Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
   and look at the earth beneath;
(L) for the heavens vanish like smoke,
   the earth will wear out like a garment,
   and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;[b]
(M) but my salvation will be forever,
   and my righteousness will never be dismayed.

Isaiah 51

Just reiterating the point of this blog--that we can see metaphors of something eternal in the finite world in which we live.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

God is Gen and Eval

I normally write only about things that I know about, but I had a tiny little thought last night that I wanted to share with you about the beautiful Being I blab about here.

So, linguistics.  Despite common misunderstanding, linguists do not necessarily know a bunch of different languages, but rather understand how language in general works.  How do we learn language, how can we use it, why does grammar turn out this way, what languages are related--those are the kinds of questions linguists ask.  One of the really cool things a linguist can theoretically do is predict possible words in a language based on a limited knowledge of the sounds and morphemes, or units of meaning, in that language.

Linguists do that with something called "optimality theory." I don't really understand it at all, to tell you the truth, but I understand these two things--first, there's a huge pool of possible words called Gen.  Gen basically says "oh, look, all these options!" and shoots a gazillion ideas at you, without any limits.  To find out what real words in the language are, linguists use Eval.  Eval creates a set of constraints on the possibilities from Gen, saying "uh, no, that won't work in this language because of this or that".  The possible morpheme combinations come out of Eval, and linguists use a weird hand rule to select which one most probably forms a real word in the desired language.

I was thinking about God the other day, and I got really excited about this silly little idea of mine.  So, God is Gen, right?  He's limitless, and there are no boundaries on Him, no rules, and infinite possibilities.  But He's also eval.  He created matter, and matter, unlike energy, has definite boundaries and rules. The moment He created matter, He created boundaries and constraints: spiritual boundaries, physical boundaries, etc.  He Himself holds those things together, so He himself is Eval. 

This is weird!  God is Gen, and God is Eval.  God is limitless, but God chooses to restrict Himself for the sake of a functioning universe.  He creates goodness and right and wrong and pushes all His limitless possibilities through those constraints to come up with the Optimal Universe--the best story that could ever be told, and the most glorious History.  For That really is his purpose--That gloriousness, all congealing around Him and Us.  He knows how every little person or ant or wind would affect anything else, and He puts all the possible universes through His Great Big Heart of Eval and comes out with Optimality.

Are you able to believe that?  Can you trust that this God of paradoxes, this great Master of Opposites Who Is Both Gen and Eval, knows how to bring forth great and wonderful things from the possibilities that you or I might prefer instead?  I'm not able to believe that in a functional way, but I still think it's pretty cool to think about.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Endoplasmic Reticulum-y God

When I was littler than I am now, I used to use cell organelles as insults.  I have no idea why.  "Get off my lawn, you endoplasmic reticulum nucleus golgi body!" I don't even know what that means.

Endoplasmic reticulum is pretty cool, actually.  I've learned a lot about it recently that I didn't know.  Everyone knows, I think, that endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is the series of tubes in your cells that carry stuff all around the cell, like a high way system, they told us back in middle school.  They told us that two kinds of "highway" swerve through our cells--the smooth ER, and the rough ER, covered in those protein-producing ribosomes.  They never told us anything special about the smooth ER--after all, it didn't have ribosomes on it.  Did you know, however, that the smooth ER also does lipid synthesis, calcium ion storage, and drug detoxification?  And that the smooth and rough ER are actually all part of the same long, windy, twisted series of long bent sacks?  There actually aren't separate ERs--hence the name Endoplasmic Reticulum instead of reticulae.

I posit, in my wild insanity, that ER also represents God, a god of paradoxes whose thoughts, as I read today in Isaiah, are infinitely above ours and complex, weaving through all of the universe and the Bible in ways we cannot always put together.  Sometimes we see a God of vengeance, sometimes of mercy, sometimes of death, sometimes of life, sometimes of air, sometimes of earth, a consuming fire and a satisfying water.  What does this have to do with ER?  Only that the two different pieces, which I once thought separate, actually constitute one and the same being.  I simply never saw the connection points--and amidst the winding mess, finding connections between two different substances can seem nearly impossible, much like with God.  I also never saw much use for smooth ER, just as many people do not see much use for God's wrath or justice or jealousy.

Yet God's thoughts, in all his complex paradox and all the winding impenetrability of his nature, carry our very existence forward, moving around all the substances that make up the fabric of our lives.  Often the parts of him that don't seem to make much sense or have much purpose become the most precious and important attributes of his being.  If He lives within us, his thoughts store our potential for action--just as ER stores calcium that makes physical action possible.  His more complex attributes rid our hearts of poison and provide an anchor for our living plans and daily bread and all the other "ribosomes" that create our lives on the most basic level.

