Simple is in! The new trend in the business world is to simplify everything. For some reason, this idea has become a boomerang that keeps returning and whacking me in the head and it’s beginning to hurt!
It all started when my sister gave me the book Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster. My sister is not even in the business world! Then one of my best friends got a job at a company that is hired by corporations such as Dominos Pizza and Alaskan Airlines in order to simplify its phone prompts and website interface so people can navigate as quickly and as easily as possible. Companies don’t want customers wasting time or getting frustrated buying their products! Then a pastor friend recommended I read the book Simple Church which discusses how churches can simplify their structure and “process for making disciples.” This book points out how the Ipod is designed for simplicity: it has one big button through which the user operates and accesses files. Furthermore, Google has a very streamlined and simple main page. And then yesterday I spoke with a Colonel in the Marines who is part of a think tank at the Navy War College. He attempted to explain to me the concept of “singularity.” According to Wikipedia “technological singularity” is a “theoretical future point that takes place during a period of unprecedented technological progress sometime after the creation of a Superintelligence.” Apparently, sometime between 2025—2030, one supercomputer will have more intelligence than all human beings on earth combined. Perhaps this computer will simplify a lot of problems. If it has the power to pay my bills and change diapers, sign me up!
Now all of this is nice in theory. But I am clergyman. On a daily basis I operate in the vast realm between God and people. In the midst of those two entities, nothing seems simple! Everything appears unwieldy and complex. For example, there is the seeming contradiction between God’s omniscience and human free will. I like how Rabbinic literature explains this problem: “Everything is foreseen; yet free will is given” (Sayings of the Fathers aka, Pirkei Avoth 3:15, Rabbi Akiva). Protestant theologian J.I. Packer, in his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, explains the conundrum of God’s sovereignty and human free will as an “antinomy,” as two opposing yet equally valid truths. Packer points out that light in an antinomy: it is both a wave and a particle. Does any of that sound simple to you?
And then we must face the complexity of human beings. Philosophers and theologians such as Plato, Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Sartre have debated as to what a human being is composed of for thousands of years. Are we body, soul, mind, being…some of the above…all the above?
If God and human beings are so complex, why are we trying so hard to simplify everything? Are we attempting to gain a sense of control by imposing false constructs that will never work? Are we creating a mirage and so deluding ourselves? Can anything be simple?
Well since I am a pastor, and Easter has just passed, it reminds me of a particular story regarding Karl Barth. Even though I personally do not agree with all of his teaching, Dr. Barth is considered to be one of the greatest theologians in church history. Pope Pius XII described him as the most important theologian since Aquinas. The story goes that once a reporter asked Dr. Barth if he could summarize the content of his many volumes of writing. He paused for a moment and then replied “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
His response sounds so simple, almost too easy for a complex world. But it is a good start and I’ll hang my hat on it!