Dead to rights; Alive to God
by Patrick Lafferty
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Entropy. The term hails from the physical sciences. In its more technical usage it refers to how energy tends to disperse from greater to lesser concentrations over time, as in the case of warm water being cooled by the presence of ice. When first coined, though, the term described the measure of disorder in a given setting.
Its scientific provenance notwithstanding, it is my hypothesis that the true inspiration for the term came not from a laboratory but from a home with children in it. Yes, the energy unleashed from the Big Bang may be dispersing into that faint concentration of matter we now call the background radiation. But all it would take for someone to notice how order tends toward disorder would be to spend a morning watching my children, with great facility and efficiency, transform a home into something just short of a hovel. No, they’re not slobs. But if the world were their canvas, even Jackson Pollack might reach for a paper towel.
Perhaps you can identify. And like me, you’ve probably also felt the corresponding impulse—surely just as worthy of a scientific term—to work against nature itself: to exert a precise force upon said entropic life forms to restore the room to its original state. Or when all else fails, sequester the sources of entropy in their beds for night-night and take it upon yourself to, as I like to put it, “reset the machine” for the next day.
Kidding aside, I think we all like some semblance of order and do our darndest to restore order from the chaos we or others naturally tend to wreak. For me though, my preference for order can sometimes color my mood and my judgment. Order is nice but kids are kids. They are wondrous balls of energy—bouncing off everything in their way, imagining new possibilities. Protect them from the dulling effects of some media and they can come up with some of the most outlandish ideas and creations.
But to allow them the freedom to live out their nature, you have to expect some messes—the manifestation of entropy. For me that’s been a lesson difficult to learn. On more occasions than I care to remember, I’ve found myself in a sullen mood, brooding on the disorder. Sometimes that inner cantankerousness spills over into something a bit insidious (if anything can be just a “bit” insidious): a concerted—dare I say, inspired—effort to restore order, coupled with a correspondingly begrudging spirit about the lack thereof. In those moments, all perspective is lost: who my kids are; what lengths my wife goes to daily in order to keep them fed and their hearts tender to the Lord; how in a few precious years they will be out the door taking their story to places I’ve never been. All that tends to fade to black in my moments of hysteria about domestic entropy, such that one time, my perceptive wife caught me in just such a moment.
Without the slightest hint of abrasiveness, she said calmly and coolly, “I sometimes wish you were more thankful than helpful.”
I was dead to rights before she finished her sentence. I’d been justifying thanklessness by my “longsuffering” efforts to tidy up.
That kind of moment, I think, typifies what Hosea warned of (and Mark preached on last Sunday). A formalism lacking all conviction. A compliance without love. An ostensible interest in restoring respectability from a heart wholly unrespectable. It’s not just a disconnect; it’s self-deceit. Worse, it is to no good purpose. “If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not love, I am a noisy gong . . . . if I give up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:1, 3). If I return every Lego to the toy-box—even the tiny pieces that get stuck in the carpet—but have not love, I am nothing.
Was I embarrassed by my wife’s assessment? Of course. But the truth of it was at the same time deeply liberating—if only to see the disconnect between heart and actions. I think repentance is like that: jarring at first, then freeing—especially when it’s elicited by one who loves you. Let the record show, the God who calls us to repentance of our vapid formalism and self-immolating self-sacrifice is the same God whose love cannot be estimated. Though His discipline is painful at the time it is profitable for all time because it derives from His love (cf. Heb 12:5–6).
I’d end this by asking you what offerings you might be bringing that belie a lovelessness—what sacrifices you might be making that conceal something less noble than appearances might suggest. But since we usually need someone to notice those disconnects in us, I’ll ask you to ask the Lord instead. For our love, like order, is prone to entropy.