So I suppose it would be a little odd to say "next time you think of ER, think of God," since you probably don't think about ER very much.  So instead, I ask that next time you think of God, you think of ER; next time God confuses you or does something in the Bible that you don't think he would do, remember that the connection points between the "rough" and the "smooth" God may be difficult to understand, but that no matter what, in his "rough" and "smooth" actions, God is serving His people.  Just as rough and smooth ER are one and the same, God in his rough and smooth is the same God who pulls together all the important processes of your life.

All scientific information in this blog post from Professor Guilford's Cell and Molec Bio for Engineers, UVA

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Clownfishing Around with a Deadly God

Nemo has ensured that everyone knows that the sea anemone stings, and kills, all fish except for one--the little clownfish, whose skin bears a sticky immunity after years and years of exposing itself to the deadly tentacled animal.  I think, if you search with me among the tingly arms to gaze deep beyond our striped fortress-dweller, you will find a picture of our true Prometheus, a God of deadly power whose very substance is deeply opposed to ours.  Even if we were perfect and good, every bit of his existence carries a danger that makes angels cover up to avoid his touch.  Every other being in the universe--except us, the indomitable spiritual clownfish--cannot survive the touch of God.

Yet He asks us to dwell in the very midst of Him, surrounding ourselves with Him every day, touching Him, and being touched by Him.  Never in the Bible do we see God touch an angel, but Jesus touched people all the time.  We humans may cover ourselves with His blood just as the clownfish's skin coats with the protective mucous--and dwell in His presence. 

We could talk about sin here, since other fish probably have a protein coating that the anenome's nematocysts recognize as food--just as in our normal sin, we really can only serve to be consumed by the holiness of the fire of God.  But some have theorized that the clown fish's mucous, based on sugars, fails to call out, "hey, I'm food" to the nematocysts.  In the same way, our new living, based on the coating that God has inspired in us, no longer screams out for destruction.

But more importantly, we could talk about God, and his "otherness"--the quality Christians often call holiness.  The word actually means his uniqueness and "set-apart"-ness.  The clownfish lives set apart from all other fish not only by where it lives and the dangers it can conquer, but by its very essence and the very pores that produce sugars instead of proteins.  How much more "set-apart" and special is the God who can bear the infinity of danger and pleasure in which He lives!

Monday, May 16, 2011

God is Pain, God is Pleasure

Did you know that pain and intense, intense pleasure are activated in the same part of the brain, at least in a study done on women?  The Count of Monte Christo once claimed, and continues to claim to every reader who reaches the end of his lengthy vengeant story, that he would not have understood joy had he not understood pain.  Yet this study shows that somewhere, some more significant binding ties together pain and pleasure, not simply "understanding by contrast." 

This study also brings to mind the verses that call out for God's children, the benefactors of Prometheus, to live ever in sorrow, ever in deepest joy.  "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phillipians) and yet "sorrow is better for the soul than joy" (Ecclesiastes)--"mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice," when somewhere in the world someone always has a reason to begin celebration and someone else a cause to weep.  I have often read these as a dual life, in which our deep internal joy for the love the Lord bears us carries us through the sorrows that prick us to the heart, as if our beings were marbled with joy and sorrow.

Yet perhaps, rather than marble, the joy and the sorrow come from the same stone.  This is a wondrous mystery, but perhaps God allows sorrow not that we might understand joy, but that we might be able to experience it.  It could be that the exercise of pain that we receive now only prepares us for the ability to feel the intense pleasures of heaven.  Pain itself does not harm anyone, and only serves as the warnings of unhealth, but the terrible practice of the intensity of its sensation perhaps strengthens the weak desires and tastes of our beings to really indulge in unbridled enjoyment.  Of course these things are metaphorical speculation...

But on a higher level, does this not lead us to consider the mystery of the nature of God himself?  Consider the consequences of pain to a God who feels so much more intensely than we do--after all, our vision carries a tiny piece of the visual spectrum, our smell only a bit of the possible sensations of the nose, surely our feelings and the emotions in that tiny hypothalamus must be very limited indeed compared with those of the Being of Infinity Himself!  Consider also how every time someone we love experiences joy, our hearts beat a bit faster--how much more must God, in whom exists ultimate love, thrill at the prospect of our happiness?  And if pain and pleasure are intimately connected, somehow, perhaps God is not merely marbled with pain and pleasure, but He himself is the severe, dangerous, yet incredibly beautiful source and combination of the whole intensity of both!  This thought makes me tremble and admire and love.

Information on pain and pleasure from Discovery Health
P.S. on the title--if p=true, reverse p does not necessarily equal true.  Neither pain nor pleasure are God.