Monday, April 18, 2011

Butterfly Effect

Commentary on Sabbath School lesson for 4.23.11
“On an ordinary winter day in 1961, an MIT meteorologist named Edward Lorenz ran some routine experiments and found some unusual results. Lorenz discovered that seemingly tiny and insignificant changes in his data could produce huge differences in the final result. At first, Lorenz and other scientists in the field of chaos theory called this ‘the sensitive dependence on initial data.’ Fortunately, later on Lorenz used a simpler term—‘the butterfly effect.’ In 1972, Lorenz presented a scientific paper entitled ‘Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?’ According to Lorenz's theory, the butterfly's wing-flapping doesn't actually cause a tornado, but it can start a chain reaction leading to giant changes in world-wide weather patterns. In others words, even tiny, insignificant movements or actions can produce huge changes that affect millions of people.
“The Bible often describes a similar "butterfly effect" for the spiritual life. According to Jesus, the spiritual butterfly effect occurs when we do small things—making a meal, visiting the sick, befriending the lonely, opening our home to a guest, praying with a friend—for ‘insignificant’ people, which makes a huge difference in God's eyes. But according to Jesus, there's also a reverse butterfly effect: consistently failing to display small acts of kindness (i.e. living an unkind lifestyle) has a profound loss of opportunity in the spiritual realm.”[1]
Way back in the early 1900’s, a boy, probably around 14 years old and his little sister were about to be confirmed into the Lutheran church in Central Illinois, just like their older brothers and sisters had.  Except that the boy, Carl, just felt like the things he was learning weren’t right, somehow.  As he and his sister, Mary, discussed what they were learning, she agreed the things didn’t fit together the way they should.  When the time for confirmation came, Mary went through with it, not knowing what other options there were.  But Carl refused, based on nothing more than a feeling.

Needless to say, his father was furious, but life went on.  A few years later, Carl was apprenticed to a carpenter in Chicago and went to live with his older sisters there.  The carpenter was a Seventh-day Adventist.  Through that carpenter, Carl became a Seventh-day Adventist and then, he brought his immediate and extended family.  Because of Carl’s decision, three generations of family are part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“Life, as we all know, doesn’t come sealed off in distinct and separate categories or sections. Everything impacts just about everything.  In fact, Einstein’s theory of general relativity teaches that all matter in the universe has a gravitational pull on all other matter. That is, your body exerts a gravitational pull not only on your neighbor but on the sun and everything else in the created world, as well.
“Of course, we don’t need a lesson in physics to recognize the reality of how the deeds and actions of one person can radically, and even tragically, impact others, even generations later. Who we are, where we are, why we are what we are—these all have been affected to some degree by the actions of others completely out of our control. Thus, we need to be careful regarding the things we say and do; for who knows the impact (short-term and long-term, and either for good or for ill) that our deeds and words will have on others?” [2]
What a huge responsibility!  When Jacob gave Joseph the coat, do you think it would have made any difference to him if he had known just how much resentment his older sons were already holding in their hearts? 
“Had Jacob known the real feeling of his sons toward Joseph, he would not have trusted him alone with them; but this they had carefully concealed. …
“His brothers saw him approaching; but no thought of the long journey he had made to meet them, of his weariness and hunger, of his claims upon their hospitality and brotherly love, softened the bitterness of their hatred. The sight of the coat, the token of their father’s love, filled them with frenzy. ‘Behold, this dreamer cometh,’ they cried in mockery. Envy and revenge, long secretly cherished, now controlled them.”[3]
Mrs. White says earlier in the passage that the same spirit that had motivated Cain was also working in the hearts of those older brothers.

What those brothers did next was horrible.  They only wanted to be rid of their pesky little brother, but their actions have been felt by everyone, all the way until today.  Their actions changed them, their father, Joseph.  Those could all have been very negative changes, but thankfully, God was there to turn what could have been an absolutely tragic set of circumstances into a huge victory for His chosen people.
“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  ‘So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.’”  Genesis 45:5-8
What we do affects not only ourselves, but the people around us…not just today but every day between now and when Jesus comes.  It’s a huge responsibility, but thankfully, we don’t have to carry that responsibility by ourselves.  If we’ll ask, the Holy Spirit will direct our intentions and actions – perfecting and filtering as we go through our daily lives.

If God could bring good out of Joseph’s story, He can bring good out of our stories as well. We can’t anymore be perfect than Joseph’s father and brothers could be, but 
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  1 John 2:1-2
Scientists might use the Butterfly Effect to explain parts of the chaos theory, but I’m so glad that my God is not a god of chaos but of order.  He knows the end from the beginning and He will guide me every step of the way.  There is nothing chaotic or mysterious about God’s plans for you and me…
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.”  John 3:16 The Amplified Bible

[1] Kenneth Chang, "Edward N. Lorenz, a Meteorologist and a Father of Chaos Theory, dies at 90," (4-17-08)
[2] Alan Hecht, “The Coat of Different Colors”, The Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, page 42
[3] E.G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, page 210

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