The Elegance of Simplicity


If your thinking resembles a Rube Goldberg contraption, think again.

If your thinking resembles a Rube Goldberg contraption, think again.

I get crabby when certain simple issues are paraded over and over as weighty theological problems. Foremost among these is the “Problem of Evil.” Why, this problem asks, would a good God allow evil to happen to good people if He really exists at all. I am surprised at how many people this stumps. The answer is obviously free will. If you are free to do evil to others, then others are free to do evil to you. The more productive question would be, “Why does God so value free will that He permits evil to flourish rather than revoke it?” Now that question yields some useful insights.

What got me thinking along these lines was a compendium I saw a good writer list of great historical theologians’ answers to the “Big Rock” query. That question is, “If God can do anything, can He make a rock so big and so heavy even He can’t lift it?” I was appalled to see so many genuine intellects and a few saints give what I call ‘Rube Goldberg explanations’ in answer to this simple rhetorical fallacy. (Rube Goldberg was an engineer who made comically and insanely complicated contraptions to perform simple tasks). The only proper answer to this question is that God can make a rock of infinite size and infinite weight – and still lift it. Shoot, if He’s in the mood, while He’s at it, He could make a flat surface of infinite size and hardness and then He and the Archangels Gabriel, Michael and Rafael could play a doubles tennis match with the rock in question. Embedded in the question is the assumption that there is some size and weight of matter that is beyond God’s power to manipulate. It is the assumption that is in error. The only real use of this question is to point out the inherent assumptions and limitations of all language. Language is not pure thought, but rather a sort of currency that allows us to translate thought in a meaningful way with each other in this vale of shadows. But like all things here, it is limited and flawed.

In his latest piece, Mark Mallett makes the shrewd observation that satan makes a crude imitation of the important things God does for us. Indeed, satan’s imitations are perversions of the things God does. In satan’s dispensation, the unity God calls for becomes uniformity – and ultimately crudely enforced uniformity. God’s unity makes use of each person’s authentic personality. From this diversity He brings forth a unity of values that still respects the freedom and dignity of the human person; in fact uses that diversity to create a larger whole of creation at worship and joy. Satan’s perverted imitation is to celebrate a superficial diversity of physical characteristics in service to enforcing a uniformity of thought and ideology. God’s unity respects and enhances each person’s unique personality. Satan’s uniformity destroys each person’s personality.

In God’s economy, sexual attraction is the mechanism by which persons transcend their selfishness to live in full communion with one another. From that communion wells up a fountain of creation – and the unity of the family mirrors the very Trinitarian life of God. But satan perverts sexual attraction, making the mere mechanism the end. From it flows despair and sorrow, as barren as it is frantic. It destroys rather than creates.

God creates abundance, a complexity that, when studied, is breathtakingly elegant in its simplicity. Think of it. Scarcely more than a hundred elements are used to form all the staggering variety of plants, animals and minerals in the entire world. Each of these elements are just variations on the placement of a handful of particles in the atoms that make them up. For life itself, the DNA strands contain just four nucleotides, the bases used to form the entire code for every organism. It is simply varieties in the sequencing of these four bases that form the distinct pattern for all life forms – and the individual quirks of each organism. When analyzed, God’s complexity does not reveal a disordered chaos underlying it, but an incredibly elegant simplicity.

All the devil can muster in imitation of this is confused, disordered chaos. He tries to peddle it as enlightenment or appreciation for nuance. But when you strip it down there is no elegance, no simplicity, just a confused mess. It is why very intelligent people can congratulate themselves on wallowing in it. It is so complicated, they must be really smart, they think. How many converts the devil makes by seducing people to immerse themselves in complicated messes and telling them lesser mortals could not venture there!

It is notable that both the natural and the spiritual world are marked by the same thing. The greatest scientific achievements, even if counter-intuitive, are elegant in the organizing simplicity of their complexity. Jesus transformed the world where all the doctors of law could not. When He spoke, He spoke with an earthy, accessible truth that was powerful in its simplicity. Jesus said that those who want to hope are His sheep – and His sheep recognize His voice. When He came, they followed joyfully because He did not seek to beguile them with nuanced, complicated arguments. He told simple, homely truths. And they recognized Him with joy.

Whatever you contemplate, whether Scripture, prophecy or science, I think it a good rule to decide that if your answer or solution resembles a Rube Goldberg contraption, you still have work to do on it.




About charliej373

Charlie Johnston is a former newspaper editor, radio talk show host and political consultant. From Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012, he walked 3,200 miles across the country, sleeping in the woods, meeting people and praying as he went. He has received prophetic visitation all his life, which he has vetted through a trio of priests over the last 20 years, and now speaks publicly about on this site. Yet he emphasizes that we find God most surely through the ordinary, doing the little things we should with faith and fidelity. Hence the name, The Next Right Step. The visitations inform his work, but are not the focus of it. He lives in the Archdiocese of Denver in the United States.
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11 Responses to The Elegance of Simplicity

  1. Chanette Smith Oeser says:

    Love this post Charlie!


  2. Audie says:

    Glad you are back, Charlie! I look forward to reading all your posts. Thank you.


