A "Proof" for the Existence of God, Interlude: Lazarus, Time, Entropy, and Hope


For a break from my "proof" series, here's a weekend mediation on Lazarus, time, entropy, and hope.

In my last post I spoke of entropy.

Now, I really hate entropy.

See, the law of entropy states that the entire universe is heading toward thermal equilibrium. Right now, due to gravity, we have a low entropy hot spot in our neck of the woods (i.e., the sun). And this local low entropy hot spot allows for energy to be harnessed by chemical systems (i.e., plants and animals) to fight the tidal flow of entropy for a season. But eventually the sun will expand and cool and this neighborhood of the cosmos will settle toward equilibrium. All the lights will dim and go out.

If cosmologists are correct, this local conclusion is, in microcosm, the destiny of the entire universe. Continued expansion, continued cooling all leading to a very cold, thin, uniform distribution of matter. It will be so cold, thin, and uniform no physical system of any complexity will be able to organize and persist over time.

Cosmologists call this general directionality of the cosmos "the arrow of time." That is, our sense of the flow of time seems intricately linked to the increase in entropy, locally and globally. For example, if I hand someone a picture of your car the day you bought it and a second picture of the car today could she determine which picture was taken first? How about these pictures:

Picture A: Your baby picture
Picture B: A picture of you today

Picture A: A broken egg
Picture B: An intact egg

Picture A: Milk in a glass
Picture B: Milk split on the floor

Picture A: Bill's corpse
Picture B: Bill alive and smiling

In each case we can easily find the Before and After picture. How? We place the low entropy picture Before and the high entropy picture After. Because everything tends toward decay and dissolution.

Conclusion:
Decay is the Clock of the Universe. Dissolution is how we mark our days, we watch everything around us wind down, stop, and dissolve. Our cars, our homes, our books, our friends, our families, our universe, and, eventually, ourselves.

This is why I hate entropy so much. I'm surrounded, on a daily basis, by dying, decaying things. I myself am a dying, decaying thing. My car is about to hit 100,000 miles. It's a dying, decaying thing. I broke a plate today. It is a dying, decaying thing...

And you can't escape it. It's the flow of time. Death fills every second. Death IS every second.

And theses reflections also bring to mind a weakness in my prior post. Specifically, even if consciousness helps reduce entropy locally, this victory cannot be maintained over the long haul. Even if humans live for millions of years into the future, the sun is still going to go out. Even if consciousness is linked to entropy, it seems a futile and temporary victory.

So, again, I hate entropy.

Which is why I like this particular bible story:

John 11: 1-44
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."

When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."

"But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?"

Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light."

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."

His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."

Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

"Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

"Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said.

"But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."

Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."


Here's what I like about this story. It's not a story about death. Jesus had raised other people before. No, this was a big deal because death wasn't the enemy. The enemy was entropy:

"...for he has been there for four days."

The power of the miracle is not just resuscitation, but reversing four days worth of decay of an unembalmed body: Entropy. The miracle is not just about resurrection. The miracle is about the reversal of the tidal flow of time. Stopping and then reversing the Clock of the Universe.

So, yeah, I hate keeping time by watching things die around me. And I know my argument in the prior post only demonstrates that consciousness creates structure only for finite periods of time; that, in the end, entropy will win out.

But when I read John 11, I have a little hope. After the Clock of Entropy ticks midnight for the cosmos, I hope there will be a final Word.

Have a great weekend!

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6 thoughts on “A "Proof" for the Existence of God, Interlude: Lazarus, Time, Entropy, and Hope”

  1. for anyone who is interested, the cover story of this week's issue of time magazine is "God vs science" it features a debate between richard dawkins and francis collins. its a good read.

    nolan

  2. Nolan,

    Check the cover story of Newsweek: The "Politics of Jesus". The cover is somewhat disconcerting: A large wooden cross tightly wrapped in an American flag. The raw juxtaposition induced some intestinal twisting on my part. Like some recently excavated photo of young Gandhi making out with Hitler (is that image a responsible parallel?).
    Mark Weathers

  3. mark i must disagree, i can think of nothing more zen than the image of the cross wrapped in the american flag. in fact, i meditate on this image every morning before undertaking God's call to lay waste to everyone who doesn't think like me.

  4. When I think of an image of how Christians are to hold themselves in this world I think of Paul:
    1 Corinthians 2: 1-5:
    When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.

    I wonder when "Christians" will realize that power, as Christians wield it, is in our weakness, fear, and trembling. We work best from the margins.

  5. i would like to issue a disclaimer about my previous comment regarding "God's call to lay waste to everyone who doesn't think like me." i see nothing being further from the reality of God's call to believers which we see in Christ's example of the ideal Christian life. i continually forget that sarcasm does not always translate well into the written word. therefore, let me make percectly clear that my comments were purely satirical.
    nolan

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