Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Butterfly Effect

From the Draft Folder: Not sure when I wrote this but in light of recent events, maybe it was just meant for me.

Have you ever made comments like these?  I wish I had never done that. I wish that I had never gone there. I wish I'd never said that. I wish I'd listened to you. I have. Too many times to count. I hear it a lot, usually from my children. How about this one. If only I could go back and start over. I'd do things differently. 

Me, too. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I've said that in the last five years, I could have quit work a while ago.

So many choices to make. So many paths to take. Which way is best? What should I do? I don't know sometimes how we get through a day faced with all the decisions we're compelled to make. How do we do it?

For me, no decision is possible until I ask God to direct me. I always ask him to steer me around delays, barriers, and dangers. These days, more especially than I've ever done, I question every decision, ask for help repeatedly. In the past, I'd talk to Jerry about major decisions and we'd decide but even then, I was still praying about it. Sometimes he'd even say, "Let's  just pray about it and see what happens." A nice clear path. God's Will.

Christians talk a lot about God's will. If an expected outcome doesn't happen then it simply must not have been God's will. If something terrible happens to someone, it must have been God's will. My favorite is the statement that someone always says to a widow. "I know it's hard but it was just God's will."

When someone says that to you do you automatically take their word for it? What if it wasn't God's will? What if a lot of the things we attribute to God's will weren't really God's will... initially? You heard me. What if some of the things we attribute to God's will were really not God's will in the beginning? Before you made changes.

What? What do you mean before I made changes? I can't change God's will! Only God can change his will and God doesn't change. Whatever happens to me is God's will.

God's will is that all of us be saved. That's is the pure and simplified will of God. That no one be lost. And that never changes. He desires nothing more nor less. He gives us the map and expects us to follow it. The concept of God's changeable will is something else entirely. And something I've never heard anyone but me mention.

The Children of Israel had left Egypt under God's provision and direction. They'd done everything they were told to do and now they were on their way to the Promised Land - God's will was that they all reach their destination. The road was rough and treacherous but hey, when you have a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, how bad could it be? All they had to do was stay on the right road, do what they were instructed to do and it would be fine.

But they didn't do any of that. Disobedience resulted in a detour that took them 40 years to travel. If you look at the maps in your Bible you will find it was a circuitous route and they were plagued by all kinds of disasters. The only positive I find in the story is that their shoes and clothes never wore out. And that's probably a good thing because there were no Wal-marts in those neighborhoods.

Did any of them ever say, "I wish we'd never done that!" ? Was Moses sitting in his tent at night saying, "Why didn't I listen!"? I'm pretty sure that would be a yes. They were no different than you or I. Regret is a human characteristic.

"But you're using one story. I mean, they didn't have to take the long way around. They had a choice."

Yes, they did. We all do. Their choice was NOT God's choice.

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. It was basically a straight shot from where he was to where he was supposed to be, a trip of about 756 miles. Hop on your donkey and ride off to the northeast and tell those people they're on the wrong path. Easy, right? Um, not really. Instead, Jonah took a detour. He chose to travel in the opposite direction. He went south, to Joppa and caught a ship to Tarshish, a city, that if the map I consulted is correct, was approximately 2679 miles west of Nineveh.

During the trip a storm blew in and Jonah ended up in the belly of a whale somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It took three days for the fish to get Jonah back to where he could throw him ashore near his original destination. I believe the time was important not just to give Jonah time to think but also because it took that long. It's a long way back and even then I suspect God was trying to get him on the path he originally chose for him..  Jonah had plenty of time to think and was probably saying, "Why did I do that? Why didn't I listen? What was I thinking?" We know he was praying!

"Wait! That's totally opposite from the Exodus. They still traveled in the same direction. They didn't change anything. They weren't running away from God like Jonah."

Remember what I said? What if some of the things we attribute to God's will were not really not God's will in the beginning? Before you made changes.

God has a plan regarding how we reach our destination. The thing is, you can change that. You are given the choice of how you get there in one aspect only. You can make it hard or you can make it easy or you can make it impossible.

Had the Hebrews not disobeyed, they'd have ended up in the Promised Land sooner and with all of those who left Egypt. Instead, every person who left Egypt, with the exception of the faithful spies, died. All of them. The road they took was longer and harder and they didn't survive. Their descendants fulfilled God's will for the nation but none of those for whom it was intended received the promise. They did not change God's promise to the descendants of Abraham. They changed God's will for them.

Had Jonah taken that direct path to Nineveh, he'd have been spared a harrowing storm at sea, being tossed overboard, swallowed by a large fish, sitting in stomach acid for three days, and being vomited ashore, and then walking hundreds of miles to Nineveh. The city of Nineveh repented just as God's intended but ultimately, the city was totally destroyed after this. Did Jonah's actions change Nineveh's fate? What if Jonah had arrived earlier? What price did that delay cost?

God's ultimate will for the people in that city was to begin on the day appointed for Jonah to arrive. Any change that occurred between his appointed arrival and his actual arrival would effectively alter events and that will. God's will for those lives was altered by Jonah's actions. God's desire to save the city remained intact but Johan changed so many things I can only begin to guess as the impact. Incidentally, Nineveh was called "the bloody city" for its violence and wickedness. It was eventually destroyed.

I made a mistake. I don't believe it was God's will that I marry the person I married.

Wrong. The moment you took those vows, you changed God's will for your life and the person you are marrying, and any children you would have had are now changed.


Marriage is ordained by God. The moment you take your vows you are bound by God to that person, even if you've married outside your faith. Every path that God originally set for you is redrawn to include your spouse and it is unlikely that you will even travel the roads he originally intended you to travel. This is why we, as Christians, believe marriage should never be taken lightly nor should you marry outside your faith.

So many times we find ourselves making the statement, "If I'd only chosen the other road, this would not have happened." I'm sure the Hebrews, Jonah and countless others felt the same way. But what they had to accept is they couldn't undo it. They could only change their direction back to the goal of God's ultimate will. And keep walking.

We have to recognize that once we've made changes, going back to our starting point is ultimately impossible. Even though we took a wrong turn and ended up lost somewhere in the wilderness or in the belly of a whale we can still find our way to where God wants us to be. Your route is determined by the map you use. Christians are given a guide book as a map. We draw the route. There are smooth highways, rough, unpaved roads, mountain paths passable only at certain times, and even detours.

The theory that a butterfly fluttering its wings in S. America can result in a hurricane in the Atlantic was so popular they made a movie about it. It was a powerful game changer in cause and effect thinking. Not everyone agrees with it. I do. Slight changes in any pattern result in major changes in the finished product. Alter a pattern too much and the finished product may be unrecognizable and useless.

The same holds true for God's will for us. God allows us to plot our route and expects us to use the guide book he provides. If we choose to take a "short cut" we can but that doesn't mean it is His will. The events that happen as a result of our changes are not necessarily God's will. Changes to our course may take us on perilous journeys that land us far from our destination.

Notes: Interesting article on Nineveh:

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