Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine: http://usat.ly/1mYSh1b
The week has been most tragic for so many. In sum, Israel mounts its offensive on the Gaza strip, MH17 is downed by an SAM and closer to home, NBS FOC is cancelled because of 4 seizure cases.
When we are asked to stomach these and all the while proclaim how the love of God is as real as it was before the world turned pathologic, it is nothing but the tallest of orders.
Rewind time by 24 hours. I’m reading The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. Chapter 2 invites the reader to do two things - bask in silence (5 minutes every day), and to admire God’s beauty in daily life.
The world is one of anxiety disorders and uncertainty; it is no wonder why. Are we really going to be people who, pursuing our cause, take time off to appreciate the wonders of creation? How do we reconcile the warring imagery?
My time in silence has always been restful. For my ‘assignment’ on beauty, I picked human anatomy (as would a pre-medical student eager to start school). I have long pondered the factors that govern early embryological development - how can a single cell transform, almost certainly, into a fully-functional, intricately sculpted human foetus with anatomically correct tissues and organs? At my level of proficiency, it is already an amazement how gastrulation can cast cells of the different germ lines into the right orientation.
But it is a perverted world. On Wednesday I attended a class at church, and Pastor explained how we overcome the penalty, power and presence of sin. The penalty is settled for the Christian believer, and ridding the presence is to come. That leaves us to spar with the power of sin. John sets out a wonderful analogy in his first letter, explaining how in ‘(overcoming) the evil one’, we are young men.
Where sin, injustice, malice and destruction lie at every corner, the answer is not to either dwell on it or to ignore it. The advice is to be stakeholders and stewards, to acknowledge and live in spite of it, to be strong and courageous, to help those in need.
Perhaps beauty is not only what the world was meant to be. Perhaps it is a sign of things to come, a handle onto which we can hope, because as much as the world says, the crux is not in the today. It is in the days ahead, for “this hope we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19).
I reproduce in full a paraphrased version of Jorge Luis Borges’s “Library of Babel” thought experiment from this Quora weblink:
You enter a library, …
… take a book off the shelf, and notice that it’s filled with seemingly random strings of characters.
You take another book off the shelf. Same thing.
You examine a few more books and notice that all the books are quite similar.
Each book has exactly 500 pages. Each page has exactly 40 lines. And each line has exactly 50 character slots.
You examine a few more books and estimate that there are roughly 100 potential characters (including a blank spaces) that can go into each character slot.
Then you notice a sign that says “START HERE.” You go there, pick the first book off the shelf, and see that every page is blank.
You pick up the next book. It has a single letter ‘A’ in the first character slot, and all the other pages are blank.
You pick up the third book. It has a single letter ‘B’ in the first character slot. And, again, all the other pages are blank.
Then you look out across the library, and the shelves go on and on as far as the eye can see.
Your best guess is that each book in this library is a unique combination of characters, and that, collectively, the books in the library cover all the combinations that can be formed in books of this nature.
You do some quick math and calculate that there must be 100^(500*40*50) books — or 100^1,000,000 (one-hundred to the millionth power) books.
A vast number indeed.
Then you begin to wonder what books might be out there.
There must be:
- A copy of “Hamlet,” — TAKE THAT, infinite monkeys!
- A copy of “Hamlet” with one typo.
- A copy of “Hamlet” with a different typo.
- A copy of “Hamlet” with two typos.
- A book containing all the best Quora answers that can fit in 500 pages — including some Oliver Emberton answers that haven’t been written yet.
- An accurate 500-page biography of your life (from your birth until your death).
- An extremely elegant proof of the Riemann Hypothesis (or is it a counterexample?)
- A book containing a cure for cancer.
Wow! Just wow!
This is exciting.
Those books are out there somewhere. You just know it.
You have a cure for cancer almost at your fingertips!
Then the reality of the situation hits you, and you realize that the odds of finding any book you might want to find are very, very, … in fact vanishingly, … slim..
The numbers are just too big.
And there you sit with mixed emotions — torn between absolute wonder at what books must sit in this library, and abject depression because you’ll never find them.
This is basically Jorge Luis Borges’s “Library of Babel” thought experiment.
It never fails to blow my mind.
I took a little religious journey over the past couple of months, and I must first disclaim that it is not of the spiritual sort, but rather the intellectual sort with a religious theme. Much like a PhD in Theology in Cambridge. Without the Cambridge. Without the PhD. Without 99% of the theology.
