Schrödinger’s Lazarus

The story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead is found only in John’s gospel (John 11:1-44; NRSV) Jesus heard Lazarus was ill, he dallied where he was for two days, he told the disciples Lazarus had died, he travelled to Bethany and found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, he spoke with Lazarus’ sisters Martha then Mary… “Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus … cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’”

And then I imagine there was a pause, the sort indulged in by Hollywood movie-makers, while everyone wondered whether Lazarus would come out.

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger devised his famous thought experiment to pose the question, when does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other? Schrödinger’s cat sits in a sealed box, and its life or death depends on whether a radioactive particle decays, causing a Geiger counter tube to discharge, and through a relay to release a hammer that shatters a flask of Prussic acid. There is no way of knowing the state of the system without opening the box, and hence to the outside observer the cat is both living and dead, smeared out in equal parts. Once the box is opened, the observation takes place and the system collapses into one or the other state: decayed nucleus/dead cat or undecayed nucleus/living cat. However… the cat is also an observer, and would be aware of only one state; it would remember only being alive. Hence the paradox, which has attracted many interpretations.

To Lazarus, his state of being living or dead would be known to him, albeit perhaps a bit hazily. To Jesus, also, perhaps (discuss!). But to the other outside observers, what is the effect of Jesus’ command? What were they thinking and feeling at the moment of taking away the stone?

I suppose I’m trying to draw some parallels – between Jesus’ word and the laws of quantum physics; between the binding and vivifying effect of the word and the decay of the particle; and between the faith and hope of the people of Bethany and the uncertainty of the experiment observers – as an aslant aid to understanding the meaning of faith or hope. “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8: 24b-25; NRSV).

To stretch the already-straining parallels beyond breaking point, where am I in the system: the outside observer, the cat, or the Geiger counter (from Niels Bohr’s interpretation)? Asking the question – what is it possible for me to know of God? – is to put God in the box, whereas God has already let the poor cat let out of the bag through creation and incarnation. In any case, what am I to know anything more of God? It is for me to be known by God. And though (like the Paul of Romans 7:24 but unlike the cat), I might not know sometimes whether I am dead or alive, I am hopeful that God knows I am alive and delights in that.

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