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THE CHAOS THEORY IN SCIENCE
SHOWS THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, February 3, 2002


"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty" (I Corinthians 1:27).

During the last generation a new branch of mathematics has arisen which crosses all subdivisions of science. It is called "chaos theory." The mathematics of chaos shows that tremendous consequences can come out of exceedingly small changes in initial conditions, changes which are too small to notice at the time. This illustrates the providence of God, showing that He is able to provide for His people and to frustrate the devices of those who resist Him. God often uses small, foolish, and weak things to accomplish His purposes.

"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty"

(I Corinthians 1:27).

I. "The "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory shows that
big things can have small beginnings.

In principle, it has been said that a butterfly beating its wings could cause small motions in the air that might build up and lead to a major storm in another part of the world. It wouldn't happen every time with every butterfly, but the possibility is there. Big changes can start with small beginnings. The scientific name for this is the "Butterfly Effect." It is an important part of a major discipline of science and mathematics called "chaos theory."

Chaos theory does not mean that all scientific laws are unreliable. It does not mean that science is random and has no regularity to it. It simply means that small changes in initial conditions (changes that are too small to notice at the beginning) can lead to tremendous variations later on. Thus, the future can be difficult to predict, even with the best of intentions, because no one can know what implications lurk in the tiny details of the present. This magnification from small to large happens within the context of the other scientific rules that are operating. This is a basic part of the mathematics of nearly all scientific systems.

Chaos theory and its "Butterfly Effect" have been found in almost every aspect of science and human life, including the motions of the planets in the solar system and the rising and falling of prices in the stock market. Astronomers can predict the movements of the planets accurately for quite a long time, but there is no way to be certain that the motions of the planets might not become more erratic, perhaps leading to a planet flying away from the system. People have tried to predict the stock market, but there is always some irrationality here as well. Sometimes the market becomes overextended, and it can go on being overexcited until some event, perhaps quite small, brings the system crashing down.

The Bible gives many examples of great events arising from small beginnings. What if Abraham had not left Ur of the Chaldees in response to God's call? There would have been no nation Israel - or God might have moved history in an entirely different way. If Rebekah had not offered to water the camels of Abraham's servant (Genesis 24:46) she might not have married Isaac. If Boaz had not obeyed God's commandments and left handfuls of grain in his fields (Ruth 2:2-3), he might have missed meeting Ruth, his future bride and an ancestor of Jesus the Messiah. If Saul of Tarsus (later known as the apostle Paul) had turned away from Jesus on the road to Damascus, the consequences would be incalculable. For instance, you might not be reading this book. I'm not saying that God couldn't have used someone else to spread the gospel to the Roman world, but things would certainly have been very different. The United States, as we know it, might not exist if Paul had not been converted.

In each of these instances our text is illustrated.

"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty"

(I Corinthians 1:27).

II. The "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory is experienced in everyday life.

Every human life has seemingly small events and experiences that lead to tremendous consequences. When Dr. Cagan was seventeen years old, he had to decide whether he would attend college at the University of Oregon or at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). He took an all-night bus ride from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived at the time, to Oregon and found it cold and wet. He then flew to Southern California and found it warm and attractive. He looked around and saw opportunities in the great city of Los Angeles. So he attended UCLA, where he became a Christian. If he had gone to Oregon he might never have become a Christian - and in any case his life would certainly have been quite different. He would not be married to his wife Judith and he would not be the father of his two boys, John Samuel and David.

In Los Angeles, at the age of eighteen, he was walking south on Vermont Avenue and crossed an intersection. The light was green. Dr. Cagan had the right to cross the street at the crosswalk, but from the side of the intersection a car came speeding by. He saw it coming at him and thought, "It's the hospital for sure." Somehow he pulled his body backwards and the car swished past, just a few inches in front of him. He shouted at the departing car, "You missed." A matter of a few inches saved his life and kept him from dying without Christ.

But nearly everyone has experienced such things. Almost every person on earth has had narrow escapes from death, usually more than once. And certainly you can remember small things that turned out to be major turning points in your life: how you first met your husband or wife, where you decided to live, and things that led up to your becoming a Christian (or not).

And so it is also with the temptations that come into everyone's life. In John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress the principal character, "Christian," took a slightly wrong turn in the road. The two roads stayed very close together for quite a distance, and it looked as if there was no difference between them. But gradually the roads got increasingly farther apart and "Christian" got into trouble, far away from where he was supposed to be (cf. John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress in Today's English, retold by James H. Thomas, Chicago: Moody Press, 1964, p. 22).

And so it is with everyone. A "small" decision in youth can determine the course of one's entire life. I decided to go to a Baptist church with the people who lived next door. As a result, I am a Baptist preacher and author forty-eight years later. Most people don't realize that the outcome of their choices can be very great, but the consequences come all the same. For both young and old, a choice to steal, to engage in sex, to seek after money rather than God, or to leave a church, can change the entire course of life. They may not see it that way at the time, but looking back years later, it becomes evident that taking the wrong fork in the road has made all the difference. As the poet Robert Frost said:

I shall be telling of this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken," in
Robert Frost's Poems, New York:
Washington Square Press, 1971, p. 223).