Religion is very pervasive in Singapore, and in a good way. There are states where religion is taken to the extremes, in firstly theocratic states where the government holds up a banner in declaration of its religious position. Sometimes this is accompanied by laws, such as the Shari’a Muslim law in some parts of the Middle East and Africa, and most recently in Brunei. On the other end lies societies where religion in all forms is detested, notably where communism has left its mark, like China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the Soviet Union, and Albania. This is not always official, but remembered because there was some form of coordinated enforcement. Here, we are of the position that religion is something that you can have, but not stick it in other people’s face (like, as some people will joke, certain body parts).
The nature of religion is that it is often tightly bound to the family. It is not a sort of thinking style or habit that children can be exposed to as per their individual lifestyles and social circles. It is instead passed on through a process of shepherding toddlers and young children in the hope that they will continue to espouse the same values and rituals. There is also the element of marriage in many religious cultures or laws, hence the natural continuation of religion’s influence into one’s life after leaving his parents. Indeed, as a consequence of this, many are not inclined to choose their own religions, but rather inherit them. While this is how religion was always meant to be, we are at a time where many of us are at liberty to choose what we want to believe in. This is important, given that many religions are at odds with one another over certain key beliefs. Some religions condemn deserters or even individuals who ‘explore’ other belief systems, but where possible I believe this is a process that should be encouraged.
I actually hoped to have some answers at this juncture, but the biggest takeaway for myself is rather the negative intrinsic value of comfort. It is one that is often overlooked and minced.
Several years ago, my grandfather had a Toyota hatchback. I can’t seem to find the model but it must have looked something like this. Oh man. I don’t kid. I say several years ago, and I’m actually not that old. It was all rickety and hardly hipster. The windows were wound by turning a handle. There were no rear seat belts (no law until 1993). It was manual (in a Singapore of mostly auto cars). It made us queasy. But he was so happy with it that he refused to change it. It could still cruise at 80 along the PIE. All it needed was an occasional service, a new spray of paint and perhaps a keen eye in case the engine gave up and burst into flames. Now I know why my grandpa always kept the driver’s door unlock for quick escape. Each of his children begged him to replace it, but even in the days when COEs were modest (relatively so), he would not budge.
We can look at the situation from our high and mighty observer post and clearly benefit from perspective. A new car would be more reliable, environmentally friendly and safer (esp. for his grandson). But in that situation, how many of us have the same foresight? It happens all the time when we are stuck somewhere for so long, and for all aspects of life. Nudging and prompting does not get us to move. We are so bent to follow our own ways that any failure of these tried and tested methods only elicits a mild amendment to the current algorithms we have built.
In a Christian situation, we should ask ourselves where we stand. So many have been holding to the same beliefs for decades. All through our journeys, we have been willing to make the little alterations, slight changes to our schedules and actions, and even so only with much persuasion. We want to be good Christians, but can’t seem to be getting anywhere. Look no further than examples in the local community, in history books and in the Bible to see that what we have is hardly anything. When Jesus called up the disciples in Matthew 4, ‘at once' they left. 'Immediately’ they got up to follow him. Something clicked in their minds and souls that they were going to do the right thing by making that decision. Straight away, other things - their families, their livelihoods - were immaterial. How come we cannot be like that?
There is another analogy. In driving school we learn vertical and parallel parking. No prizes for whoever can guess which is more difficult. I admit I’m not the best driver, but will say with absolute confidence that there are people who, let’s just say, are less talented at parallel parking than myself. Most of us have to adjust our cars by moving forward and backward a few times. That’s only normal. But then there are those who have such a laborious time ‘adjusting’ their cars that one is only left to wonder if that is their greatest hobby. Sometimes, it really helps to come out of the lot and try again. Or to find a new lot. Or to not drive at all.
When we are comfortable, the danger comes when we diminish the need for continuous reassessment. Without a constant gauge of whether we are doing is correct, we can quickly become obsolete. Worse - if we just accept what we are given without considering it, and become so accustomed to doing the same things, we may never realise whether what we are doing is right.
I feel the urge to write something but don’t have an Oxford degree so I shall just blurt out random significant words. Stupid little hyperactive mind trapped beneath a lack of mastery.