Quantum Mechanics of the Spiritual Life

Two electrons were traveling alongside one another toward the same destination (the far wall) but, due to various events, managed to cross paths. One might say they interfered with one another, and that interference caused their final destination to change. They still arrived at the far wall, but the exact location where each arrived was different from what it would have been, had they not interfered with one another.

Now the same two electrons traveling toward the same destination, followed exactly the same path as before. This time, however, one of the electrons lagged far behind the other, so their paths never actually crossed. Surprisingly, however, they arrived at the far wall at the exact location as before. In other words, though the electrons never crossed paths and interfered with one another, both behaved as though they had. It is as if both electrons “knew” their paths would have crossed if their timing had been different, and so behaved as though they had. Or, perhaps, the electrons had no concept of time, so that from their perspective, whether sooner or later, their paths crossed at exactly the same time.

Which, of course, makes no sense. But this is the strange world of Quantum Mechanics, the study of the behavior of sub-atomic particles, which has modern scientists baffled. They are baffled not because they cannot predict the behavior of such particles but because it simply does not make sense. It is truly a puzzle.

However I am confident that scientists will eventually figure all this out. Most likely they will discover that what made the phenomena we now observe at the sub-atomic level seem so baffling was not the thing itself, but our perspective.

What often makes our observation of a thing so baffling is not the thing itself, but our perspective.

This was certainly the case at the time of the Copernican revolution. In his groundbreaking book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn explains that just before Copernicus, the world of astronomy was in a state of crisis. They had assumed the Earth was the center of the Universe. This seemed reasonable, since everything in the sky appeared to revolve around it.

But this was not entirely true. For there were a handful of celestial bodies known as “wanderers,” which seemed to defy all reason. The reason they were called wanderers is because they did not follow predictable paths across the night sky. Unlike the rest of the cosmos, they wandered about the sky erratically.

Elaborate models developed to attempt to explain these exceptions only seemed to add more confusion than clarity. Even if the math in such models succeeded, their explanations seemed to defy logic. Not the logic of math, but the logic of the Universe. There was and is an underlying feeling in science that the Universe is fundamentally understandable. In other words, we do not employ math merely to predict an incomprehensible world but to explain a comprehensible one. For this reason, the math and the models to explain the wanderers just did not seem to add up. Astronomy was at an impasse.

There was and is an underlying feeling in science that the Universe is fundamentally understandable. We do not employ math merely to predict an incomprehensible world but to explain a comprehensible one.

Then along came Copernicus. He proposed the Earth was not in fact the center of the Universe: The Sun was. Further, the Earth was not the only thing to revolve around the sun: The “wanderers” did also. For this reason, their paths across the sky at night appeared different. Suddenly the math worked, and the “wanderers” were renamed to what we call them today: Planets.

I say all of this by way of introduction (a rather lengthy one, I admit) to say that the same holds true in the spiritual life. Author and international speaker Kris Vallotton recently published an article titled Truth in Tension. In it, he addresses apparent contradictions we find in Scripture and how those are resolved by understanding what he calls the “multidimensional nature of truth.” In other words, we, like scientists in the laboratory, can observe phenomena in Scripture that seems perplexing and even contradictory. But with a different perspective, we come to understand what we thought was contradictory is in fact part of a unified whole.

Take for example these two scriptures: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8). And: “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” On the surface, we might find these verses to be contradictory. After all, one says it is by faith alone we are justified; the other says faith alone is not enough, that it needs works to be authentic. So which is it?

If we view the Christian life as no more than “obeying the Bible,” this may be a real difficulty for us. But with a more complete understanding of the Christian life — namely, that it is fundamentally about God freely granting us eternal life without us earning it, and God then empowering us through the Holy Spirit to live out a new life of purpose and action in relationship with Him, we find these verses aren’t contradictory at all: One speaks of how we enter into that relationship (not by earning it through “works”); the other speaks of how we walk that relationship out (which inevitably produces good “works”). With this perspective, we see each verse for what it is: Part of a unified whole.

With the right perspective, we see Scripture passaged that may at first appear contradictory for what they truly are: Parts of a unified whole.

When our perspective changes, it is often a single fact or event that brings about that change. In the case of Copernicus, it was the simple swap of Earth with Sun. In our theological example, it is the realization that faith is not merely a one-time event but a lifelong relationship. The single event brings about a revolutionary paradigm shift that causes us to see order where there once was only chaos.

Seeing reality from the right perspective, of course, is the foundation of all good theology — and good science. In each case we are on a journey to fathom the deep mysteries of the world in which we live and to arrive at a place of greater understanding. Which seems to be wired into mankind’s very nature, and part of our destiny.

Deeper than the mystery of Quantum Mechanics is why we live in such a world at all. That is, the real mystery is not why we presently find Quantum Mechanics incomprehensible, but why we find the rest of science comprehensible. Why is it that the world around us is predictable and consistent at all, even reducible to mathematical language? Why isn’t the world ultimately like our wanderers once were: Erratic and defying explanation? This mystery is no deeper than faith itself. But it is one I am confident each of us will find, if we seek Him, to be but part of a unified Whole.

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