There is power in simplicity. Programmers strive for simplicity in code. Mathematicians appreciate the beauty of a simple mathematical proof. Designers abide by the principle of simplicity to produce innovative designs. Some of the most salient truths in life are the most simple. Just open up the book of Proverbs and see how simple, yet profound some of these maxims are. Yet, it seems that many of these same simplicities are so incredibly complex when viewed at different levels of abstraction. The difficulties of interpersonal relationships underlie the simplicity of proverbs such as “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). The mechanical and computational complexity of a powerful machine underlie the simple user interface of an Apple computer. The complexity of quantum mechanical structures underlie the simplicity of Newtonian physical truths. The gospel, at its core, is a simple yet powerful truth. In one fell swoop, the gospel story perfectly captures the full essence of the human condition. Yet, when we dive further into the theological weeds, things seem far from simple.
I spent the first half of this summer traveling around Japan and Korea, supplementing my travels with plenty of extra meals (the serving size for a meal in Japan is closer to a large snack). Part of the beauty of Japanese living is its devotion to a higher standard of simplicity. The architecture, the cultural customs, even the food was thoughtfully crafted down to the smallest details. What made the entire experience of a meal in Japan so elegantly simple was the careful attention to detail in the preparation and presentation of the food. Above is a picture of a traditional Japanese breakfast I had with my mom in Kyoto, Japan.
What makes simplicity so powerful? How does the ever present complexity of real situations fit into the ultimate picture of simplicity? By eliminating all extraneous parts, extreme simplicity has the benefit of underscoring only the most important aspects. Simplicity forces us to zoom out and free ourselves of distractions. In other words, the interplay of simplicity and complexity is an exercise of perspective. The further we zoom out, the more we see the simple truths that guide our lives. When we are stuck in a short-sighted view of our lives, we risk moving in the wrong direction. However, when we are stuck in a high-level, abstract view of our lives, we risk immobilization and indecision. To live a good life, we must strike a fine balance between the two.
This summer I’ve started training for an Ironman triathlon. The first portion of this race involves a 2.4 mile open water swim. To prepare, I’ve been swimming in Lake Michigan a few times a week. Unlike swimming in a pool, open waters prove especially difficult to stay on track. At first, I would put my head down and swim for a few minutes just to realize that I was zigzagging and way off target. Then, I tried to pop my head up every few seconds to make sure I was swimming in the right direction, which resulted in a much longer swim than anticipated. It’s taken me much practice, awareness, and patience to get to a point where I can finally swim in a semi-straight line towards my goal.
I’m realizing that, as a Christian, this life is a constant race. Christianity provides us with the ultimate, simple Truth in the promise of the gospel. Yet, we must live in this world each day. We must pop our heads out of the water often, looking to scripture to guide us in the right direction. Yet, we must fully acknowledge our own brokenness and that of this world in order to move forward in this reality lest we stay stuck in the tracks of indecision.
Sam Oh ’19 is a senior in Quincy House studying Philosophy and Computer Science.