Wednesday, June 1, 2011

God as the BOX DESTROYER: Understanding God as Anisotropy

Bones, those voiceless hunks of wet calcium buried in the ooze and flesh we call our bodies, could talk about God in many ways.  They could sing to you about the One who "upholds the Universe by the Word of his Power" like bones uphold our bodies, or that our lives without him are ultimately foundationless, or that from Him comes life just as the red blood cells we need come from their birthplace in the bone marrow...they are metaphors for a lot of things.  But I'd make the case that a little bit of bone biomechanics weaves an analogy about God that perhaps you and I wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

In order to understand how pieces of our bodies respond to stresses or how they align or how to create replacement tissues or how tissues heal, biomechanical engineers have to use mathematical models. One way to model tissues in our bodies is as "hookean elastic solids." Generally, this means that the elasticity, the way the solid shears, and the ratio of stretching in two directions follow certain mathematical rules. All you really need to know about this model right now is that these three properties are the same in any direction.  If you pull on the hookean elastic solid the same way in any direction, it will be just as elastic.  If you twist it, it will always shear the same way no matter where in the material you shear it.  When you pull it, Poisson's Ratio, the ratio between the amount one part stretches when another part shrinks, always remains the same in any direction. This is called isotropy.

Bone isn't like that.  As an "orthotropic elastic solid," it's anisotropic and has different, but constant, properties in different directions; in order to bear the most load with the least waste of material and the best containment of soft bone marrow, bone is layered, and made of cells called osteons lined up in only one way. It bears more load in the direction that it needs to bear load, and isn't so forceful against load in other directions.  Elasticity, Shear Modulus (the way we describe behavior when you twist it), and Poisson's Ratio (that ratio I mentioned earlier) are different in every direction. This means that every time you calculate how the bone will behave, you have to take into account the direction it is loading in and the new properties for that direction.  We can still predict how bone will behave, and bone is still reliable mathematically, it's just not as simple as we'd like.  The equation has like ten more variables and takes three times as long to solve, but it's still a good equation.

God is like that.  When we try to understand his behavior in our lives or in the Bible, we need to take into account his different-ness, and stop treating him like he has to be isotropic. In different times of history--like different places on the bone--God behaves differently, with different amounts of force, mercy, and justice, not because he is unreliable, but because that way he can best support His Body and the Body of Christ, with the least loss.  Sometimes, we think him excessively violent. Sometimes we think him unfair.  But it's not like he's throwing away morality any more than the bone throws away reliability.  He simply has a much more complex job in history than we do. Just as bone shouldn't become isotropic just to fit our analysis (good Lord that would destroy your body), God should not have to submit himself to our rules about morality or who he can and cannot kill or whether or not he showed himself physically to us then and doesn't now or WHATEVER.

Many of you have heard the slogan "don't put God in a box." Quite frankly, something that infinite would require a large, large box, and God does not let himself be boxed. So the slogan really ought to be, "don't even try to put God in a box," because when you try, you merely break the box.  People sometimes get mad when God breaks their boxes, especially with the way he breaks some serious modern boxes in the Old Testament.  In our nice little moralities or pleasures or what have you, when God breaks our sets of rules he has committed sacrilege against our beliefs of right and wrong.  God has committed blasphemy against what we really worship.

And you better bet he's going to do it as much as he can until he's broken every box in the Universe. Some boxes he welds back together, others he melts down. Yet ultimately, God makes the boxes in this Universe, not you and me.

All scientific information in this post from BME 2220, my Biomechanics class at UVA.

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