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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Drinking Blood

As you may have guessed, though the title suggests the possibility, the following content is not vampiric in nature. Rather, this is about the Last Supper. And about Leviticus. And communion.

Jesus took a cup (presumably of wine, as it is from the vine) and told his disciples, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood…”

(Matthew 26:26-28 ESV)

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

The shock factor of this command increases when you consider the cultural background of these men, whom observe the Levitical laws against eating blood. “Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

(Leviticus 17:10-16 ESV)

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.
“Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean. But if he does not wash them or bathe his flesh, he shall bear his iniquity.”

The thing is, blood was to be revered and not eaten because of its symbolic value in being a life fluid. To read the rest of that section in Leviticus, blood on the altar was special and had the power of atonement for the people’s souls, so it was not to be eaten as merely common food. But because blood atones and gives life in that spiritual sense, Jesus fulfills and hence references this mental construct and symbolic association established long ago to show the disciples with pizazz how his death and the loss of blood associated with this death would be the blood on the altar to atone for all sins. Once and for all.

“Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Leviticus is like a tome of metaphors to unlock the oomph and awe of the New Testament gospels!

The Universe, Contracted to a Span

After seeing some astronomy photos today, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for those times when poets who write after the tradition of John Donne compare their object of love with the world or the universe. Quite literally, these pictures of a galaxy and nebula I saw look just like an iris. A pair of them could make eyes you can get lost in. It’s a nice little example of microcosm / macrocosm. Ahh poetry, where I first learned all this.

In The Sun Rising, which I don’t particularly recommend you read as it was written before John Donne converted to Christianity and hence is suggestive and saucy (though I had to read it in high school), Donne writes these lines:

 Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.

Disregarding the hubris of thinking they are the world, that’s a typically romantic idea, to think of the other as the world or at least to tell them that. I don’t think that’s a particularly helpful or romantic gesture myself, but I do know it’s a common cliché. Rather, this idea is an idolatrous one, beginning with assuming that the world is pre-eminent in importance and the greatest thing existing that one could possess, and transferring that idolatry from world to a person. This of course assumes that they are thinking of possessing the world as possessing its pleasures and riches, not in the sense of… reaching the peoples of the world with the good news of salvation in Christ for the glory of God, say.

I’ve digressed, even if it was fruitful. Here are the two pictures:

The Triangulum Galaxy

The Crab Nebula

In a beautiful pair of eyes, it can seem like the universe is contracted in a span – but this is only a metaphor.