My wife Angela is a veterinarian. She’s also apparently a really good Relief Society enrichment teacher (I’m not allowed to go to these things, but I have this on good authority). A few weeks ago the enrichment lesson subject was “A House of Order”, from Doctrine and Covenants 88:119: “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” This scripture primarily refers to the temple, of course, but it’s also often used to reinforce the need to keep our own homes and lives neat and orderly. Angela’s take was that this is an incomplete interpretation. God’s house may be ordered, but it isn’t neat.
Angela pointed out that nature is governed by simple, elegant laws. Look, for instance, at Newton’s Law of Gravitation, which reads (warning! Math!)
F = G*m1*m2/r^2
where F is the gravitational force exerted between two bodies, m1 and m2 are the masses of those bodies, r is the distance between them, and G is the universal gravitational constant. This equation (with some caveats) describes the motion of all matter in the universe. It’s consequences include explanations for why things fall when dropped, how solar systems are formed, and what holds galaxies together. It’s surprisingly simple. But its results are seldom neat. Our galaxy has billions of stars and probably trillions of planets, each pulling on the others, and all orbiting along different paths. Even though each of them affects the others according to the simple equation above, it turns out to be impossible to come up with an equation that exactly describes how the motion of any body in the galaxy changes over time, and if you plot the motions of the stars they appear to be more or less random — nothing neat about them. It’s not until you take a big step backwards that you can see that galaxies have a breathtakingly beautiful structure. There is order at the very lowest level and the very highest level, and nowhere in between.
I’m not that up on biology but I’m told that similar principles hold. The basic laws of chemistry are are pretty simple, but their repercussions lead to enormous, unpredictable complexity. All trees have the same basic structure — roots, a trunk, branches and leaves — but the exact placement of the branches and leaves is basically random. The structure of the neurons in your brain defies description. But take a big step out and you get order again — you get bodies with identifiable organs and systems, ecosystems with interlocking, supporting species, and intelligent creatures with language, symbolic thought, and spiritual lives. You also get breathtaking beauty again.
I’m often reluctant to draw spiritual principles from scientific truths, but I think she has a good point. In this case maybe looking at the creation tells us something about the Creator. God implements simple laws from which He creates what appears to be disorder. And perhaps at one level that’s what D&C 88:119 is getting at: a house of order implies a life governed by God’s laws. But that doesn’t mean that life will be neat or even understandable while it’s being lived. Maybe the order only becomes apparent after the fact.