Aug 18, 2017

The Quantum Mechanics of Sanctification (from our Archives)

Note: This post first ran in July 2015

By Heather Judd

Quantum mechanics, the science of matter and energy on the smallest scales, is a field bulging with mind-boggling paradoxes. One of its counterintuitive principles is that at the subatomic level there is no certainty about a particle’s state until it is observed. In effect, it can simultaneously be both here and there, both yes and no. To illustrate this bizarre principle, twentieth-century physicists introduced thought experiments such as Schrodinger’s Cat, which is theoretically both alive and dead until a sealed box is opened revealing its actual state.

The idea that the act of observation can actually affect the state of reality seems slightly less outlandish if we consider how this so-called Observer Effect is evident in everyday measurement. If you wish to measure the air pressure in your car’s tires, it is impossible to do so without releasing a small amount of air, thereby changing the pressure by your act of observation. But this phenomenon is much more pronounced on the tiny quantum scale. Strange as it seems, when we look at things on the quantum level, we change their behavior or nature.

Sanctification has its own kind of quantum mechanics. As Christians we must and we do carry out good works (see Augsburg Confession VI), but as soon as we look at those good works, they turn in some degree into works of pride. Our observation changes the nature of our works, and when we try to start measuring our good deeds, we turn them back into works of the Law, and consequently our means of justification.

Make no mistake: Good works are to be the daily content of our lives as Christians. We are to love our neighbors with every breath of our vocation. But that also means that our good deeds are to be done and forgotten over and over again. This frustrates our Old Adam to no end. Like Lot’s wife in Genesis or Orpheus in the Greek myth, we so desperately want to peek back to see what we are leaving behind us. Did that person really appreciate the kind words from me? I can’t believe I cleaned the whole house by myself without complaining. Wasn’t that great how I refrained from gossiping? And instantly the focus is back on me, myself, and I.

Still our reason protests. How absurd! Either my deeds are good or not. My looking at them cannot change their nature. Surely, it is always good, for instance, to save life. True, it is always morally right to save life. Yet before the judgment throne of God, the atheist who has preserved life will be condemned while the Christian who has preserved life will be saved. How can this sort of contradiction—this sort of quantum uncertainty—exist in the judgment of our holy, perfect God?

The writer to the Hebrews tells us the answer: Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Impossible. You may be the most benevolent, selfless person on the earth, and yet without faith, your good deeds count for nothing. The atheist is condemned for his works because he expected some reward from them or because he considered that they made him a good person or, most simply, because he did not believe in God Who commanded them and Whose glory they ought to have proclaimed.

It follows, then, that only through faith can our good deeds please God. Moreover, it is in faith that we find the cure for our wandering eyes that want to stare at our own works: “Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone / Who did for all the world atone” (LSB 555.1).

The only focus of our observation must be Christ. With eyes fixed on him, our works are done without our observation and truly do “serve our neighbor and supply / the proof that faith is living” (LSB 555.9). And as we gaze upon our Beautiful Savior we see that with Him there is no uncertainty, no shadow of turning (James 1:17). Rather, we behold our Lord Who blots out our pride in our own good works, records each selfless deed we have forgotten, and credits us with the fullness of His perfect righteousness—He Who is unchanging, the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8).


Heather Judd is currently a sister, daughter, and teacher in a classical, Lutheran school in Wyoming.  The last of these vocations demonstrates the divine sense of irony since she (a) was homeschooled for her entire K-12 education, (b) only became a classical education enthusiast after earning her B.A. in education, (c) attended just about every denomination except Lutheran growing up,  and (d) had never been to Wyoming before moving there for the teaching call.  When she is not spending time in the eccentric world of middle school students, she enjoys reading, writing, acting, baking, playing organ, and pondering the mysteries of theology, physics, and literature.

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