“Just the other day, I randomly bumped into…!”
“I had this totally random thought…!”
“I found that I had a totally random connection to…!”
We use the word ‘random’ often enough. As we observe conversation, relationships, connections we often apply the label ‘random.’
Even scientifically, we discuss the random motion of particles, the generation of random numbers, and the probability of the occurrence of random events.
As a mathematician, I’ve thought a bit about randomness.
“We use that word a lot; I do not think it means what we think it means.”
It seems to me that when we run into a situation that is immeasurably intricate, overwhelming complicated, where the interconnections and relationships are just too complex, we attempt to simplify all of it by calling it random.
Coincidence. Happenstance. Surprise.
Unpredictable, perhaps, but not because things are so purely random: they’re just often too multifaceted, too deep for us to be able to appreciate and handle. Chaos theory, anyone?
I think back to my early days of computer programming. When you needed a random number, the computer asked you for a “random number seed,” a starting number that the computer would then perform some complicated mathematical operations on in order to generate another number, seemingly at random–but truly not so: the relationship of the result to the original random number seed was just too complex for us to grasp. But in the earliest days, if you used the same random number seed, you would get the same “random number” each time.
Who were we fooling?
Instead of being comfortable with complexity, we’ve tried to hide it under this idea. “Well, that was random!” We comment on someone’s remark, or on a sudden malfunction, or on some other surprise event.
Likely, it wasn’t random at all. But we don’t want to stop and consider all the relationships and factors that went into bringing about that occurrence. So we simplify our understanding.
Talking with a group of friends recently, we were discussing the idea of the mysteries of God. There are many things we can know about Him, much that we can say. But there are some things that are not fully explainable, things that we can’t completely describe (I love the word ‘ineffable’). There are some areas where we can take our knowledge and understanding to a certain point, but no further.
For some people, this is frustrating or even unacceptable. Intellectuals (like me) may not be easily satisfied with anything less than exhaustive understanding. We may not like the idea of having to eventually say, “I just don’t know.”
For us, eventually confronting this idea of mystery is a challenge, a spiritual discipline in and of itself.
Interesting: so willing to label the happenings of life as random (content with a lack of understanding), but so resistant to labeling the things of God as a mystery (demanding full understanding).
For the one who looks to science to explain all things, it surprises me to find such contentment with the notion of random.
And for the one who looks to God as the source of all things, it surprises me to find such reluctance to permit a significant degree of mystery.
We as people seem to have caught ourselves between two silly extremes.
We daily admit to ourselves that we cannot understand the depths of everything going on, and yet we make demands of God about why certain things do or don’t happen, how He can possibly be regarded as good, powerful, or just based upon all the evidence we observe.
We contentedly limit science (as we apply the label ‘random’), but we want to fully master God, as we demand full knowledge of Him…all the while disgruntled by the seeming incongruities between God and science.
If we took the fervor that we sometimes apply in trying to crack God’s code, getting into the secret realm behind the curtain to expose Him for who we think He really is–if we took that same fervor and invested ourselves in the conversations, relationships, interactions, and thoughts that we so readily refer to as random, I wonder if we couldn’t enjoy the best of it all: deep awareness of the world we live in and the people we live amongst, all the while acknowledging (which means knowing) a great, powerful, and mysterious God who is watching over us all.
Perhaps these thoughts above strike you as totally random.
I assure you, they’re not.