Zero is such a strange concept. It’s essentially the existence of nothing. From the onset of recorded history, the idea of nothing was always understood – you either had an apple, or you didn’t. However, the nature of ‘zero’ evolved over time from a mere placeholder to what we now consider a number. The reason it is entitled to be a number is simply due to the fact that, despite it being the absence of quantity, it is not the absence of value. This can be proven by reverse engineering – by removing nothing we ironically lose value. Presented on a number plane, zero defines the point where the less than nothing meets the more than nothing. The negative meets the positive. The past meets the future.
So what is zero? It is the gift of now.
Taking it one step further than solely the existence of nothing, polymath and philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz, considered 0 symbolic to the Christian doctrine of ‘creatio ex nihilo‘ – creation out of nothing. He states “…one can say that nothing in the world can better present and demonstrate [God’s ultimate] power than the theory concerning the origin of numbers, as it is represented here through the simple and unadorned presentation of one and zero or nothing.”
Infinity is an equally abstract concept. To make it a little more comprehensible, we almost degrade its merit by categorizing it with the numbers which we can sketch on the number plane mentioned above. However, this cannot be the case as it is neither a natural nor real number. Infinity is always depicted beyond anything already established. Hence, it must surpass this number plane and only truly be reached in another dimension. If we take a step back and assume, for arguments sake, that it is a normal number, then we are obligated to follow the standard numerical rules, thereby we could have 2× infinity, or greater still, infinity squared. But can anything really be greater than the already infinite?
Without delving into too much detail, mathematician Georg Cantor originated the distinction between the infinitives of mathematics, physics and metaphysics. Drawing on all three categories there is one clear commonality: infinity goes beyond the natural human comprehension – whether it be the endless sequence of counting numbers, the spatial and temporal concepts or the argument of the Absolute.
Dear seven year old me,
You’re in second grade now, and trying to wrap your head around what this life thing is all about.
You thought your teacher from first grade was nicer than your current teacher, and you can’t stop thinking about the holiday you went on with your family three years ago.
Your best friend just told you she has a boyfriend, and you’re daydreaming about when you both get married and have dinner parties all the time!
You’re looking at what was and what will be. But what about zero? And more importantly, what about infinity? Part of the terms and conditions which come with our current physical state is the blessing of a finite number plane. Strangely enough we narrow our focus in this facet of life on the past and the future, and not only do we hardly live in the present, we limit ourselves to this limited realm and neglect the dimension greater than that we exist in. We talk about advancing medicine, and advancing technology but we restrict the advancement of humanity by creating a physical absolute in this finite dimension (as Plato believed) and discounting the possibility of a greater metaphysical infinite, all the while losing satisfaction of living in the present.
In her biography, Travelling To Infinity, Jane Hawking hits the nail on the head stating, “If the future had acquired a reassuring aura of certainty, the key lay in managing the present: living each day as it came, rather than projecting some fanciful mirage in to the distant future.” St. Peter reiterates this concept when he says to the Lord, “It is good for us to be here” (Matthew 17:4). He doesn’t even concern himself with whether it is good for us to be there, but he focuses on being ‘here’, and reflects on appreciating the notion of being ‘here’. The question thereby lies in how we too can appreciate being here. Perhaps a way we can ensure we focus on being here and not worrying about the future is to reflect on ourselves. As the French mathematician and theologist, Blaise Pascal puts it, “If our condition were truly happy we should not need to divert ourselves from thinking about it. The sole cause of our unhappiness is that we do not know how to sit quietly in our room. The reason we find it difficult to sit quietly and examine our lives is because doing so makes us anxious, but until we examine our lives, we can do little to make them less unhappy and more fulfilling.” It makes sense that we distract ourselves by thinking about the past and the future more than the present, because “looking at our lives confronts us with our lack of meaning, our unhappiness, and our loneliness – and with the difficulty, the fragility, and the unbelievable brevity of life” (Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr from The Question Of God), so we fill it with other ‘pleasures’ to bridge that gap. Though true, this is contradictory to everything we believe in, given “He has hedged our lives” (Psalms 139:5) to ensure we shouldn’t be anxious or concerned.
If we take Pascal’s advice, we can attempt to live in the present by reflecting on understanding and appreciating the true value of free will and how it affects now, and henceforth, the future. He gave us free will to do as we like with the present because, as C.S. Lewis puts it in his book Mere Christianity, “A world of automata could never love and therefore never know infinite happiness.” To experience that joy, we rightfully ask Him to manage our lives as He deems fit (Jeremiah 26:14), in order to attempt to align our lives to God’s ultimate plan. However, we turn around and place restrictions on what He should ‘deem fit’, depending on our plans, forgetting that God does not work that way. Our free will gives us the responsibility to invest in the present, to go beyond this finite world into a realm created by an omnipotent God. St. Augustine reiterates this concept by reminding us that “He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.”
Seven year old me, stop reminiscing about the negative numbers and dreaming about the positives. Focus on zero, to get to infinity.
Focus on now and let Him who is greater than all human conception take you to a place our feeble minds cannot comprehend (Isaiah 55:9). After all, the numbers will never cease to continue on the number plane, just as we can’t control the past or the future. The only control we have in this dimension is what we do with the zero, to reach infinity. Now is the time to let Him who pre-defines the past and the future (Revelation 22:13) lead you above the physical finite to bask in an unprecedented realm beyond our imagination. To infinity.
SAYG ~ Anonymous