By Adam Toler
Finding a topic for a Christian talk is always complicated. After all, Christianity has been around for centuries, and novelty is a bit hard to come by – most of the time, your audience can guess your direction right off the bat. I was praying about it, but I had a fairly even-keel summer break and wasn’t really pondering any life-altering questions.
Fortunately, classes started, and I had the opportunity to do homework – hallelujah – a God-given answer. I was reading through my Biochemistry and Psychology textbooks and was struck by an oddity in human recognition. We see lower and, more importantly, upper limits on designable complexity.
This means, I can point at a random clump of mud and most people would say, fairly assuredly, “No, no. No one designed that specific mud clump.” It just lacks the complexity associated with design.
Then, I can open up one of my favorite books, When Crickets Cry, and most people would say, “Yes, exactly, that book, right there, is an example of intelligent design!” It is far too ordered, far too complex to be like that clump of mud.
But then, there’re these other complexities. I can point to the heavens, I can pick apart a brain, and I can trust that gravity will cause my book to fall down, not up. I can point to all these immensely complex, incompletely understood realities and suddenly, for many people, the upper limits of designable complexity are reached. The answer becomes: “No, no, no, all these things are TOO complex to have been designed.”
A book in English must have been written, but a genomic book in DNA base pairs? Intolerably complex.
But, that’s the thing about humans, we aren’t embarrassed by too little, but actually by too much. In a paradoxical expression of humility and honor, we rationalize our “less-than’s” and feel patronized by our “too-much’s.” “No no,” we assert, “That is too much. I can’t take that.”
And that is how we understand the complexity of love.
If I say, “I looooooove fried rice,” you’ll say, “Okay, I understand that one. He simply means he really likes eating fried rice,” which I do.
But then, if I look over at you and say, “I love you,” suddenly, I’ve added a layer of complexity. And yet, even then, in a desperate scramble at understanding, we compartmentalize our love into tolerable, relational labels: “She’s my girlfriend, he’s my husband, and even OMG we’re BFFs!” So that’s okay, we can tolerate each other’s love.
But then there’s God’s love. His is the kind of love that we’d call ill-advised, reckless even. How many of you, in a relationship, have thought that you’ve treated the other person so poorly that they ought to just cut you off, you know, for their own safety? I’ve certainly felt that way. It’s because we have a conditional idea of love that, on the one hand, helps us identify when we’re in toxic relationships, on the other hand, makes God’s love all the more intolerable. In our darkest moments we say in anger, “I know God loves me, but he shouldn’t after what I’ve done to him.”
C.S. Lewis put it like this: “Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.” And, in simpler terms, Steven Chbosky wrote it like this: “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
But that’s the thing, we must never overlook the facet of God’s love that defines these limits of “too little” and “too much.” We must never overlook God’s grace. Grace turns complexity into simplicity, too much love into just the right amount. My favorite verse of all time, Luke 7:47, limns: “But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” You see, now? Grace – forgiveness – empowers love. To love better, and to be loved better, we must graciously forgive and be forgiven, and forgiveness is offensive. It cannot be repaid. It cannot be equalized. It can only be accepted and treated with gratitude.
Adam Toler is a senior Religion major with a minor in Chemistry from Austin, TX. He hopes to teach in the future as a professor of Religion in Modernity, and his current interests include developing his senior capstone theory of religious addiction as well as exploring conceptions of relatable divinity in comic books. If he were to suggest one comic book to you, it would be Mister Miracle by Tom King. Adam tends to take an interdisciplinary approach to his spirituality, choosing to view all expressive mediums as potential works of personally understood theology.