In this series of two posts, I ponder the glory of something we call order. I do this more in the form of a meditation than a treatise on the glory of order. In the first part (yesterday’s post) I set forth how the appreciation and understanding of order has suffered in the modern age. In this second part I want to meditate on the glory of order under four headings.
The English word “order” comes from the Latin ordo, which is a row or series ranked in some intelligible way. It indicates that something is arranged methodically toward some desired end or purpose. To give someone an order is to give authoritative direction for the purpose of attaining a willed outcome.
God has ordered all of creation. Things work together intricately to attain goals and fulfill purposes. And though this is evident to us who are believers, and should be evident even to those who do not believe in God, “order” can be a difficult thing to get our mind around. Therefore, permit me to paint four pictures or experiences of order drawn from the philosophical tradition. Again, my purpose is more meditative than intellectual. I hope to inspire in myself and in you, dear reader, a joy and serenity about the beautiful gift of order.
Here are four pictures of order:
I. Life is ordered energy. Consider the order of any living thing and be amazed. Some mysterious force we call “life” brings atoms, molecules, minerals, nutrients, tissue, and so forth together and organizes them with astonishing complexity (especially in higher life forms). Whole systems, macro- and micro-, interact in multiple ways and at many levels and thereby order (i.e., direct) living things to their purpose and goal. Life is ordered energy.
If you think you have life figured out, think again. Take a very simple example. Imagine an acorn. Now imagine a stone of similar shape and size. Externally they may look alike. But in the acorn is the mysterious spark we call life. Put the stone in the ground and years later nothing will have happened; it will still be a stone. But put the acorn in the ground and that mysterious spark we call life interacts with warmth and water. Years later the result will be a mighty oak tree with all of its complex processes up and running as it draws moisture and nutrients from the soil, and interacts with the environment around it through photosynthesis, pollination, and so forth. Life is ordered energy.
Take away that mysterious force we call life and disorder sets in almost immediately. I have experienced this mysterious departure of the organized energy we call life at more than a few bedsides. When someone breathes his last and the mysterious spark we call life departs with the soul, what exactly has happened? Scientifically, all we know is that the signs of life are gone. But the body does not weigh any less; we do not see a force lift up and move away. Something is gone, but not something that science can detect or measure. This is true even with the death of animals, trees, and plants.
Once that mysterious spark or force we call life departs, the body ceases to function in any orderly way. Processes stop, disorder and decay ensue, and the body (or life form) literally falls back to its basic elements. Life is ordered energy.
What a glorious thing is the order that life gives! The amazing interactions in our bodies at every level are simply astonishing. Life is ordered energy, but its origin is very mysterious. Surely it depends on the One who said, “I am life” (Jn 14:6), and who is existence itself. Surely someone sends life forth and summons it back. That someone we call God.
Of the LORD, Scripture says, See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I deal death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver from of my hand (Deut 32:39). The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up (1 Sam 2:6). Life is ordered energy.
Thank God for the mysterious and glorious order He gives to us that becomes life.
II. Beauty is the splendor of order. To see order and delight in it is to see a beauty beyond description, a beauty so vast and wide that our minds cannot comprehend it.
This is what we call the gift of wonder and awe, which is annexed to the gift of the fear of the Lord. We hold in awe the One who has done such things and established such order and purpose in all creation.
That order extends from the smallest units of matter outward and upward to the farthest reaches of the cosmos. Within our body, too, exists an order of multiple levels from the smallest parts of cells up through every structure and process of our body.
Order is beautiful and beauty is the splendor of order. Even in the narrower sense of human beauty and sexual attraction, the sense of beauty is connected to proportion, integrity, and clarity. In other words, we appreciate the way that different aspects of a person are integrated into the whole of who he/she is, how they are proportionate to each other, and the way that they allow the person’s humanity to shine forth physically in a way that attracts us.
All this, the beauty of the cosmos and the beauty of the human person, bespeaks order.
Yes, beauty is the splendor of order shining through! And thus we should bless the One whose beauty and order is reflected in what He has made! An old hymn says,
Lord of beauty, thine the splendor
shown in earth and sky and sea,
burning sun and moonlight tender,
hill and river, flower and tree:
lest we fail our praise to render
touch our eyes that they may see.
Beauty is the splendor of order.
III. Virtue is ordered love and desire. All of us are aware within ourselves of many passions, desires, and drives. They are more than just feelings; they are deep drives meant to orient us toward what is good and necessary, and cause us to seek such things.
Of themselves, the passions are good. However, since the fall of Adam and Eve our passions are unruly and often misdirected. As such, they are disordered.
To call them disordered means that they are not ordered (i.e., directed) to their proper end. This can happen in different ways. They can be disordered by excess. Desiring too much food can lead to the disorder of many health-related issues. Some passions become disordered by directing them to the wrong end. Sexual desire is meant to orient us toward a person of the opposite sex for the purpose of procreation and to develop the intimate bonds necessary to properly raise children. But many direct their sexual passions inappropriately through things like pornography, masturbation, fornication, and homosexual acts. Since these sorts of acts are not ordered toward the proper end, they are said to be “dis-ordered.”
Virtue is ordered love and desire. That is, virtues help us to properly order or direct our desires and loves toward the proper goal and to avoid excessive or disordered things. Natural virtues help us to gain self-mastery, by which we order our lives aright. Supernatural virtues help us to live under God’s authority and follow his godly order.
Virtues are the good habits that help us to order our lives, respecting our desires but understanding their true end or purpose. This leads to a life that is orderly, proportioned, and happier.
Vices, on the other hand, are those bad habits that introduce disorders into our life on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels. They hinder us from our goals and our purposes. They do not order our life; they disorder it.
Yes, virtue is ordered love and desire.
IV. Peace is resting in order. This is another beautiful picture, a kind of “payoff” of order. Peace is the experience in one’s life that everything that should be in our relationship with God and others is there. It is the experience of order and the capacity to enjoy it with the stable, serene confidence that God’s order is beautiful, good, and true.
With the gift of peace, we see how true God is, how wonderful is His plan, and how beautiful is the order that comes from Him. By this comes a resting in this disposition that we call peace.
On the contrary, disorder introduces anxiety and many other negative thoughts and feelings that tear us apart and make us unstable and unhappy. Sin promises pleasure today, but the bill comes due tomorrow; there is always the bill to be paid. Knowing this deep down inside robs us of peace despite the momentary pleasures that sin offers. The unrepentant sinner finds little peace and growing anxiety.
God’s order gives peace, even if it challenges us to change. Peace is resting in order.
Allow these four pictures of order to fascinate you. See the beauty of order; orient your life toward it and to find peace through it.
God’s bestowal of order, too often dismissed by the modern world, is indeed a very great gift. Receive it with gratitude. “Order, order, order in the cosmos!” And in us, too.
Here is a beautiful hymn that sings of the order of the cosmos: