The intricacies of life reverse the old cliché

Modernist architect Mies van der Rohe quipped that “less is more” in building design. His use of steel and glass in American urban skyscrapers made his reputation, although some of his smaller works like the celebrated Farnsworth House demonstrate his second most famous saying: “God is in the details.”

Van der Rohe’s phrase is inadvertently also good theology, refuting the more common dictum “the devil’s in the details.”

Consider creation for instance. We now know that all of life exists in code of complex simplicity or simple complexity. Some combination of four letters — A, T, C and G — constitutes the built-in instruction manual for every living thing. The ecosystem that sustains all flora and fauna operates so intricately that whatever happens to one part affects every other. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” the psalmist says, reflecting upon the marvels of the human body he never even saw the inside of. Whether you look small at subatomic levels, large at galactic wonders, or in-between at those walking the earth, you cannot help but think a mastermind (or Master Mind?) is behind such a work.

God particularizes; the devil generalizes. (Note: capitalizing Devil gives the anti-God too much status.) God plants a garden within which a great variety of plants grow. The devil plants weeds in the garden that look enough like the plants to make you unsure which is which. God paves a narrow lane; the devil broadens the path until it leads nowhere. God prescribes forgiveness for specific sins; the devil blankets permission for anything and everything.

Television, music and computers these days are paeans to detail. The digital revolution brings life to eye and ear in godlike high definition. Comparing digital and analog is like comparing color to monochrome: The former is a happy harmony of the smallest iotas forming a feast for the senses; the latter blends component parts into blander sums.

Attending to spiritual detail yields a life of wholeness and hopefulness. Habits of the heart such as worship, prayer, study, Bible reading, care for the body, hospitality and neighborliness detail the diet of dedicated disciples. Vague spirituality sits on the couch and scoffs at practices that ask something of the soul.

Building a life and building a building come down to design and construction. Wise builders stick close to the architect’s design and don’t cut corners. Fools take liberties, and then lose them just as fast.

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