Computer Programming and Secular Fiction

A friend of mine expressed recently that he wishes he had been more efficient about solving a problem while he was programming (that is, computer programming).

As I lie awake realizing I should have taken a sleeping aid until I’m fully over some jet lag, I turned this thought over in my mind, realizing that this is precisely my sentiment towards the way God’s plans seem to hash themselves out whether on the grand scale of history or in my personal life. Why couldn’t he have been more efficient? Just save us and be done with it, for goodness sakes. As God, could he not have taken out the several wrong turns or daft moments his people had/has/will have? But of course, mistakes are often the greatest teachers. Even as I think this I begin to think fondly of the (mild) troubles in my life..!

When I learned briefly the basics of programming in Python, the instructors gave us a function design recipe. When you create functions to do calculations for you, there are steps to follow in their creation. You consider the outcomes you want, the parameters you need to have, the description of what you’re doing, and then actually write the function. But wait, there’s more. Then you test it, and often there are things to tweak. Usually, the better the initial planning, the fewer tweaks you need to make. But with more complex calculations, there are bound to be more things to consider and more things that can be overlooked. As I learned how to use a programming language for the first time, in order to learn how the language worked, it was actually more helpful for me to purposefully make some mistakes and see their results than to just do the exercise and move on!

What is that but a suitable metaphor for how God could want to purposefully let us follow him in an inefficient manner? Fail, fail, fail and keep at it. It is probably so that we learn better deeper fonder. After all, he has always been preeminently interested in the state of our hearts. Haughty or humble? Hard or soft? Unwilling to change, or ready to be renewed?

Metaphors are great because it lets someone perceive something they do not already understand. Another friend of mine once illustrated this finely: you can’t say that those steps on the hill we’re going to walk on today are just like the ones on the Great Wall of China if I haven’t been to the Great Wall. But after I walk on those steps, the metaphor is useful. Then I’ll know what the steps of the Great Wall are like because I’ll know one half of the metaphor.

This is why this article about the importance of reading fiction rings true. Reading good fiction is no less important than reading good theology because these creations are our connection to the minds of this world. (And I suppose this encompasses good movies, good hobbies, and other worthy pastimes that may otherwise be deemed worldly.) I have quite the list building up of literature I must read. Silas Marner, here we come. (But first, sleep.)

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