  3. David Ciavarella says:


    Might I add an understanding that I was once enlightened to when it comes to explaining the “why would God allow evil to exist”? In the very beginning with creation was perfection of Gods work short only to the free will clause. Pain, agony, hunger, disease, malice, and death were initially not realities until after original sin was decided by, not only temptation and deception of Satan, but by the free will of Adam and Eve to want to be like God in themselves. God in His infinite goodness creates nothing that is not good but is inherited as a result of sin. I understand that if God were to turn his attention to even the smallest of His creation that it would cease to exist immediately. In the book of Job, God allowed the power of Satan to test the faith and resolve of Job by allowing less of His protection in order to delight in the sacrifices to job’s perseverance in holding as God’s servant. True love could never exist without the choices of free will to inherantly cause us to see the alternative to love. Thus the significance of allowing evil and sin is in direct correlation to the “asking” of what we truly call for in living our lives through sin and evil. This, I believe, is why so many don’t realize that natural disasters and attrocities could also be avoided through prayer, sacrifice, and turning back to God. Science and ignorance does not allow us to connect the dots to these things that occur as a result of nature or free will but they could be lessened or avoided if God so allowed. It is written in 2 Chronicles 7:14 “if My people, who are called by My name, would humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land”. This must be the power of prayer as to plea to Gods protection but yet trust that whatever takes place for His will is ultimately the most importance. I hope this is correct in my understanding and is not too simplistic. I’m sure I missed a few points if you or anyone can correct or add to it. Thanks and God bless all in this growing refuge!


    • June1 says:

      Lovely, David! This is, in fact, usually one of the first questions people will ask me when trying to challenge the faith. Now I have more to add to the conversation, thanks to your comment! I would always stick to the point about us having free will and continually messing it up but I’m going to add what you said about true love. 🙂


  4. June1 says:

    “Shoot, if He’s in the mood, while He’s at it, He could make a flat surface of infinite size and hardness and then He and the Archangels Gabriel, Michael and Rafael could play a doubles tennis match with the rock in question.”

    Ha ha ha! Loved this. But what about the Archangel Uriel (the forgotten angel!)? Is he keeping score? 😉


  5. ellenchris says:

    Thanks so much for this. “Elegance” actually is a principle in mathematics which contributes to validating a theorem. If the formula is too complex, the chances are very good that it is wrong. Example: E = mc2 — what could be simpler? and it turns out to be true.

    I wish this principle were applied more often and more widely to the realm of the spiritual. When we encounter systems and methods that are complicated and arcane offering to create desired effects and bring about answers to prayer just as we want them, these things are sure to be false. Yet people get caught up in the next magical practice that pretends to fulfill their desires by pulling this lever and shooting the balloon, etc. Simplicity is a hallmark of discernment for what is real — e. g. the Sacred Heart which is just simply all about Love. Simplicity and humility go hand in hand — God’s Elegance.


    • charliej373 says:

      Thank you so much, Ellen. I did not know “Elegance” actually is a principle of mathematics. I always like to learn something knew – especially when it confirms what I intuited. God’s Elegance…what could be better? (or simpler, for that matter)


  6. As far as God and rocks are concerned, God is a Spirit, and rocks are material objects – created material objects – so the two really don’t even relate to each other in a meaningful way. This seems like a typical useless intellectual exercise for “philosophers” to bandy about at the cafe. Can you tell I studied philosophy in college? Because of that I try to keep it simple and often purposefully use a less complicated thought or word in order to really communicate. P.S., I love this blog!


  7. Mary says:

    I came across this poem and immediately thought of your posts on Hope, or the lack of in the coming tribulations.

    So glad I found this blog.

    Gaza story : Zwairich

    When darkness overcomes us
    And Hope lies in the past
    What in our hearts sustains us?
    How do we make love last?

    When our weakness overwhelms us,
    And we watch as children die,
    How can we breathe this still foul air?
    What makes us even try?

    We see grief upon a father’s face.
    We hear a mother’s scream.
    How do we find another place
    For tortured hearts to dream?

    With darkness all around us
    Where do we find a light?
    What makes us wake another day
    To strive to set things right?

    What makes us dare to toil and sweat?
    What makes us try again?
    What fools are we as we forget?
    Is darkness some strange friend?

    What fools has this God made us
    To believe in spite of all
    That we can build a city
    On this rubble of Hope’s fall?

    What fools has this God made us
    To hold this foolish thought
    When Hope is but a memory
    Ere yesterday’s battle was fought?

    What fools has this God made us
    To wake another day
    To greet the sun with gritted teeth
    To hold our pain this way?

    Where comes this courage to curse us
    To strive when Hope is gone
    To place tired step and then again
    Make empty hearts march on?

    Yet this is how God made us
    As woman and man and friend
    To hold each to each in darkness
    To await this foul night’s end.

    Morning’s light reveals the rubble
    And darkness fills our soul
    And Hope is scarce remembered
    As a diamond gone back to coal

    Dark misery fills the rubble
    Pain crushes every heart
    Evil grabs with rage-honed claws
    To tear our souls apart.

    How look we on this horrid scene?
    How do we breathe again?
    How will we own this bitterness?
    And ever love again?

    But in this morning’s glaring darkness
    We hear a baby’s cry
    Love pours again from foolish hearts
    Like sweet rain from empty sky.

    And thus has this God made us
    Like fools who have no choice
    And innocence melts the darkness
    And we hear Love’s fatal voice.

    And Love will own our hearts again
    And from it Hope is born
    In the face of death and tragedy
    We smile bravely and face this morn.

    When darkness overcomes us
    And Hope lies in the past
    It is Love itself that saves us
    And Hope ever follows fast.

    It is Love itself that saves us
    ‘Tween woman and man and friend
    Love that gives us courage
    And Hope that will not end.

    ~ R Zwarich ~

    Raymond Zwarich is a carpenter living in rural Massachusetts who is trying to find an effective way to respond to the dangers and general insanity of our times. He is hoping that citizens can find the means to unite to oppose the immense power of unbridled greed that is threatening our children’s and grandchildren’s lives. He can be reached at

    If Wars Can Be Started by Lies, They Can Be Stopped By Truth.



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