I grew up in the city of Detroit in the 1960’s. We didn’t use phones back then like we do today. If I wanted to see my friend Mark, I didn’t call first. I rode my bike four blocks to his house and rang his doorbell instead of his phone.
But we did use the phone to call weather. I still remember the number: 936.1212. We called mostly to delight ourselves in its inaccurate predictions. Time after time, in the midst of a Noah-like, epic deluge, we’d call only to hear, “Ten percent chance of light sprinkles,” and we’d laugh ourselves silly.
Before technology, weather prediction relied on anecdotal pattern-observations, like, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” Barometers and telegraphs provided more information, improving forecasts, but I was still laughing in the 1960’s.
Computers were built, in large part, because mathematicians believed they needed a machine which could simultaneously manage a myriad of variables, so that its computational power would finally permit accurate weather prediction.
Scientists forecast that fairy-tale for decades. That if you could put enough data into a machine, you could predict anything. But even now, ten-day weather predictions are laughable.
In the latter 20th century, the mathematical branch of chaos theory recognized that even tiny variations in original conditions radically influence the resulting outcome. Chaos theory doesn’t resist understanding, it only claims we’ll never understand enough. It jokingly claims:
A butterfly flapping its wings in China might be the cause of a tornado in Kansas.
If Scientists Can Be Humble, Why Can’t We?
My wife and I raised four kids into adulthood. We practiced the proverb, “Train your children in the way to go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it.” But we soon saw that our “training” was 95% example and only 5% teaching. We lectured them to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” but our own personal foibles taught the opposite. With gale force muscle.
As everyone’s kids grow older, we all see in them the very weaknesses parents modeled; yes “We train our children in a way to go, and when they are old, they do not depart from it.”
Unfortunately, the “way” they go is not what we lectured. Other variables were at work.
When our kids are children, God gives us a limited power over them. We can put them in timeout for lying and reduce their screen time for not eating vegetables. But the rationed-control God grants us is miniscule. We can’t control what they hear on the playground or what they dream about at night.
We can’t control. And we shouldn’t control. There are too many variables beyond our greatest imagination. Our childish attempts to control life are butterflies flapping their wings in China, anxieties creating hurricanes in the lives of those around us.
The entrée into the Christian life is the easiest access of any religion: it has nothing to do with flawless living, perfect thinking, or loving wholly. The Christian life is birthed when we admit, “I can’t do it; there’s a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere.”
Although, perhaps access to the Christian life is the toughest. Despite decades of information proving we can’t predict anything, we still think we know exactly: what our adult kids need, how our spouse should change, or what political solution will bring God’s peace to the world.
We are proud and certain of our master plans, despite contrary data and our repeated failures. Tim Keller once said, “Anxiety is knowing exactly what needs to happen, and believing God won’t get it right.”
We are uptight, anxious, neurotic nincompoops.
The second Psalm says all the world—from the lowest subjects to the mightiest kings—rage and plot and scheme to escape God’s control of their lives, saying, “Let us burst his bonds and cast away his restraints.” The world rejects God’s existence, but we Christians reject his tactics.
Let’s learn to lean; to abandon our schemes of earthly joy, to relinquish our claims of best practices, and let’s learn to lean into Him. We don’t know one percent of all the factors involved in life. Let’s Let Go! Besides, when God hears of our plan to outwit the typhoons of life,
“He who sits in the heavens laughs himself silly” (Ps. 2:4).
Brooks W Carlson
Great reminder, Sam! Funny how we never really master this, no matter how long we live.
Learning how little control we have takes a life of learning.
After all, our ability to worship our own solutions … is out of control.
The older I get, embracing this comes easier.
Me too. Finally, after years of thinking I can, and discovering I can’t, I might be ready to cry, “Uncle!”
As parents, some of our greatest pain occurs when we see our grown children making wrong choices. But, Sam, after reading your article, I asked myself, “did I make any decisions that brought pain to my own precious parents?” I recently purchased the book, “Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free,” by Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. Although I have not yet started to read it, the theme is identified as a book “about the tremendously liberating and gloriously counterintuitive truth about a God Who suffers with you and for you.” Sam, I hear your own grief and regret, and I’m right here with you.
I preached a sermon last Sunday on dealing with suffering, called, “The Questions of Suffering”
It’s right down the alley you discussed. You can listen to it here: The Questions of Suffering
Hi Sam “The world rejects God’s existence, but we Christians reject his tactics.”…. I absolutely LOVE that statement!
I am leading a young man in a Bible Study currently. He naively asked during our first session,”If Gods Grace and Salvation are that easy, why do we have to try so hard?”
I told him it is an error to think that we must “Try Harder” in order to obtain what God freely gives to ALL who simply ask.
Unfortunately, it seems we have (for the most part) been programmed by our “upbringing” to think that “the harder we work, the greater our reward.” Well, I said, eternal life with Jesus is really a “yes/no” question. Do you want it – “then Yes’. If you don’t want it, then say “NO!”
And the really neat thing about salvation is that The Lord will give us other chanches throughout our life to change that “NO” to a “yes, please”. Jesus parable of the workers who arrived at different times of the day, and who worked for a different length of time, ALL got the same wage at the end of the day,
Although I would not say that it’s a good idea to “hold off saying yes” for the longest possible time (up to you on your deathbed, for instance) God is O.K. with that.
Unfortunately, you will be living “Hell on Earth here without Him.” So why not say “Yes to God” as soon as you understand what it means? Don’t wait for a better day. You’ll have a lot more “Better Days” ahead after you say “Yes” to Him.
Years ago, a prominent theologian hinted that he might believe in Universalism (the heresy denied by believers for two thousand years, that there is no hell and all will go to heaven).
The thing that shocks me when I look back is: many Christians stopped trying to bring the good news of Salvation to people because they thought (wrongly) that “Everyone will go to heaven anyway.”
The huge problem with that feeling is: It means those believers no longer had any life from God here and now. Which is horrible. God is the God of a joyous life in Him today as well. Maybe not riches in the worldly sense, but real riches vastly superior to the worldly sense.
Your sentence above about “butterflies flying in China” is right in line with the words from St Augustine in today’s reading from Don Schwager: “you would not be here unless you were called.” Of course, I paraphrased his words…