“We are hanging in the balance of the reality of man, like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.”
A boy was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on October 19, 1952. As he grew, he looked around and noticed that he was born into a lower middle class family that was less well off than many others. An early black and white TV set arrived in the family’s apartment and it showed him a world of upper middle class people who had more money, more things, and more power. The boy suspected that people like this looked down on families like his, and he was jealous.
In addition to this, the boy was small and lacked strength, and he was timid. He had a sister only 11 months older than himself, and he was guilty of the sin of jealousy towards her also. He felt that the parents treated her like an adult and treated him like a child. Eventually he noticed that the parents were very proud of her for being smart. The mother in particular took great pride in her learning to read at a young age. So the boy eagerly began to learn to read from the daily newspaper and the family Bible. Once his sister began elementary school, the boy read her school books and tried to outdo her. Especially he also learned some simple arithmetical tricks like multiplying by powers of ten, allowing him to pose simple multiplication questions and outdoing her in front of his parents. As the sister passed from grade to grade, he devoured all of her schoolbooks at the beginning of each school year. Although the home had few books, he did have access to a public library and he eagerly read his mother’s King James Bible, especially Genesis.
In short, he became a very good student and excelled in all standardized tests and made perfect grades in school. He succeeded far beyond his natural intelligence level, which was in fact only well within the normal range. It was not only a way to try to please his parents, but also the only way he saw to try to climb the social ladder and compete in the world beyond his family.
Of course he eventually found out that there were many people much smarter than he, especially after he went away to university. But by being very diligent, opportunistic and driven, he moved up. After college, he had a modicum of success in achieving the things people aspire to, such as money, status and recognition. But it gradually dawned on him that these things, in and of themselves, were not satisfying. His life was being consumed by stress, worry and worldly cares. What would be left, at the end of his life, from all of these “accomplishments”.
And so he began to search for underlying values. Maybe he should have put in more thought upfront, when he was younger, about what his life’s goals should be. He began to read, study and contemplate the great philosophical and religious traditions, questions, and books. He particularly studied the world’s major religious traditions and found meaning and beauty in all of them. In the end, his own native Christian tradition was most satisfying to him, but he also saw that there was a universal bedrock of values, traditions, mores, and beliefs that formed the foundation of all the world’s civilizations. Whether you call it the Way, the Tao, the perennial philosophy, or the Golden Rule, it was an inherent understanding in all peoples, even when they sometimes actually behaved in diametrically opposite ways. In their hearts, in their consciences, all people knew right from wrong.
And it also dawned on him that there was no reason to agonize, worry and fret about all these things., One could follow the Way of being a good Christian without losing the joy of everyday life by worrying about all the details of theological and philosophical niceties. He was certain that no one could ever be certain about such things anyway.
One problem though, having reached these sane, reasonable and mature conclusions, was that the boy, now a man, looked at his hands, his arms and his face in the mirror and saw the wrinkled skin of an old man. It was very late to take advantage of these moderate ideas and he had wasted much of his life with unwarranted and unnecessary concerns.
In thinking about all this, the old man began to consider how his beloved dog, Betsy, illustrated some good principles of how to enjoy life without over-thinking and thus missing some of life’s best moments. When the family picked Betsy out of her litter, they chose her because although she was the runt of the litter, she was the most outgoing and personable.
When the old man took Betsy on her daily walk, she would positively prance with joy. Everyone they met was captivated by her joie de vivre, her cute antics and especially her personality. Betsy didn’t walk, she positively danced with glee to be alive. She loved meeting all dogs and all people. When meeting an old friend, she would race in circles for an extended time, wagging her tail back and forth vigorously. Betsy wasn’t the smartest dog, but she was cute , and she knew it. She enjoyed life. In her ineffable dogness, she knew that she was lucky the family picked her, lucky they kept her, and lucky to be alive.
The old man learned from Betsy the lesson to enjoy life, not overthink or worry about the details, and to cherish the day to day happiness of being. But still, he thought, there is a difference between dogs and people. People can decide, plan, make things happen, make a difference, and do good or evil. And even as much as Betsy loved everyone and everything, people can and do love in a more profound way. The old man, eager to take advantage of the insights he learned from Betsy, still wanted to know what makes people different, and why people sometimes must suffer so. Why was the care free life of a dog inappropriate for a person? Why did Socrates say that “the unexamined life is not worth living?”
And so he asked himself, can modern science shed any light on these questions? Perhaps the leading scientific theory and paradigm of our time is quantum physics. There are several mathematical ways to express quantum physics, but all lead to the same results and predictions. And all of them contain an element of chance, or rather, they precisely and definitively predict the actual results that will occur at atomic levels, but only in a statistical way. The statistical probabilities that quantum physics predicts always hold true, but in any given isolated incident, it is impossible to say exactly what will occur, only that in a large number of incidents of a particular kind, the results will obey the statistical probabilities predicted by quantum physics. Some outcomes may be, depending on the conditions and circumstances, very likely to occur and other outcomes may be very unlikely to occur.
