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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

God’s Great Data Repository

Humanity’s drive to preserve itself is acute and perpetual.

How does the next generation come to know who we are and what we have learned? Our wisdom, our knowledge — our very selves, if that were possible — need to be passed on. In doing so, it is thought, we give our own lives meaning. On their way to the grave, even hardened materialists appeal to the notion that they will somehow “live on” in the memories of those with whom they interact. That hope is illusory: human memory degrades with astounding rapidity.

The invention of electronic data storage appeared to provide a solution.

A Legacy of Decay

Unlike words copied by hand or via generation after generation of photographic images, electronic data is stored in ones and zeroes — the code you write is either there or it is not; there is no fuzzy-edged intermediate stage and no opportunity for copyists to omit, add or modify content.

Problem solved, no?

Er, no. In reality, imperfect insulation causes electrical charges in solid-state media (like flash drives) to leak away over time. Hard disks demagnetize. Paper media literally decays. Then there’s this fascinating phenomenon called “software entropy”. As time passes, the code in a stored program invariably becomes increasingly garbled. The Jargon File, a repository of hacker’s lore, says “bit rot” can occur over time even if nothing has changed, almost as if the bits of information that make up a program are subject to radioactive decay.

Somewhat of a downer for those of us looking to leave a legacy.

Dynastic Entropy

But this is not a new issue. Long before the invention of the flash drive, King David was sufficiently concerned about the entropy problem to take it up before God. Like data, dynasties don’t last forever, being subject to their own special sort of “bit rot” over time. So he says:
Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations! May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!”
I don’t think David was expressing a fond wish for personal immortality here, though he certainly longed for an eternal home: “Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” God had already assured him his years on earth would be as finite as everyone else. Rather, I suspect David had in mind the promises of God with respect to his own heritage expressed in the form of a covenant.

A Covenant Promise

God had said:
“Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
If we wished, we could apply David’s words to his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and long-distant scions. He could be appealing to God’s promise in hope that the entropy principle be suspended for his own family line; saying, in effect, “May the kingdom endure and God bless it.” But that would ignore the very specific nature of his appeal: it’s “the king”, “he”, “his” and “him” of whom David speaks, not “we” or “they”.

No, I think we need to go back to God’s promise, which was ultimately to be fulfilled in one very specific individual. David understood this, and he was discerning enough to realize that even with God’s help his son Solomon could not possibly be “enthroned forever”. Rather, he made reference in his psalms to an heir that he called his “Lord”.

The Cure for Royal “Bit Rot”

Long after the great King Solomon was in the ground, the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the fulfillment of God’s promise in this same royal individual:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
Thus it is only in Christ that David hoped to avoid dynastic entropy.

Our hope and David’s hope are really very much the same thing. Most of us do not have kingdoms we wish to preserve, but it is only through Christ that we have the prospect of passing on to our children anything of real value.

Jesus Christ, God’s Mystery

Everything of eternal consequence is preserved perfectly and forever in the person of Jesus Christ. Every legacy worth leaving is rooted and grounded in him. My passion for detective novels, the New England Patriots or the cleverness of Elvis Costello will not transmit itself to my children no matter how hard I try, and rightly so.

Here’s the miracle about God’s Great Data Repository: whereas human knowledge is perpetually subject to garbling, decay and information loss, the truth that we possess in Christ is refreshed for the next generation every time they return to the word of God where their parents first found it. It is in Jesus Christ, God’s mystery, that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

I’m currently reading a book written by a man who lived almost a century ago. By writing down his thoughts about the word of God, he hoped to pass them on to his spiritual heirs. Some of his reflections are helpful as written, others less so. But even those that are awkwardly phrased, reflect cultural biases or are a product of mistaken theology are still of use to a determined “heir” in that they point us back for correction to the Eternal Source of all wisdom and knowledge.

Let’s see your software do that.

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