The Paradox Of Entropy

The greatest dilemma to face any guitarist always occurs anytime a string snaps. Admittedly, there may not really be too much at stake to make a resulting decision particularly excruciating, but it is a nagging little question nonetheless. Does one replace the broken string, or replace all six? For some this may be a no-brainer. If one string is broken, perhaps it represents the quality and age of all the others, and hence they all need replacement. For others, this question feels like a symptom of amnesia. When was the last time I changed all six? The majority of guitarists (or, to encompass a broader component of society, those who attempt to play guitar) probably do not meticulously keep track of the last stringing the way mechanics record their last oil change. As a result, replacement of the whole shebang feels like an arbitrary waste of brand-new strings.

But suppose the guitarist decides to purchase new strings anyway. The first challenge involves stringing the instrument without accidentally breaking the string. No matter how many times I perform this task, it is still a tortuous little ritual. The peg won’t turn any more, the string is about to pop, and I still have to crank it up another octave? Eventually the aspiring technician succeeds, and all strings lie safely in their designated tuning. Now he must battle with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. After they’ve stretched enough to dilute the annoyingly tinny sound, the new strings sound so perfect, so clean, so crisp, that the musician desires to play them yet simultaneously wishes to refrain. Why?

There is a certain paradox in our behavior towards entropy. When we encounter something pristine, beautiful, and pure, we wish to enjoy it as long as it lasts—but to do so will only diminish or even destroy that natural state.

The bronze Martin strings on my guitar are sparkling new, and I love to play my guitar now because it sounds fresh and clean. If I play too much, the strings will lose this sound; if I refrain, age will take its toll just as quickly. I want my guitar always to sound the way it does now, but I cannot make money grow on trees fast enough to pay ten dollars for quality strings once every week. I am in love with the sound of my new strings (and can’t stop obsessing about them to those around me), but it aches a little to play so hard knowing that it will fade as time goes by. Nevertheless, I choose to enjoy the beauty of music, even though it will eventually come at a cost.

For the non-musicians among us, the same goes for simple things like a field of fresh snow or a home-cooked meal after hours of preparation. Here is this white, shimmering field of pure white snow—and the only way to enjoy this aesthetically pleasing scene is to disrupt its uniformity by making snowmen, waging snowball wars, and leaving enormous footprints in one’s wake. Leave it be, and it will melt. Enjoy it, and it will be trampled into slush. Here is this food, beautifully arranged, skillfully prepared, the product of hours of work in the kitchen—and the only way to enjoy it is to destroy its order and turn it into chyme. Leave it be, and it will go bad. Enjoy it, and it will attain some degree of internal sludge.

Hence the situation: something exists that is beautiful, yet temporal; somehow benefitting the observer, yet causing at the very least a minor twinge of pain or remorse. We desire that things remain whole, and delight in their integrity; yet we demand the Midas touch, and inflict change. We assign a certain permanence to the natural state; yet we forget that both change and status quo alike will eventually destroy it. This resembles the conflict between industrialization and environmentalism: we wish to keep the earth beautiful and vibrant, yet we also wish to use it for our gain. We want to have our cake and eat it too, and are frustrated whenever this strategy fails.

It feels mildly absurd to make such a leap from the consideration of guitar strings to the contemplation of the abstract, but I have come this far and here I go. What we see and feel in minor examples such as these (guitar strings, snow, gourmet food) is but a small reflection of the elements at play in the nature of Love. There may be one whose presence is enjoyable and personality delightful; to leave this person alone may seem to keep him or her the same, but this person will, in a sense, deteriorate without some form of companionship. We may desire friendship or even a romantic relationship with such an individual, yet we acknowledge that this involves risk on our part. Taking the plunge may be terrifying; investing in the relationship may be painful; and the sadness from refraining altogether is not much better. We stand paralyzed in the palace of Charn: we do not wish to strike the bell, but neither do we want to live the rest of our lives wondering what might have happened if we had.

And here lies the greatest mystery. We in our finite humanity love only the things we deem beautiful, or valuable at least. But the glory of the Gospel revolves around the incredible, earth-shattering news that while we were still rebels and traitors who spat on Jesus and hated Him and mocked Him as He hung pouring out His blood from the Cross—we who delighted in our defiance of God, we who gloried in our treason against Him, we who basked in our hatred of His name—Christ laid down His life because He loved us and wanted us to be with Him. He did not desire that we should perish, that we should remain in our wretched status quo. Jesus loves us so much it killed Him.

The Gospel transforms this whole paradigm of entropy and turns it on its head. We love things that are beautiful, and wish to keep them in that state. Christ loved us when we were steeped in the odiousness of our sin, and by His Spirit He draws us out of that status quo. We are reluctant to take the plunge lest it hurt us. Christ paid the price with His own blood. We love, knowing that this love will be the cause of joy and pain in this life, that our mortal bodies will eventually take their toll. Christ bestows upon us a love that will find us eternally beholding His glory and “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). The songs of worship to the God of salvation will throughout eternity ring sweeter, purer, and brighter than any chorus we could muster here on earth—and more permanently than even the finest guitar strings.

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