.  God is taking a common scenario from the world in which these people live, and changing the narrative.  Everybody in Abraham’s day sacrificed their firstborn to the gods; that was common practice.  God didn’t set up the scenario only to save the day; God radically changed the story.

Here it’s the same thing.  The prophet was a revered figure, someone with power.  It only made sense for him to take from those who couldn’t defend themselves.  That’s how society worked.  People who had things deserved them and people who didn’t have things didn’t deserve them.  The poor were just unworthy people.  Bad things only happened to bad people.  That was how society operated.

Here, God is changing the narrative.  Rich and poor.  Powerful and helpless.  Both are being served and fed and saved.  Both get the same meager meal of flour and oil, but both get to live.  It’s not about the miracle.  It’s not about God coming through in ways we couldn’t predict, it’s about God re-framing how we look at the world: there is already enough.  The flour will last, if we are responsible in its use!

We have to approach our world with this concept in mind.  It’s not about the future.  God has provided; we just have to be willing to share.  We have to be willing to be vulnerable, to make sacrifices.

Our society tells us there’s not enough.  That’s why we’re encouraged to consume.  Buy this TV now.  Limited time offer.  This deal won’t last forever.  You’re going to miss out!  How many people have more money than they’ll ever need saved up?  We feel like nobody, but the reality is very different.

Everybody thinks they’re middle class, because we’ve created this notion of scarcity.  We won’t raise taxes on people making under $250,000, because that’s “middle class,” but even $200,000 a year puts you in the top 10% of households in this country.  $10,000 a year is average for the whole world.

We have to figure out what it means to create a system, a society, where we can all live sustainably here and now.  For us, the rich – and everyone in this room is massively wealthy when measured on a global scale – it means being willing to sacrifice, do with less, and absolutely change our mindset.

Typically, those of us in power want gradual change.  We tell people who’ve been left out or oppressed, “wait your turn, go slow, we’ll get there eventually, let’s not shake things up too much” but that’s just more of the same miracle mindset.  Something in the future will change the situation so everyone can be equal with no one having to give up anything.  That’s not reality, though – that’s miracle thinking.

The poor in our society, the oppressed minorities, they live in a world where there’s no expectation things will get better or change in any meaningful way.  We have to be able to see the world with those eyes as easily as we can see with our privileged “it’ll all work out” eyes.  We shouldn’t need to depend on miracles for everyone to survive.                           

So, then, how do our lives need to change?

Monday, July 05, 2021

Open and Relational Theology by Thomas Jay Oord

My first impression upon beginning to read Open and Relational Theology, the newest book by philosopher Thomas Jay Oord* was simply that it feels like a lot of the same material covered in his recent book, God Can't.  In many ways, it is repetitive.  For those of us who read and study theology and philosophy quite a bit, there's not a lot of "new" in Open and Relational Theology (although I believe its the introduction of Oord's new word "amipotent" - which alone might be worth the price of the book, especially for the curious).  However, for the intended audience, whom I believe to be "regular" folks struggling with some of the "big" questions of life and belief, it's probably really helpful.

While God Can't deals specifically with the problem of evil - why evil exists in a world where God also exists - Open and Relational Theology addresses the whole of faith more broadly.  It comes across as an evangelistic tome, of sorts - not one in which Oord is attempting to covert traditionally theological Christians to a new way of looking at God and the world, but one in which he's attempting to provide a path to faith for people who may be struggling or have given up entirely on a Christian world view.

It is, as the subtitle explains, a mere introduction - probably more basic and less deep than even God Can't and certainly a good entry point for those looking to explore different ways of answering religion's big questions.  If you're already familiar with Oord's writings or those of other Open or Relational thinkers, Open and Relational Theology probably shouldn't be a high priority on your "to read" list - but if you, like me and many others, struggle to explain these unique and different approached to theology to other people, it may be a book you should buy multiple copies of to keep on hand and pass out.

Oord provides discussion questions at the end of each chapter, and links to accompanying videos, as well as an extensive list of further reading resources, all of which are great starting points for additional exploration.  I'm not really the intended audience for a book like Open and Relational Theology, but I'm really glad that one of our best thinkers is dedicating so much time and effort to writing books accessible to everyday people.

*Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of in exchange for this review - although no preconditions were placed upon said review.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Fraudulent Giants

This is a sermon I preached June 20, 2021 on the David and Goliath story.  I don't typically share sermons here, but I think this one came together particularly well and I've already heard positive comments about how it's helped some people with a new perspective - so here it is:

 The Israelites and the Philistines are in a stalemate. They’ve lined up on opposite ridges with a valley in between. Neither side can attack, because they’d be giving up the high ground – you just can’t win and uphill battle. They’ve been staring at each other for months – neither side can see a solution.

Goliath comes out and challenges any Israelite to single combat. Remember, he’s almost seven feet tall, which is more intimidating when you know the average height for a man of this time is just over five feet. In today’s equivalent, Goliath at over eight feet. And David is not an average man – he’s still a boy. Someone a head shorter than me up against a veteran Navy Seal who’s eight feet tall. Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone vs Andre the Giant – this is what we’re looking at here.

Goliath is a battle-hardened, proven fighter – wearing armor, the very best defensive technology – lightweight kevlar, head to toe. He’s also got a traditional sword, like you imagine from the movies – the blade might be five feet long, a spear with a razor sharp tip, the size of a softball – and a sharpened iron javelin, something he can throw a long distance – strapped to his back.

What Israel sees is almost no way out. It would take a miracle to beat this giant.

That’s what we face, sometimes. There are giants in our lives – cancer, unemployment, racism, loneliness, addiction – whatever it is, we see in front of us an insurmountable giant that can only be defeated by an act of God. It’s a problem too big and too tough for us to face on our own.

Although, maybe – just maybe – the problem is not the giant in front of us, but the way we see it.

Did you know we see things upside down? Our eyes invert what we see – when that data reaches your brain, it’s upside down. So why don’t we see everything upside down? Somehow, our brains have learned that we see upside down and they adjust for us. Our brains – and we don’t know how they do this – turn those images back over, right side up, so we can go about our days and live in our world.

Imagine how hard it would be for me to preach if the podium in front of me were actually right in front of me, but I saw it hanging from the ceiling. We don’t actually have to imagine. Some scientists made it happen in the 1920s. In what’s called the Innsbruck Goggle Experiment, a guy named Theodor Erismann had his research assistant, Ivo Kohler, wear glasses with special lenses that inverted everything we saw – his eyes saw what the brain sees: everything upside down.

At first, Ivo couldn’t do anything. He could function pretty normally if he closed his eyes, but with them open, that first day, he couldn’t feed himself, walk across the room or even sit down. Even if you can feel the chair, if it doesn’t look like its there, its pretty tough to sit down.

While we might take it for granted, how we see is far, far more important than what we see. This, I think, is the real lesson of David and Goliath. The writer Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book a few years ago – called David and Goliath – where he outlines some of the details we may miss in the story. I don’t have time to go into all the details, but there’s a 15 minute youtube video you can find about it.

Anyway, for a human to be so extraordinarily large, Goliath would almost certainly have to have something called Acromeglia – its a pituitary disorder that essentially makes you keep growing forever – or at least until you get too big for your body to support. When I used Andre the Giant before, that’s not too far off – this is the same disorder he had, which lead to his great size. One of the realities of acromeglia is that in your teens and early 20s, you’re bigger and stronger than everyone, but you age quickly. Your joints break down and your back gives out – Andre the Giant could barely move at 30.

You see where I’m going with this? Goliath had been the mightiest of warriors, but it was likely, by this point, that he could barely move, that his vision was nearly gone, that his strength was failing him. The spear and the sword and the armor were probably doing him more harm than good at this point. Yeah, if David got within five feet of the guy, it probably would’ve been curtains for him, but as we know, David never intended to get close to Goliath at all.

Yes, a young Goliath could have picked up his shield and fended off the rocks coming from David’s sling, getting closer and closer, until his sword or his spear or his javelin or his bare hands would’ve been enough. This is what Saul was thinking, when he tried to make David wear the armor – give the kid a fighting chance – but Saul is not seeing the right way.

But nobody saw what was right in front of their faces: the giants in our lives are not always what they seem. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say God can’t do miracles or that God doesn’t do miracles – I’m just trying to say that miracles are miracles because they’re rare. They don’t happen very often. More often than not, if we’re going to tackle the giants in our lives, it’s not because God takes care of them for us, it’s because God gives us eyes to see them differently – to see them properly.

Let’s go back to Ivo Kohler, wearing the inversion goggles. He can’t do anything for himself. He’s got to be fed and led around by the hand everywhere he goes. He experiences some pretty severe psychological trauma right off the bat – but he’s committed to the experiment and he continues. Within three days, he says he’s starting to see things right side up – not that he’s getting familiar with his surroundings or learning to deal with mixed up vision, but that his vision is actually changing.

