This week, my spiritual life is back to being blissfully normal or what passes for normal in my spiritual universe. Today, someone in one of my online Christian groups said something really funny: “Jesus said not to worry but he didn’t have to take calculus.”
I found the statement funny for many reasons, not least of which was that I could not help but think – yeah, just saving the world from sin. No biggie compared to AP Calc, I’m sure. I mean, our problems may all be derivative, but derivatives are hard too.
I just finished watching The Man Who Knew Infinity starring Dev Patel, as recommended by a fellow Friday Fictioneer. There were two highly-related themes running through the movie: one of racism in the midst of the British occupation of India and one of profound respect for the devout Hinduism of the brilliant mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.
When asked where he gets his ideas, Ramanujan says: from his Goddess. He repeatedly speaks of himself and the divine interchangeably, asking questions like – how can you believe in my math and yet not believe in me?
All of that resonates with me deeply in a – yes, I know exactly how you feel kind of way. If we’re being honest, I think we all know how that feels.
One of my main problems with idolatry: our idea of God is always insufficient. A God we understand and own does not account for the apparent chaos outside what we know, the apparent chaos that I believe is simply a more diverse, detached, and detailed order than we can now comprehend. To say otherwise is – among other things – to say that those theoretically infinite numbers of people yet to be born will have nothing to add to our understanding of the world.
And I know – if nothing else – that this is not true.
I love language. Math is my favorite language, because it is so universal that (almost) everyone speaks at least a little. But, even math faces the implacable barrier of being a purely symbolic form of expression that is never quite what it purports to describe.
In the midst of all the crazy, there is this moment when we realize that no matter how much we (think we) know, there is always going to be considerably more that we do not. I use the term “theoretic infinity” a lot when talking to the Big Guy, to describe n approaches infinity type problems where it helps to know infinity first, to see the finish line not because I will ever reach it but to know which way I should go.
I love math. I wish I had more time for it. The fact that so many people find it scary continues to perplex me in one of those am I the weirdo? kind of ways.
How is it ever anything but exciting to find an outer bound and a language to describe it that you may or may not have time and mental energy to study?
I know I don’t think like other people. My theoretically infinite problems are the number of people, then the number of groups and cultures and worldviews and finally perhaps the number of well-designed physical universes. I can see a few other steps beyond that, but I think the idea of a multiverse is enough, a close-enough mental shortcut to replace the idea of a stable universe with a dynamic shared space. And, that is what eternal life looks like to me – for now. If there will be any such thing. With more than one person.
That’s how my worldview works, and that worldview directs my present-world steps. I believe that we REALLY need to stop being so prejudiced, to overlook the (possible) value in every single human person, whether they can/choose to exercise that value in the moment. Every person has the potential to add to or redefine my world.
That’s why after laughing with my fellow believer for a minute (because yes Calculus AP exams were not on Jesus’s particular list of things to stress out about), I quickly had to add, BUT his words remain relevant. I believe his words will always be relevant. You might say I am biased that way, and you would not be wrong.
Especially because I want this person to get a good grade, because I want all of us to have good lives now and forever, DO NOT WORRY. Stress will not be helpful on test day. Numerous studies have shown this – and I know it is true. Feel your feels, sure. Use that energy to study like you mean it.
On test day – be a calm, clear ocean. You have (hopefully) done all you can. Now, show it.
I feel like that’s a metaphor for the “last judgment.” In a twinkling of an eye, no more or less, by God’s grace.
I think what Jesus meant is not to stop thinking of these deep and high and profound and incredibly tiny, inscrutable things. All in good time, if that’s what you want/need/get paid to do. But, stop worrying.
There is nothing we can do or say that will make God go – oh my – I had no idea there are/might be such things as subatomic particles or spooky action at a distance. God is not at all surprised that the upper and lower bounds seem to loop back around as the very small affects the universal laws everywhere. Of course it does. That is how a well designed and accessible universe should work. If not we could not understand out there from in here. And then I feel like I should make a Descartes joke about not putting the cart before the horse, or causality ahead of the first cause here. But … too soon?
Like Jesus said – do not worry. Don’t be anxious.