God of Chaos

There’s a story about a young pastor in a rural area who went to call on one of his parishioners and found him in his field. “Fine looking field you have here with the Lord’s help,” said the pastor.

“Yes,” said the farmer, “but you should have seen it when the Lord had it alone!”

With a quarter-acre garden and two acre orchard, I’m not really a farmer but I know how the farmer felt. God cares for the land differently than I do. A good deal of the time I find myself fighting with God’s plan.

My plan is for creating order. God just creates. For whatever reason, I want to see a carefully groomed green expanse with fruit trees set in straight lines at regular intervals and, in the garden, straight rows of vegetables with bare earth between them. God doesn’t like straight rows and bare soil. No matter how often I take my hoe and cultivate between the rows, there will be new green shoots coming up in 48 hours or less. In a week, the brown soil will be green. In a month, my vegetables will be choked out by God’s choice of plants – what we deride as “weeds.”

Walk around the periphery of the orchard and you will see God at work, constantly moving in on “my” ground. If I simply mow the grass, my two acres will be diminished substantially by the end of the summer. God’s chaotic garden encroaches on mine inch by inch. It’s often a branch of wild roses that makes the first move. It reaches out over the mown grass by a foot or two or three. Instinctively, I swerve away from it when I come around on my lawn tractor. The thorns can pierce cloth and may find unprotected flesh. Under that branch of wild rose, a barberry bush is expanding outward also. Mow it down and it will come back time after time. Honeysuckle is right there as well. It has no thorns but it sends out branches in all directions and just keeps on coming. Raspberries and blackberries love the fringes also. And I’m reluctant to prune them back because they offer free fruit later in the summer. These are the front line troops in God’s army. Behind them come the cherry saplings and birch seedlings, fast growing and immune to my mower. And then come the maple and oak; with their arrival my orchard has become God’s forest. Sometimes you see the hardwood seedlings coming up in the middle of the lawn. They have no chance there but each tree produces hundreds of seeds every year and only needs one of those to grow every hundred years or so to reproduce itself. If two find a place to grow, it’s doubled it’s population. There’s only one of me against hundreds of invasive species doing their best to destroy my orderly world.

But isn’t God a God of order? St. Paul says: “God is a God not of disorder.” (1 Cor 14:33) But Paul’s experience is different from mine and I have to wonder whether Paul is wrong.
There is, no doubt of it, a human need for order. Our knowledge and powers are limited and nothing drives us crazy faster than a day when things get out of control. Our civilization rests on order and predictability. Workers on an assembly line have to show up on time and carry out their assignments. Lights have to come on when you flip the switch. Computers have to bring up the file you ask for. Politicians get votes by standing for “law and order,” not chaos.

And isn’t that the kind of world God made? Water boils at 212 degrees. Things fall when you drop them. The sun comes up every morning. But scientists who look more deeply find disorder behind the order. “Chaos theory” enables scientists to talk about an orderly world with unpredictable outcomes and then there’s the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that tells us we can’t know both the location and momentum of a particle in quantum physics. The British pioneer geneticist, J.B.S.Haldane, once said, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose but queerer than we can suppose.”

And just because we have a need for control and order, we shouldn’t assume that God is on our side. The message I’m getting as I try to trim back the wildness is that my need for order may put me in conflict with a Creator whose purpose for the universe may not fit my logical mind. Yet year after year we see new churches being formed and old ones divided because two persons or two parties are so absolutely sure that God must conform to their logic. Why would not God be happy for us all to subscribe to the same clear and rational agenda? It’s hard to believe God would not want us united in a clearly stated faith and orderly church. But why would God be constantly undoing my effort to construct an orderly garden?

Through most of human history, kings, emperors, and other rulers have concentrated power in one place. It make sense to unite a society with a single vision. Nevertheless, we have begun to experiment with democracy and significant number of state now have elected leaders – who frequently attempt to break down the controls on their power. Democracy is chaotic. Freedom is chaotic. But perhaps a chaotic democracy is a better reflection of God’s purpose for us than an orderly dictatorship.

What I’ve come to accept after some years is that the garden is always going to be slightly out of control. I will continue to fight it, but I no longer expect to have my way all the time. Likewise in church and state. Everyone ought to be an Episcopalian but I sometimes see evidence that God has a broader mind. It is even possible that God can work through political candidates whose views I abhor. I do understand that it’s better to let them have their say than to clap them in jail. The fact that I am constantly challenged forces me to think things through more carefully and work harder for the views I believe in.

There are fields in this part of the world that God works on without competition. Around the edges the wild rose can climb twenty feet up a telephone pole and burst into a waterfall of white blossoms in the spring; randomly scattered in the field, clumps of daisies burst into bloom in early summer; here and there, young cherry saplings will be loaded with fruit in late summer to feed the birds. There’s nothing neat about it but it has its own beauty and it effortlessly supports a richer abundance of life than my garden. It may well bear better witness to God than the neat and orderly garden I work so hard to maintain.

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