You see, it takes only a short time, a few days, for the brain to recognize this change in vision and catch up to what our eyes are seeing. By the 10th day of the experiment, Kohler can tell no difference – he rides a motorcycle through the crowded streets of Innsbruck all on his own. His vision had completely changed. And when he finally took the glasses off, it was only another three days until he was back to normal. The human brain is one amazing thing. It can be wildly adaptable, but its also easily fooled.

The world we see around us is not as it seems. That’s the message of God’s Good News. Where we see might giants – eight foot tall, Kevlar-covered Navy Seals – God’s Spirit reveals half blind old man ready to fall over at the slightest push. Where we see brooding, dangerous strangers around every corner, the God’s Spirit reveals beloved children of God who only need one conversation to become a friend. Where we see need and poverty and desperation, the God reveals an abundance of resources if we’ll just trust each other and work together.

God is not calling us to sit back and let God handle the giants, God is calling us to step out on faith and see differently, to put on the inversion goggles of God’s Good News and look at the world upside down. Yes, its scary, and it can really mess us up for a while, but if we’re faithful to keep on it, despite bumping into furniture and spilling our dinner down our shirts, eventually we’ll learn to see this new way, God’s way, and those giants won’t seem so tough anymore.

The Good News of God is not the solution to all your problems. It’s not the path to an easy life or the answer to every question – but it is the path to engage the world in an open and life-giving way, to be human as we were created to be human, to tackle our challenges and setbacks by moving forward rather than cowering in the dark. So many of us spend our lives in a stalemate, staring across the valley at a giant we think is unbeatable, when God calls us to see differently, to live differently – and those giants may not always be what they seem.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Some Thoughts on ENC in a Particularly Troubling Week

I went to Eastern Nazarene College.  I really, really enjoyed my time there.  It was the perfect place for me to work out what it meant to be an adult in a supportive, but not overbearing environment.  I know that’s not a universal sentiment and there are lots of good reasons people have problems with whatever college they attend – ENC is definitely far from perfect – but it was a really great place for me.

I would really have liked to be more involved over the years.  I spent a lot of time halfway across the country at Seminary and now live six hours away.  I can’t be there for shows and games.  I can’t use the library or grab a coffee and sit.  I’d love to be a presence on campus and in the lives of students and I have some measure of envy for those who have that opportunity.

I long to be there, because it was the atmosphere, the people, the community that was so valuable to me – and I’d like to be able to give back.  My wife and I have given money, I think every year, for quite a while now.  Not a lot, for sure, but we’ve tried to be faithful in our support.  It’s been 18 years since I spent more than a day or two on campus – outside of those big, old, falling apart buildings, almost nothing is the same – but I do believe the community remains.

As in my time (although I was largely blind to it then), there are people who don’t feel welcome or supported in that community.  That’s truly, really sad.

Recently, it seems, the same tensions over LGBTQ+ issues that are roiling conservative Christians across the US have reared their heads again at ENC.  I won’t share the details, because I really only know them third hand, but whatever they are, they’re representative of dozens and hundreds and thousands of other details over the years, dating back to well before my time.

The fact is, there are lots of faithful queer Christians out there, people who take the Bible and the Kingdom of God as seriously as anyone else.  There are lots of congregations and denominations and traditions that are supportive and nurturing of these Christians and many of those are represented by students at ENC.

When most attendees were Nazarene, it was easy enough to toe the party line.  Even if it wasn’t the healthiest or the best for students, there was some logic to it – let the Nazarenes figure out their own junk – but that’s not reality any longer.  Most students come from non-Nazarene traditions and an increasing number have no problem with the idea that gay people could also be Christians; really, an increasing number have a hard time fathoming why anyone would think differently.

Even within the denomination, those views are changing.  I’m an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and I would sure like us to stop using the gender of our spouses as some litmus test for faith.  That’s not a majority opinion just yet, but I know I speak for a lot of ministers who don’t feel safe expressing a real opinion on the matter, and for an increasing number who feel a moral compulsion to speak out for change.

Fear, though, is the other side of the issue.  The school relies on funding from congregations, many of whom already feel the school is “too liberal” and not accommodating to what they want for their kids.  The sad truth is: if ENC changed its stance towards gay faculty or students tomorrow, the school would close by Fall (if, in fact, there were a viable mechanism for change, which doesn’t really exist).

There is a growing gap between what students want out of a college and what parents and donors want the school to be.  That’s not just true at ENC, but at Christian colleges all over the country.  As generous and as hopeful as those of us who’d like to see change might be able to be, it’s VERY unlikely it would be enough to sustain the school outside of more conservative support.

This is where I feel the most conflicted: On the one hand, if ENC is not willing to step up and lead in difficult conversations about the theological and ethical formation of young people, then maybe it shouldn’t exist.  Advocating for the health and well-being of students in its care is certainly a worthy hill on which ENC could die.

On the other hand, there’s still a lot of great stuff being done in and through ENC.  The top evidence of this is that these movements towards change aren’t coming from outside the community; the very people ENC produces are those speaking and standing up.  The spirit of support and encouragement I so valued as a student must be alive and well, because ENC’s students and alumni continue to reflect it!

There’s always been a tricky balance between fear-based prohibitions and the risk of allowing students to fail in the pursuit of truth.  It’s especially true of sexual ethics in evangelical environments.  Fear usually wins out over hope.  Regardless of your beliefs on any controversial topic, we should all agree that fear reactions are not compatible with Christian life.

If the Spirit of truth guides us into all truth, we shouldn’t be afraid of asking questions.  I learned that growing up in the Church of the Nazarene and it was reinforced at ENC.  As a parent, I know we’re desperate to spare our children harm and pain in that journey towards truth, but as a former child, I’m not sure the harm of that protection was any better than the potential harm that protection avoided.

It’s a risk either way.

LGBTQ+  Christians probably don’t feel welcome in the Church of the Nazarene or at ENC and I don’t blame them for leaving or writing us off, but, for me, as a 5th generation Nazarene, as a straight white male who isn’t actually being harmed by the slow pace of change, sticking around and continuing to push in the right direction seems the only ethical thing to do.  I love both those messed up institutions; they are a part of me, and I cannot and will not abandon them.  I want to work to help make them places of welcome for more and more people (and more kids of people) than they’ve been before.

There are limitations and complexities and financial considerations.  There are legal and political and theological issues that just aren’t going to be resolved overnight.  I’m encouraged by the students and alumni willing to speak up and whatever happens, I’m here in support as we move forward together.

Because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I believe profoundly that wherever we’re going, we’re going there together, or we’re not going at all.  Loving your enemies is kind of what this whole Jesus thing is about.  You can’t browbeat your opponents into submission.  Shame and guilt and anger might work in the short term, but they’re poison down the road.

We may have learned this the hard way in the Church of the Nazarene, but I do think we’ve learned it.  Other denominations are tearing each other apart with anger and recalcitrance and lack of trust.  As much as we disagree, as much as “the other side” might seem backwards and sinful, we have, so far, managed to maintain a belief that we’re all pursuing God in the best way we know how.

ENC needs a little more of that belief at this moment – maybe a lot more – to recognize all the gifts possessed by all members of the community.  I may not be as connected or influential as I’d like to be right now and I may have leaked ignorance and privilege all over these pages, but I can’t remain silent.  We’ve got to do better and we’ve got to do it together, without fear, in the Spirit that leads to truth.

Lets include ALL members of the community and encourage them as they work out their faith in an environment like Eastern Nazarene College!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Schrodinger's Cat, the Limits of the Possible, and Hope for Eternity

Originally published on Misfits Theology Club

The famous Schrodinger’s Cat problem is much more complicated (and, perhaps interesting) than I’m going to make it here, but for my purposes, it’s all about how reality affects possibility.

The basic description of the problem is that an airtight box exists, inside which we place a cat and the exact amount of poisonous gas whereby the cat has precisely a 50% chance of dying.  The problem comes when we ask, before looking in the box, “is the cat alive or dead?”  We don’t know and neither answer is more likely than the other.  In some sense, the cat is both alive and dead, because reality has not yet come to bear on possibility.  Until we open the box, the cat is both or neither.  Yes, the cat is either alive or dead, but until we look, we can’t know.

This problem speaks to the role of an observer in reality and asks a lot of questions about whether there is some “higher” observer of our universe that forces our possibilities to become realities.  Those are cool questions, but almost definitely beyond my ability to tackle today (or, probably, ever).  I am 

interested, though, in what this perspective has to say about our own prior actions.

My family loves to play board games.  Upon marrying into said family, my wife, almost immediately, noticed (to her chagrin) that my brothers and I spend an inordinate amount of time after each round, hand, or game, analyzing prior play.  We talk about strategy and possibility and alternatives while my wife would rather just get on with what’s next.

