Our Fractal Gospel

by Mike McKinniss


fractal fun” by hairchaser under license CC BY-SA 2.0

Is there such a thing as a “simple gospel”?

I know from whence the desire comes, the beckoning for a simple gospel by which we may abide faithfully without the encumbrance of convoluted strictures. No one wishes befuddlement in such consequential and eternal matters. We wish, rather, for certainty or, at least, confidence. After all, souls are at stake.

But our longing is as the one who desires to retire alone and in peace to a log cabin in the vast open country, though he is tied to a covenanted spouse, bears responsibility for the offspring of that union and the charge of his employment. Perhaps the solitary life is simpler, but it does no justice to the complex reality of our station.

Contrary to the complaints of innumerable high school students, mathematics is (are?) a beautiful study. Many of us—nay, most—explored the precepts of geometry only to a point. We are familiar with the straight lines of the quadrilateral, the varying acuteness of the triangle’s points and the elegant curves of the circle.

Rarely, however, do we venture onward past the shapes of our childhood blocks and into the wilder realms of the scientific art. There be monsters; and their names are Mandelbrot, Julia and Sierpinski. I speak of fractals.

For the uninitiated, a fractal is a geometric pattern—a shape—with unique qualities. Examine the fractal from the widest vantage point and you’ll immediately spot what appear to be frayed edges—spines, perhaps, or, kindlier, fur. Now, we concentrate our attention on one branch of the pattern, magnify that portion, and something mysterious occurs. We find in the magnification not greater simplicity, but expanding complexity—in other words, more fur. Explore deeper still and it turns out the fur’s fur has fur. The fractal can do this all day. No matter how infinitely you zoom in on any portion of the fuzzy fractal, you’ll uncover only infinitesimally beautiful complexity.

But fractals are for more than just aesthetics; they bear a purpose. A lesson you’ve undoubtedly taken to heart: cause and effect. Live long enough, and you can predict that when you let go of the ball in your hand, it will drop to the ground with remarkable consistency. Another thing you’ve likely noticed: our world is complex. When the causes multiply, so too the effects. Soon, the results become increasingly difficult to predict. Thus, prophecy is rarely a profitable enterprise.

But oh yes, fractals. Fractals help us explain the compounding of causes. A butterfly flaps its wings in Africa … and produces a fractal. In short, the fractal’s endless complexity helps us makes sense of reality—hence its beauty.

Ours is a fractal gospel. Jesus was raised from the grave, announced Peter in Acts 2, and God appointed him Lord and Christ. Peter’s speech at the beginning of Acts is among the more concise articulations of the gospel in Scripture, and it culminates with this announcement: the resurrected Jesus is now Lord and Christ (see Acts 2:14-39).

What is the Christ? The Christ is the long-awaited king of the Jews, descended from David. Lord? It’s a stickier term to navigate, biblically speaking, but Peter most likely means by it king of the entire creation. (Just as Caesar would have called himself “Lord”.) Jesus is not just Israel’s king, says Peter, but the whole world’s king.

And if Jesus is now the world’s king, the fractal effects begin to spin outward, for the impact of the resurrection must be applied to every facet of our lives, every corner of our societies, every inch of creation. Further, you and I and every other person who claims Jesus as Lord, must figure out—in partnership with the Holy Spirit—just how to live within and extend Christ’s kingdom in the world around us.

Can we call that a simple gospel? I suppose we can, on a certain level. But zoom to deeper levels, and this simple gospel must be interpreted and applied with ever growing intricacy, both for the depth and breadth of its effects. Therein lies the gospel’s beauty, for it can bring resurrection life to every time and place and at every level.