Recently I’ve found myself reading the Hebrew book of Job. It’s a very powerful work of literature and I think everyone should read it at some point in their lives. In the work, there is a righteous man named Job who is very prosperous. He’s married to a beautiful woman who loves him, his children adore him, they’re all doing well, and he is very wealthy. He respects those around him and is a man of integrity. Then out of nowhere, all of that changes very quickly.
It’s said that Satan and his fallen angels visit heaven and speak with God. They tell Him that the only reason Job is such an upright man is because he’s been given such a wonderful life. They challenge God and tell Him that if He removes his wall of protection from Job, the man will soon be cursing God and everyone around him. And so, God allows Satan to take anything he desires from Job, except his life.
Tragedy upon tragedy falls on Job. His children are killed, his wealth is lost, and Satan afflicts him with boils all over his skin, leaving him in agony every waking moment of each day. Though Job never ends up cursing God, he begins to raise his voice to the heavens asking, “Where is the justice? What have I done to deserve this? Why is all of this happening to me? Why do the righteous in this life suffer? God, why don’t you fix these things?”
Before long, Job’s friends visit him and accuse him of some secret sin. They assure him that he’s obviously done something to deserve all of this, but he’s just not admitting it. So, even his friends lose faith in him and he loses his good reputation. After a while, even Job’s loving wife loses it, becomes a nagging nuisance, and tells him to curse God and curse this life. She exclaims that there is no justice in this life and that God doesn’t care about either of them. They’re on their own. Job ends up out in the middle of a field, covered in dirt, suffering and in agony, sprawled out on the ground, cursing the day he was born.
He lays out in the field and curses this life. Why do the powerful oppress the weak, and why does God allow it? Why do good people get sick and die? Why is there war? Famine? Pestilence? Natural disasters? Why do evil people prosper? Why must people die? Why did God give man a nature which is so covetous and evil? What is the meaning of it all? Job lays out in the field and demands an answer, screaming at the sky.
God comes down from heaven in a whirlwind and mocks Job. What do you understand, human? Do you know the end from the beginning? Where were you when I created the laws of physics and set the stars in place? Or were you there and I didn’t notice? Do you know my grand plan for it all? Do you? The angels rejoiced when I set this all in motion. Tell me why that is? Tell me what happens when a person dies? Tell me about the nature of light and matter? Tell me about space and time? What is life? Do you know? Tell me!
Job lays there in the dirt, thinks for a moment, and then replies, “Lord, I don’t know the answers to your questions. I’m just a human, and I’m not worthy to ask these things. Forgive me.” God then leaves Job and tells Satan to leave him alone. Shortly after this, Job’s wealth and integrity are restored, his health returns, and he is blessed with ten times the wealth he had before. He has new children with his wife, and his daughters were the most beautiful in all the land.
When I think about the universe, and wonder if there is a plan for it all, I think of it all from the perspective I know best — a computer programmer. I think about writing a computer program which runs by very simple rules, and how likely it would be that such a simple program would create beautiful solar systems, stars, planets, and eventually set in motion the evolution of life, trees, blue skies, clouds, waterfalls, and all the rest of it. Then I think, “It’s pretty absurd to think all of that would happen on its own. Of all the possible simple programs I could write, most would just create garbage. They wouldn’t create anything near as splendid as this, despite all its faults.”
I can just picture atheists reading this and thinking, “Jason, are you becoming religious?” Then I hear them arguing, “If the laws of the universe weren’t what they are, we wouldn’t be here to even think about them because we never would have evolved a brain capable of such high level thought. So what’s the problem?” I don’t find that answer satisfactory or conclusive, but there is logic to it. All that is saying is that if we weren’t here, we wouldn’t be able to think about the question. I certainly think about the question, and I don’t feel it’s answered. I don’t like philosophical answers, acting as if you can just sit in your armchair and answer a question like that. I want something more substantial. I want evidence. I want something conclusive.
I’ve been on the fence on this issue for a long time. On the one hand, I agree with physicists like Steven Weinberg, who in his book The First Three Minutes, chronicles the events of the Big Bang and points out that eventually our universe will continue to expand and expand until we’re left with the heat death. Information processing becomes impossible, so all thought and consciousness are extinguished, and all forms of life are obliterated, no matter how hard they struggled, or how much they evolved to get where they were. Weinberg’s book ends on a rather dismal note, stating, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” On the other hand, I wonder how far evolution may go, and I also consider that there could well be aspects to the laws of nature which are yet to be discovered which would change my mind on things.
The other night I had a conversation with an old friend and we had a conversation similar to the ones Job was having with his three friends. Where is the justice? What is the point of toiling away in jobs we hate? We spend the majority of our lives working, most of us hating what we do. Then we get old, feeble, and the best we can hope for is to have a comfortable retirement, and that’s not even guaranteed. Love so often fades away and many of us are left with desertion. And what do we accomplish moving dirt around here on the surface of the Earth? Struggling to exist? Sickness, disease, bombings, wars, violence. What’s the point of it all, especially when it’s all just going to eventually expand away into nothing once we’re all dead and gone? The question is worth asking.
