Of all of the most totally pointless time-wasting activities I can think of, nothing beats watching my computer's defragmenting program. Now, I am a genius at time-wasting: FreeCell, popping bubble wrap, guitar-noodling, Net surfing--anything rather than tackling the housework and getting on with the next thing I'm supposed to do. I may have the cleanest computer mouse contact points of anyone on the block. But when it comes time to defrag C drive, I start the program, go away while it does the slow, dull parts of the job, and come back towards the end to watch it in mindless fascination.

Was doing this on Friday night and trying to figure out what's the attraction. I know what's so fetching about bubble wrap: it's the combination of sudden micro-explosions and sheer idiot destructiveness. But what's with the defrag addiction? I think I've finally got it taped. It's that the computer clearly knows exactly what it's doing. The defrag program marches steadily through the nether regions of C drive, picking up data, giving it a good shake, folding it up and putting it into place. It's expert tidying.

As someone who is severly tidiness-challenged, I have always had a reverence amounting almost to worship for expert tidying. I once knew a guy who could walk through a room and things would fall into place behind him without any obvious effort on his part. I can spend a couple of hours trying to pick up and put things away without making a dent on the mess. In fact, when I walk through a room, chaos immediately ensues. I exemplify the Second Law of Thermodynamics: I am innately entropic. So I am naturally intrigued by a program that whips through my C drive putting everything into order.

More than that: part of the fascination with defrag is that it knows what it's doing and I haven't got two consecutive clues. There's something about watching (say) an expert glass-blower or a designer laying out a page in Quark: that element of professional mystery. I can see tiny chunks of data being chewed up and spit out into the proper positions, but I have no clues about the process. Sometimes the program roars through screen after screen, rolling on like the grand old Columbia; sometimes it stops and clearly nitpicks for a necessary while. I do not have the slightest idea what it's doing, except that the computer program clearly does know exactly what to do. I trust the program completely, although I don't have the slightest idea how it works.

So: how come I can have so much more confidence in Microsoft's defragmentation program than I have in God?

(Especially given Bill Gates?)

I know that I don't understand the computer. So far as I'm concerned, it's a large, expensive and flexible typewriter, but one that never needs the ribbon changed and that lets me erase and move words around. I know that many tiny people whom I hold very dear live inside this box, and sometimes they speak to me via the screen--and sometimes they even come out of the box and grow into full human stature and we get together in the flesh. I know that my computer has a pocket calculator that I can't mislay, and packs of cards not missing the three of diamonds. But I don't really have two consecutive clues about the box: I know a tiny bit of the lingo, and that's about it.

God, on the other hand, I think I've got taped. I'm willing to make all sorts of incontrovertible statements about God. I'm willing to confine God to my interpretation of the Englished versions of Greek and Hebrew texts, even though I can't read the original languages. I'm willing to select bits and pieces of the Englished versions, put my own personal spin on them, and use them to clobber other people. I'm willing to claim that my interpretation is the only possibly correct interpretation, and I'm prepared to inflict my beliefs on everyone in sight. The only real difference between me and some other Christians is that my mother brought me up to have reasonably good manners.

I know that my computer is finite, limited, fallible: it crashes sometimes, seizing up or giving me fatal error messages. I know that it's vulnerable; if I'm not very careful, malicious finks could infect it with worms and viruses. I know that it's far from the latest and greatest system. I know that it's really only a metal box with assorted technical gubbins that I'm clueless about. And yet I can understand that I don't really understand it, while God--who is so far beyond my understanding that I can't even imagine the gap--is someone I can impose my own image on. I know that I feel I can depend on my computer--when I shouldn't--but not that I can depend on God.

Oh. Problem, here. Big problem.

Maybe it's because I can see the defrag program working; I can watch each tiny data-cluster being worked over and put in place, while God's operations in my life are only clear when I'm looking back, not while I'm in the middle of them. Maybe it's because the computer does simple cause-and-effect stuff (i.e., what I tell it to do, not always what I want it to do), while God's causes-and-effects tend to be so long-term and large-scale that I just can't see them, any more than a flea can grasp the whole of a cat's back. Maybe because comfortable ignorance is so much less threatening than real big Mystery.

I know only that there are areas in which I feel comfortable with being an ignoramous, and the defrag operation is one such; and there are areas in which I feel compelled to be a know-it-all, and Godtalk is one of those, and that the latter is a problem that I have to learn to manage better. Moreover, even when I may be right, the way in which I'm right may be wrong. Above all, it does me no good to be right-er than anyone about God when my own faith is so limited and so imperfect.

"Oh God I believe: please help my unbelief."

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 10 Nov 2001
[Sabbath Blessings contents page] [Saint Sam's home page] [Comments to web page maintainers]