The Most Important Thing

Richard Feynman was a Nobel laureate in quantum physics in 1965, a man dedicated to understanding things the vast majority of us could never hope to understand. Even he did not understand it fully, having been quoted as saying, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” One day, he wrote to the mother of Marcus Chown, saying, “Ignore your son’s attempts to teach you physics. Physics is not the most important thing. Love is.” He was an atheist, and yet he could recognize the importance that love has in our lives. It took him a long time to learn this lesson, however.

When one reads the Bible, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that love is an important concept. It is so important that Jesus, when He was tested by a lawyer concerning the law, reiterated the two greatest commands in the Law of Moses, commands on which “hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). In other words, every single commandment could be categorized in these two commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).

While it is certain that Feynman’s understanding of love was very different from our Lord’s, I am impressed with the priority that Feynman finally placed on it. When he earned his doctoral degree at 24, he married his high school sweetheart knowing that she had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease with no cure in 1942. She died a few years later. Perhaps he regretted not being able to marry her sooner—his university scholarship prevented him from doing so.

He married again in 1952, but his wife divorced him a few years later. One of her complaints was that he was constantly doing math problems from the moment he awoke to the moment he lay down to sleep. He was obsessed with his work at this time in his life. While we, as Christians, ought to be more cautious when we marry, we can still make our spouse miserable. Feynman made his second wife miserable because his mind was never with her. He was one of the most intelligent men to have ever lived, and he could not get this marriage to work.

In today’s culture, we are constantly plugged in, getting emails, texts, and phone calls from people, including our employers. There needs to be quality time spent as often as we can with our spouses and families where we set the phone down so that it does not bother us. Peter states that husbands ought to “dwell with [their wives] with understanding” (1 Peter 3:7). We cannot do this if we are constantly distracted.

By his third marriage in 1960, it would appear that Feynman finally learned the lesson that he wrote in his note to Mrs. Chown: “Physics is not the most important thing. Love is.” For most of us, physics does not matter much at all, but our careers and jobs do matter to us. It is how we earn a living so that we take care of our families. Some of us are even lucky enough to have jobs that we enjoy, yet we must make time for our families. Feynman’s third marriage lasted until he died in 1988. They had two children, one of which was adopted. He finally learned what the most important thing was.

As Christians, we should already know what the most important thing is. It took Feynman 42 years to figure it out, and he was one of the smartest men ever to have lived. It does not have to take us that long, for the Scriptures are able to make us “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Feynman learned this lesson the hard way, but we can learn it through the wisdom delivered to us in God’s Word. Let us love God and love each other. Let us also make the appropriate time for our families, because love is truly the most important thing.