I think this analytical nature, while helpful to learn and change moving forward, hasn’t actually served me well overall.  I tend to spend an inordinate amount of time looking backwards.  I hate to fail.  Most people do, but I seem to have a more difficult time than most, especially if a poor choice, on my part, is likely the culprit.

When I watch Jeopardy, I’m much less bothered by the questions to which I don’t know the answer than I am by the questions whose answers exist in my brain, but I’m unable to recall.  The notion that I could’ve answered correctly under different circumstances bothers me.

I suspect this is a trait many perfectionists share.  Lots of hesitation and second guessing.  In school, I typically did all my assignments at the last possible moment, because, if I’d finished earlier than the deadline, I’d obsess over how to improve upon the assignment and stress myself out.  Not everyone obsesses about the possible as often or as deeply as I do, but we all obsess about the possible at some time or another.

Imagine I’m playing ball in the house and knock my mom’s glass vase off the shelf and it shatters on the floor.  When she comes into the room, I have two choices.  Well, I have infinite choices, but they all boil down to two main categories: 1) take responsibility; 2) attempt to avoid blame.  In hindsight, most of us would’ve preferred to go with option 1; in the moment, we’re less sure.

This is how nearly all of our regrets come about.  We have a choice.  We reject the choice we later believe we should have made.  If its a big enough regret, we can get caught up in shame and guilt and self-hatred that really takes a toll on us and our psyche… and pretty much everyone around us.  If we obsess about all our mistakes the way I obsess about Jeopardy answers or board games, life is pretty miserable.

What if I told you, though, the actions you took were the only actions you could have taken?

That might be a relief to the conscience, but it doesn’t really ring true.  Clearly, in the moment of the broken vase, there are two possibilities: own up or deflect.  I wonder, though, if this isn’t like Schrodinger’s cat.  We may have two theoretical options in the moment, both very real, very possible, but its only with hindsight, with action, that we can see which one was actualized.

I’m not arguing for a fully pre-determined world here.  By no means.  I do believe in choice.  I don’t, though, believe in unencumbered choice, uninfluenced choice – and I don’t think anyone else does either.  We’re not – none of us – as perfectly free as we’d like to think we are.  We’re all governed by the past.

Yes, I could possibly have apologized to my mother, taken responsibility, and refused to lie or blame-shift in that moment; I was physically capable of doing so.  I might argue, though, that in that moment, that particular action was actually impossible.  I could not have acted differently because I didn’t.  Beforehand, anything was possible, at least in my mind, because it hadn’t happened yet.  Once it did happen, though, it was the only thing that could’ve happened.  

Maybe certain physicists are correct and there is a multiverse out there in which every possibility is a reality in some particular universe.  But in this world, in this universe, in the reality in which we’re all living right now, the only thing that could’ve happened is what did happen, because that’s what happened.

We can go back farther than that moment, of course.  Perhaps if I’d been punished more severely the previous time I’d lied to my mother, it would’ve changed what happened in the moments following the breaking of the vase.  Maybe if I’d seen her cry over my betrayal instead of her retreating the bedroom to mourn my disobedience, my later reactions would’ve been different.

Of course, the same logic that says my action in the incident of the broken vase was determined, means those prior actions were also determined – by the actions that preceded them – and so on and so forth to the beginning of existence.

This is the essence of the Prime Mover argument for the existence of God, by the way.  Everything is influenced by everything that’s come before it, so either existence has always existed or there was some source by which all that is came into existence.  There’s a lot to think about in that argument, too – but it’s also beside my current point.

What I think we need to learn from this whole concept is not to look back, but to look forward.  That doesn’t mean we should leave the past unexamined – in fact, the very act of examining and evaluating the past may be the instrument for changing the future – it just means we shouldn’t worry so much about what I could’ve done differently in some past decision, but we should focus on how our prior actions might inform our future choices.  How do I become the kind of person who makes fewer regrettable choices moving forward?

The bad news is, there’s no real way to get out of this cycle.  We can’t find a reference point outside our own existence by which to influence what happens within it.  We can’t omnisciously control our own lives any more than God can (hey, here’s another complicated argument for another time; we’re up to three now), but, I think, an embrace of this process does help us have faith in the future.

What I have noticed about the world, is that each of our choices, whether positive or negative, influences us in a positive direction.  You may argue that’s not true and give evidence of people who’s lives have spiraled into a morass of sinister evil, one sin compounding upon another until redemption seems impossible.

