Aristotle didn’t quite say, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” But it is true—for good and for ill. First Corinthians 12:20–27 looks at churches and bodies as systems that possess properties their parts cannot possess on their own. You can’t be a community or a family by yourself. The same holds true with our political systems: A democratic government requires individual citizens working together as one nation for any common good to have a chance.
No matter how good or how strong, every system eventually succumbs to entropy. Increasing disorder is inherent in every system, including the very universe itself. As the physicist Stephen Hawking reminded us, everything we do increases disorder in the universe. This world is inevitably running down. Our bodies age and die, churches decrease, governments collapse, economies recess, families fall apart.
True, some things get better over time. But to overcome the entropy, systemic improvement must exceed the ever-increasing disorder. This is an enormous challenge, as the ever-penetrating repercussions of systemic racism in America demonstrate. Centuries of structural and institutional policies discriminated against black citizens, sanctioning inadequate education and substandard health care and creating economic disparity that restricted access to fair wages and decent housing.
Because entropy always increases, driving systems toward chaos, you might think the best strategy for opposing racism or any other systemic sin would be to let it be and watch it die. But that very chaos is the problem. To let it be is to let it wreak its havoc.
To achieve systemic change, an exceeding amount of energy from outside the system must be applied. …
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