By Michael Ruffin
Last summer Dr. Ali Binazir wrote a blog post in which he posed the question, “What are your chances of coming into being?”
He considered such questions as (1) the odds of your parents meeting, which he estimates at 1 in 20,000, (2) the odds of that meeting leading to a relationship that produces a child, which he estimates to be 1 in 2,000, (3) the odds of the right sperm from your father joining with the right egg from your mother to form you, which he puts at 1 in 400 quadrillion, and (4) the odds of every one of your ancestors living to the age at which they could reproduce, which Binazir estimates at 1 in 10 to the 45,000th power
When you put all of that together, Binazir said, the probability that you could exist is 1 in 10 to the 2,685,000th power.
Therefore, according to Binazir’s calculations, that chances that you could exist are so infinitesimal as to amount to zero; there is virtually no probability that you could exist.
National Public Radio blogger Robert Krulwich, in an intriguingly titled post Are You Totally Improbable or Totally Inevitable?, summarized Binazir’s article and then observed, “On the other hand …there are poets who argue exactly the opposite: that each of us is fated to exist, that there is a plan, and that all of us are expected.”
The poets of the Bible, I think, would come down mainly on the “there is a plan” side; we at least have strong intimations of such. For example, the Lord said to the young Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Had the biblical writers been confronted with the speculations of modern thinkers, would they have admitted to the presence of randomness and chance in our world and in our lives? Some certainly would. Have you read Qoheleth lately?
For the most part, though, I think they would have agreed with Binazir’s conclusion: “A miracle is an event so unlikely as to be almost impossible. By that definition, I’ve just shown that you are a miracle. Now go forth and feel and act like the miracle that you are.”
Perhaps the philosopher Forrest Gump was on track when he said: “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both (are) happening at the same time.”
Jesus Christ, whose birth we are preparing to celebrate, was, the Bible says, the Church teaches, and the Creeds affirm, both divine and human, fully God and fully man. Jesus was the Christ, the Anointed One of God who came to inaugurate God’s Kingdom, to take away the sin of the world, and to conquer death.
Given the divine nature of the Son of God and the teachings of the Bible regarding him, we can use our imaginations to at least move toward saying something about the mystery of the eternal Son of God who came into the world in the Incarnation.
But given the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth — he was fully human, remember — should we think in terms of his birth as being at least partly the result of the same kind of process — randomness, chaos and chance somehow worked with by God to accomplish God’s purposes — as are the births of the rest of us?
A thousand years before Jesus was born, God told King David of Israel that God would give David a dynasty that would never end. The historical dynasty of David in fact came to an end with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in the early sixth century BCE. But the ongoing partnership between God’s Spirit and the Hebrew theologians led to the expectation that God’s promise to David would be fulfilled in the coming of an ideal ruler, the messiah.
Think back to Binazir’s numbers, and try to imagine the seemingly insurmountable probability of all the generations of people in David’s lineage who had to meet, who had to marry and who had to reproduce in order for Jesus the son of Mary to be Jesus the son of Mary actually meeting, marrying and reproducing.
The mystery of how Mary came to be with child of the Holy Spirit is almost matched by the mystery of how Jesus of Nazareth — or any other human being, for that matter — could be born at all.
Thanks be to God!