You’re not wrong, but this is where my Christian perspective comes into play.  Christianity teaches that we’re living in an eternity (ironically, this belief might be more consistent with the notion of an eternal past over that of a Prime Mover, but this is, alas, a fourth complex distraction we don’t have time to address today).  That means our physical death – perhaps at the bottom of this evil downward spiral – is not actually the end of the story.

Given an infinite amount of time, redemption is the only possible future.

The only thing that ever gets us in trouble in our decision making is a prioritizing of short term thinking.  If we’re operating in fight or flight mode, for example, we’re only thinking about the immediate results of our actions, which may lead us to make choices we’ll later regret.

Even if we’re forward-thinking, through – willing to sacrifice the immediate best result for an improved result down the line – we may not be (or even be capable) of thinking far enough ahead.  What seems like the right decision two years later, may prove, in hindsight, the wrong decision a further two years beyond that.

Thus, the only time we make the wrong decision is when we’re not thinking far enough ahead.  In an infinity, we have both an infinite amount of future time to consider, but also an infinite amount of time to learn to think farther ahead.

Experience also tells us there is a “rock bottom” for almost everyone.  There’s a moment in which we’re so obsessed with the immediate that our compoundingly poor choices become so immanent to our experience that we’re thrown out of that downward death spiral and finally capable of making a better choice – largely because there’s now no worse choice available to us, there is no shorter term for us to falsely consider a priority.

At the very least – an absolute worst case scenario – in a world of infinite time, we’re getting infinitely closer to that rock bottom with each increasingly poor choice, but never reaching it.  This is basically what people, who believe in Hell, mean when they talk about Hell.

In a world of infinite future, with infinite time and infinite choices, the chances of that worst case scenario are infinitesimally small.  If there is just one outcome from which redemption is impossible, where “rock bottom” is actually unreachable, then there are a near-infinite number of outcomes where redemption is possible.

Now, by this same logic, the chances of a perfect redemption are also infinitesimally small.  There’s only one possible outcome in which our choices become so positively influenced as to eliminate entirely the impact of negative choices – a sort of escape velocity from the orbit of sin, if you will.  However, between these two extremes, there’s an almost infinite number of possible infinite futures that hold the hope of redemption.

That might sound hopeless, but this is where we can go back to Schrodinger’s Cat.  The unknown reality in the box is only unknown so long as the gas inside provides a perfectly equal chance of the cat living or dying.  If that balance is off, the likelihood of one result or the other improves.

We sometimes take for granted an existence in which the forces of selfishness and selflessness are eternal opposites, pushing in different directions towards diametrically opposed ends.  I’m not sure this is a given, though.  Certainly from the creation of the universe, this has been the case – the trajectory of those two forces were divergent.

One of the great mysteries of Christian faith – or at least one of the challenges – is our struggle to describe the tangible change wrought by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  We’re pretty good at spiritualizing the difference before and after, but we’ve not always been great at naming what is genuinely different in the world.

What if the result of God’s intervention through Christ was an ever so slight alteration of the cosmic trajectory of those two forces: selfishness and love?  What if their divergent paths were skewed just past parallel to ensure an inevitable merging in some far future?  What if there is some future moment, determined and set in stone, when our desire for self-fulfillment will be entirely satisfied by and aligned to a complete emptying of self?

In a world of complete determinism, we’re stuck between the extremes.  The possibility of an eternally degenerating hell or the achieving of some miraculous escape velocity from the cycle of success and failure are so minuscule as to be illusory. But, if the elemental forces of the universe are not actually speeding away from each other, but instead gradually approaching, there is nothing but hope and optimism for the eternity to come.  There’s no way to necessarily prove it, of course, but this is the Christian hope.

While our futures are, in many ways, determined by the past, they are not mindlessly or randomly determined.  Love exists.  And love expressed, is love compounded.  There is a force in the universe that is working in each of our infinities to push us towards the preferred future and away from the worse case scenario.  We are not equally likely to move towards one extreme or the other; the cat has a much higher chance of being alive than dead.  In fact, if we persist long enough, the cat can only be alive.  This is why some of us, who believe in Hell, believe its likely no one will end up there.

Given infinite time and infinite possibility, I believe in love.

**And, even if life is limited to the 80-odd years we get on this Earth, or if, biologically, we’re someday capable of extending life indefinitely, or, perhaps, if infinity is not, in fact, destined towards anything at all, then, even still, when it all comes down to it: love still seems pretty worth pursuing.