This morning as I was going through my morning routine, I caught myself wishing I could just stop. It wasn’t anything drastic. I’m reasonably happy with living and I’d like to keep doing it if that’s God’s will. I just wished that I could sit back and rest. I would say, “rest on my laurels,” but I don’t have any, and I’m not entirely sure what that means anyway.
Sometimes I want to just do a freeze-frame: just freeze everything the way it is and live out the rest of my life like this. Maybe I’m the only one, but I don’t think so. One of my favorite songs is Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” where he sort of hits on the same idea, albeit in the past. I think a lot of us have this feeling at one time or another. We like things just the way they are (or were) and would be perfectly happy to leave them there.
I tend to catch myself making this freeze-frame wish when I’m in the middle of change, so it makes sense that it came up this morning. This week we’re starting a couple of new things at the church: a confirmation class and Financial Peace University—two things I have been wanting to do for a long time and that just sort of fell into place out of the blue. Last fall we started a new worship service at the church, The Back Door, something that I continue to be excited about and that I am personally finding to be one of the high points of my week. At the church we’re now talking about different ways we can engage with our community to draw us all closer to one another and closer to God. All of this is new and it is change and it is exciting. So why would I want to stop?
I like to come up with grand theories that seem revelatory to me but really just boil down to common sense. And I’ve created (or more likely borrowed) one to explain this phenomenon: I think we’re all caught in the middle of a battle between the cosmic forces of entropy and order. Entropy is a fundamental law of nature that says everything is constantly in the process of breaking down. Our sun will eventually burn out, ending up as a white dwarf star and eventually, after billions and billions of years, as a cinder. And, eventually, the entire universe will wind down, with everything separating into its constituent atoms, and eventually even those will be gone.
It’s called heat death and it doesn’t just play out on a cosmic stage. There’s a pecan orchard near my mother’s home town of DeLeon that was planted when I was a kid. I remember when those pecan trees were just little twigs. Now, I drive by and a lot of them are already dead. I planted some peach trees last year, and when I did the research, I learned that they really don’t bear fruit all that long. Assuming I don’t die early, they’ll be dead before me. I look back at all the great civilizations of history, which seemed invincible at the time, and realize that they all died out.
And all of us are eventually going to die. Of course, I used to think I’d live forever but now, not so much. I’m getting near 60 and I’m starting to run down. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted but now I’m in a constant battle with the scales. I used to have long, thick hair. Now, it’s falling out and what little I have left is getting grey. I used to love to run and now I can’t. And the list goes on. Over the last few years I have lost several close family members. My parents used to seem almost superhuman but now they seem old and frail. Entropy is going to get all of us.
But entropy—another word for it is chaos—isn’t all there is. There’s also order. Stars don’t just burn out, they are also created. People don’t just die. We’re also born. We start out as little babies who are entirely reliant on those around us for survival. Then we grow, we learn, and eventually we’re able to take care of ourselves.
And, when you think about it, this tendency towards growth and order is pretty amazing. Scientists will tell you that entropy, chaos, and disorder is the natural state of the universe. But order bucks that system. Order creates order out of chaos. It pushes back against chaos. This is one of the reasons I first came to believe in God—there’s got to be something or someone doing the pushing.
But, if you listen to the scientists, chaos always wins in the end. What is created eventually decays. What is born eventually dies. But, as a Christian, I don’t believe the heat death of the universe is the end of the story. I don’t believe death is the end of the story. I believe there is an ordering principle deeper than the physical. A principle that, in fact, created the physical and will one day perfect it. I think this is part of what the apostle John meant when he said at the beginning of his Gospel that the light has overcome the darkness. We see the manifestation of this principle in the order that is breaking into the universe all around us and in our lives, and I believe this creative, ordering principle—God—will ultimately transform our universe. Chaos will not have the last word.
But in the meantime, we’re here in a universe where chaos is the ground state. And if that’s right, then the moment we stop pushing, growing, creating, that’s the moment entropy, disorder, and chaos take over. It’s the old saying: the moment you stop growing, you start dying.
I think it’s natural for us, as we get older, to want to go back to the glory days or to do a freeze-frame of right now. When I look at the world around me and the ever-accelerating pace at which it is changing, I just want to throw up my hands and surrender. I get tired of all the change, I get tired of trying to keep up, I just want to stop; to rest.
Now, I firmly believe rest is a good thing. We were created to rest and recharge our batteries. We have to sleep, we need Sabbath rest. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is giving up. It’s deciding that I’m done growing. It’s deciding that I like things just fine the way they are and I’m done changing. When we do that, that’s the moment we give in to chaos. That’s the moment we start dying. It’s the moment we start dying as people and it’s the moment we start dying as a church (or any other institution for that matter).
So I guess we’ve got a choice. We can continue to try, to push, to strive, to change, or not. We can get busy living or start dying. I’m pretty sure there’s no middle ground here.
And the maddening thing about it is that it’s not a one-and-done thing. You can’t just choose and be done with it. You can’t rely on the choice you made yesterday or last month or last year. You have to do it every day. You have to choose again today whether to get busy living or start dying.
So, at least for today, I guess I’ll keep on going. At least for today, chaos isn’t going to get the last word.