So the quantum laws of the universe spell out precisely how the universe will evolve, on a large scale in the future, but the short term details will vary because of the statistical nature of individual atomic phenomena. Some actions are more likely, some less so, and on average over time the equations are never violated. But still, in any individual instance, a seemingly random or chance factor exists, prompting Einstein, who disliked this aspect of quantum physics and felt that it must be wrong, to remark that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe”.
One may hypothesize that God created the quantum systems that we can describe using the quantum field equations, with all their long term exactness and precision, in order to give certain long term tendencies and outcomes, but He reserved certain controls to Himself. Thus every atomic event, interaction and outcome always follows the quantum field equations but God reserves to Himself the ability and responsibility to decide to use the “chance” part of any atomic event to affect outcomes. Thus, He has restricted Himself to maintaining the long term statistical tendencies required by the equations, but He can manipulate the “chance” variation to affect short term individual outcomes. Thus God created a law abiding system with long term ramifications but He can still “interfere” on an atomic level to a certain extent. In effect, God would be controlling when and where the statistically rare events would occur.
This could allow God to perform what we would perceive as physical miracles on a macroscopic scale, in very rare instances, while maintaining a law abiding universe. God is a law maker, not a law breaker.
But where do people fit into all of this? Well, God is said to have made people in His own image. Maybe this means that He gave people at least a small ability to, like Him, affect how Creation turns out. If God can choose, at least in rare circumstances, to affect how the statistical predictions of quantum physics play out, maybe he gave people a small bit of ability to affect reality also. For instance, one might hypothesize at least three ways this could happen. First, people, by the very act of measuring atomic events and performing experiments, could be partially causing certain outcomes. Secondly, people often pray to God to help in various circumstances, and maybe God sometimes listens to those prayers and, on occasion, intervenes at the atomic level in ways that might even have macroscopic effects. Thirdly, people plan, think, hypothesize and act in purposeful ways, thus affecting how the world evolves over time. People are meaning making creatures.
Thus God created people with free will to do, to decide, to be and to create. In a sense, God sacrificed His total control by allowing humans the freedom to create, decide, do and affect outcomes. In fact sacrifice, and suffering in order to create better outcomes, seem to be core parts of God’s attributes. After all, He gave His only begotten Son, to be sacrificed by crucifixion. Jesus suffered, and He sacrificed Himself, and He even exhibited humility. We don’t normally consider these things to be core attributes of God Himself, but on the other hand, Jesus shows us what God is like. When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like. And Jesus suffered and was sacrificed, so hypothetically, God Himself values and somehow exhibits these attributes.
And so God made suffering and sacrifice part of the human condition. This is hard for us to accept. But it may be a necessary part of how we are to co-create the future, working together with God, to make short term sacrifices, and sometimes suffer a lot, but helping to create greater things.
God, in asking people to suffer and make sacrifices, did not leave us alone. While placing so much responsibility on people to participate with Him in Creation, which involves suffering and sacrifice, He also decided to support us by making an awesome covenant. The covenant was expressed to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, fleshed out by the prophets, and ultimately renewed and enhanced by Jesus. God asks an awful lot of us, but He gives us promises, help and support in His covenant. The incarnation was the ultimate engagement of God and humanity, and it epitomizes the covenant God has made with humanity.
So the God-Man, Jesus, is the Son of God, the nexus of humanity with God. But the term Jesus chose in the Gospels most often to describe Himself is as the Son of Man. This is an interesting choice by Jesus. The term “Son of Man” had a history in the Hebrew Bible in the prophets. It is a rich symbol and implies the participation of God with humanity, a partaking in humanity’s sufferings, and by splicing God Himself into humanity’s family tree, providing the promise that God will not let humanity ultimately fail. With God on our side, who can, in the end, stand against us?
Jesus promised us that He will come again as the Son of Man in the last times. He said that we will see the Son of Man coming again in the clouds with glory. This must mean something. The title “Son of Man” is rich in symbolism and meaning. When Jesus came to earth 2000 years ago, He did not come in the manner that everyone expected. His manner of coming surprised everyone. Might we also be surprised when the Son of Man comes again with clouds of glory? I doubt we can realize what this second coming really means, what it will look like, and how it will come about. We will probably be very surprised. But it might be a good thing to ponder.
Might the second coming of the Son of Man have something to do with the ultimate Omega Point of human history, the intertwining of God and humanity, the fulfillment of the message and mission of Jesus Christ, the final reward for the sum total of human and divine suffering and sacrifice, and the revelation of the meaning of all things. But this puny list made by a human being will most certainly fall way short of the reality of this ultimate future event.
What will the second coming of the Son of Man be?