Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The medium is the message

Once, some time ago, I had a friend who was in a rather committed relationship. His girlfriend then abruptly broke up with him using a text message. I know nothing of the content of the message, but what seemed to be very difficult for my friend was the coldness with which he was dumped.

A few years ago, I was working in a lab. One of the janitors, Derrick, befriended me. Derrick never struck me as the sharpest nail in the bucket. One time, we were talking:

D: What kind of degree are you working on?
A: I'm getting a Ph.D.
D: So in a few years, you'll be Dr. Alex?
A: Yup!
D: Will you have patients?
A: What do you mean?
D: When people get sick, will they come to you?
A: No, I won't be that kind of doctor. I think I'd like to be a professor, maybe in Australia.
D: You know what they have in Australia? Crocodiles.
A: That's true, but I probably won't-
D: I hope you don't get eaten by a crocodile.
A: Thanks, Derrick. I'll be careful.

Now, I didn't get very much useful information from Derrick. I'm pretty sure, though, that "I hope you don't get eaten by a crocodile" means "You're important to me"; Derrick helped me have a good day when my boss was being a pooter. Confused as he was, Derrick had loving people down pat.

This idea, that the medium is a weighty chunk of the message, has important implications for our understanding of what revelation is and what it could mean. Revelation ought to mirror redemption.

If God is a loving father, well, I don't know my dad by reading a book that he wrote. I don't know my dad by obeying a government structure, or by coming to a consensus with my brothers and sister as to who our dad is. I emphatically don't know my Dad through babbling incomprehensibly. I certainly don't think of what I wished my dad was like, and then say that's what he is.

Redemption is simple enough that a child can get it, and it's the most difficult thing in the world, not difficult like studying calculus or digging a ditch, but difficult like saying I'm sorry or listening to Grandma tell a mundane story, only more difficult than that.

I've heard of a professor who, when asked a question in one of his quantum mechanics classes, would write Schrödinger's equation up on the board, saying, "That's all we know, and that's all we need to know" and then proceed to work out the answer from there. I think revelation is like Schrödinger's equation, simple, knowable, reliable, but difficult and confusing.

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