Thought for the Week: 18th October 2020

Our thought this Sunday is written by Graham Thomas, one of our Methodist lay preachers.


Six months into the pandemic and we are entering the awaited and expected but not inevitable second surge. If we’d understood sooner, if we’d be given more detail, if we’d followed the rules, if we had done this or that. Ann has a saying, “If isn’t” she means “if“ is a variable we have no control over. Reading David Wilkinson’s book “When I pray what does God do” I was much taken by his use of Chaos Theory to explain some of the imponderables of our faith.(highly recommend this, a good read and easy to understand). Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics focusing on the study of chaos— states of dynamical systems whose apparently random states of disorder and irregularities are often governed by deterministic laws that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. I have mentioned before, Eugene Peterson’s ideas around the world and our interactions with it, being messy. The sense here is that God is in complete control, yet creation itself introduces the disorder and irregularities, it was good, not perfect.


Edward Lorenz summarised the theory by stating, “ When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”, to predict with certainty we must have all the variables defined. If one variable, where you start, is a millimetre away from where you started last time the end result will be different. Sensitivity to initial conditions is popularly known as the "butterfly effect", so-called because of the title of a paper given by Edward Lorenz in 1972, entitled Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas? They were trying to predict the variables of weather forecasting and used this analogy to indicate the sensitivity of some of the variables. If you type “Lorenz system” into your Wikipedia search it shows you an animation of this phenominum. These supposedly random plots when repeatedly superimposed produce an image of beauty, fractals have a similar symmetry.

In the chaos of our world does God see that beautiful symmetry?  It is his creation, they are his people, He is their God, they are always worthy of salvation. We tried to determine our future with “free will”, yet what more did we attain than God had already freely given. We brought the chaos, God has continually tried to bring us back to the “garden”. The incarnation of Jesus and his death and resurrection can be seen in this light, says Tom Wright. Chaos is a normal dynamic of our human condition, not because God made it, but because he allowed it. So when we ask the question “what is God doing?”, He is constant and consistent, we are the irrational, unpredictable and awkward variables, yet in us he sees the beauty of his original plan.

Bette Midler’s song "From a distance” has within it the words "God is watching us, from a distance”. This is not our experience of God, he has always acted to bring order to chaos with His love.

Now the earth was chaos and waste, darkness was on the surface of the deep, and the Ruach Elohim [Spirit of God] was hovering upon the surface of the water. Genesis 1:2 (The Tree of Life version)

The Spirit of the God is ever present, we just need to let its breath order our lives and then we can bring its fruit to His creation.