I’ve watched this world destroy that wonderful inner joy from within so many people I’ve known over the years. People once full of life as children, now they’re just dead inside. I remember going to the park and playing basketball with them, playing hockey, and enjoying video games. We’d sneak off to the park and hit baseballs in the batting cages. We’d ride our bicycles around the neighborhoods without a care in the world. We’d go swimming and look at the girls in their swimsuits. I remember shyly approaching them, and at other times flirting with the lifeguards. We’d get bored from time to time, but life was good. We talked about girls we liked, we goofed off, and we tried to convince the older folks to take us to the paintball range or to Blockbuster to rent movies. But that was then. Now what is everyone like? They’re stuck in jobs they hate, most of them are in unfulfilling relationships, and some of them live in poverty. They’re bitter and many of them have given into cynicism. Others have became deeply religious, think Jesus is coming back any day to save this dying world, and have put all their hopes in the next life. People I grew up with, friends and family members, I’ve watched this world tear them to shreds and spit them out to die. I’ve also had to watch many of my own loved ones die and felt totally powerless and helpless against it. Just the other night I looked at my grandfather, who I love deeply, lying in the emergency room, weak and frail, on the verge of death, about to have open-heart surgery.
I can’t bear to think about it. It sends me into a spiral of depression so deep, I can become suicidal. I made up my mind many years ago to find answers to why all of this is happening. I’ve found out how many things got the way they are, but the solutions, if there are any, are beyond what any person could ever fix on their own. Many things are beyond our control, such as the ways our minds evolved and what makes us feel good inside. One of the scariest thoughts to think about is that society is evolving on its own, and nobody really knows where it’s going or how things will turn out. And looking at all the other species before us that have went extinct, we live in a dangerous world where the rains fall on the just and the unjust.
I also learned and later came to appreciate all that my parents did to make me happy. How both of my parents tried to shield all of us from the pains and suffering of this world. I remember all my mother did, taking us places, running us to different sporting events, or buying us things we wanted, even when they were difficult to afford. I recall the spiritual lessons Dad shared, and as I grow older, I find out the truth to most all of them. Most all of them were true, as far as life lessons go. I see people who never learned them, or failed to believe them, and I see them destroyed. That’s to be expected. He shared with me spiritual lessons that have been taught for thousands of years, time-tested generation after generation. They’re the greatest things Dad ever gave me. Love and compassion are the most important things in this world.
I’ve learned many things, but the deepest lessons I’ve learned point to the fact that I’m a very frail and weak creature who is very dumb, unaware of most things going on around me. People of my species live for an insignificant amount of time, struggle to exist, mainly due to how stupid we all are, and then we die. We hope to find some degree of happiness in our careers, love lives, and children, but I don’t think many people find deep fulfillment. The more I learn, I mostly learn all that I don’t know, so I don’t feel qualified to even give advice or talk about things. It’s like there’s an invisible whirlwind flying above me, “What do you know?” I always reply, “I know next to nothing.” “What is matter?” “Protons, neutons, electrons? Quarks? I don’t know.” “What is light? What is it that you see?” “Vibrating electric and magnetic fields? I don’t know.” “What keeps the stars in place?” “Gravity? I don’t know. I see things happen and in simple situations, I can predict what may happen with some success. That’s all I’m capable of.” Then the whirlwind leaves and I hope He tells Satan to leave me alone.
I find myself wondering if our species (and others in the universe) will continue to evolve and eventually will become something glorious beyond anything I’m able to think or imagine. Their technology may be so advanced, I couldn’t distinguish them from God. They may live in unbounded joy and happiness, capable of living any experience they desire. And they may well reprogram the universe, stop the expansion, and live indefinitely for all eternity. And who knows, when I die, maybe I’ll reincarnate into that civilization and that’s my reward for helping contribute to it. I have no idea what happens at death, or what the relationship is between brain activity and consciousness. What do I know?
I mentioned the other day that I’ve been reading Freeman Dyson’s book Infinite In All Directions. He has a chapter entitled, “How Will It All End”, and he talks about mind and life infiltrating the universe, and everything bursting into diversity of all kinds. In the past, he’s speculated that life may be able to exist forever, despite the problems inherent in an expanding universe. We humans may master genetic engineering and space-travel and plant the seeds of life all over the cosmos. Beautiful flowers growing in sub-zero temperatures, magical life-forms free-floating through space feeding off starlight, and beautifully terra-formed planets, decorated into gorgeous cities, all as we enhance our intelligence and technology. Maybe the human race won’t always be so pitiful, and maybe God knows the end from the beginning? Like Job, I find myself replying to the whirlwind, “What do I know? I’m unqualified to answer questions like that.” I remain an agnostic. I hope I can keep my integrity, like Job, and be a source of good and encouragement, despite what challenges may happen to me. However, I oftentimes find myself in that field, cursing this life and ever being born. As Dad taught me growing up, faith and hope are important. He wouldn’t say it like that though. He’d quote the scripture, “Without a vision, the people perish!”