How can you know which small decision will lead to larger consequences and which will never amount to much? The answer is this: usually you don't know. The only sensible thing to do is to decide to follow the Bible, and then live that way. It is foolish to follow your heart because "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). You can't trust your heart, although modern society tells us repeatedly to do so. The Bible says, "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26). If you follow your heart you will go wrong nearly every time. Instead of following your heart, follow the Bible. Become a Christian and plant yourself firmly in a Bible-believing church. Read the Scriptures daily and obey them, especially when it seems hard to do. Listen to the preaching and counseling of your pastor, and other church leaders that God has put in your life. In this way you will be able to find the right path through the many difficult trials of life.

"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty"

(I Corinthians 1:27).

III. The "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory is seen in history.

If Columbus had not insisted on sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean, would the Aztec and Inca empires of Mexico and Peru have been conquered by the Spaniards a generation later? Or would they have remained independent? Would Europeans have come to America at that time - or would they have only done so a hundred years later with different consequences? If the Pilgrims had not sailed from Holland to America in 1620 - or if they had sailed and reached their intended goal of Virginia, instead of being blown off course to Massachusetts, the history of the American colonies, and our nation itself, would have been incredibly different. There might not ever have been an independent America.

Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the New World for the first time in 1492, seeking to reach China. But it almost happened the other way around! Through the first part of the 1400's, Chinese ships were sailing to India, Africa, and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. The most famous Chinese explorer was a man named Cheng Ho. If the Chinese had kept on exploring they would have eventually sailed around Africa to discover Europe a half-century before the Spanish and Portuguese reached China. In that event Europeans might have learned to speak Chinese, with it becoming the leading language of the world, instead of Chinese learning to communicate in English.

But this interesting line of alternate history never happened. The government of China simply wasn't interested in anything very far away from their empire. They thought that China was the center of the world. So the Emperor of China and his government forbade these voyages, and China became isolated until the Europeans arrived.

Hundreds of years later Napoleon said, "China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep. When she wakes up, she will shake the world." Now China is waking up, experiencing economic and military power, and China may well shake the world. If Jesus does not return soon, and if America continues to decline, by 2100 China may be the leading country of the world, and Chinese might yet become the leading language. As Patrick J. Buchanan put it, "Absent divine intervention, or a sudden desire on the part of Western women to begin having the same-size families as their grandmothers, the future belongs to the Third World" (Patrick J. Buchanan, The Death of the West, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002, pp. 12-14).

In the summer of 1940, it seemed that Adolf Hitler would conquer Europe. He had already taken Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, and France in a series of lightning military campaigns. The German dictator thought that England would soon knuckle under to him.

In fact Hitler might have won the Second World War had it not been for Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the new British Prime Minister. As historian John Lukacs said of Churchill, "There had been one man in Hitler's way of winning the kind of war he had intended" (John Lukacs, The Duel: 10 May - 31 July 1940, The Eighty-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler, New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1991, p. 211).

With all the military odds against England, Churchill refused to surrender to Hitler or even negotiate with him, although London and other English cities were heavily bombed by the Nazis. Under Churchill, England never surrendered. America joined England to liberate Europe in 1945. Hitler's dream of conquering the world was broken, and the German dictator shot himself in an underground bunker in Berlin during the closing days of the war.

But what if the 65-year-old Churchill hadn't been in office - or hadn't been alive at all? A weaker English Prime Minister (that is, every other British politician of that time, of all political parties) would have surrendered to Hitler, or at the least have cringed in fear and negotiated a submissive peace. Hitler would probably have conquered Russia and then have gone on to further conquests - no doubt back to England after Russia was subdued. Hitler might well have become the master of all Europe. With the advent of the atomic bomb, which he might have obtained through espionage by that time, he could possibly have become the master of the world, perhaps even the final world dictator, known in the Bible as the Antichrist. But this horrible line of alternate history never came to pass. Why not? Historians like John Lukacs and William Manchester tell us that Churchill, more than any other leader, was responsible for stopping Hitler in his tracks.

One of the great turning points of history took place in 1931 on a street in New York City. Winston Churchill was visiting there when he stepped out into the street one day. Being an Englishman, he was used to cars driving on the left side of the road instead of the right side, as we do in the United States. He stepped into the street and didn't see a car coming. It struck him and threw him violently to the pavement. "Churchill was crushed by the impact, dragged along by the car for some yards, and then thrown into the road, badly injured both in the head and the thighs" (Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982, p. 41).

Churchill spent some time in the hospital, but survived, and nine years later became the greatest Prime Minister in the history of England. He turned back Hitler and his Nazi military machine, and became more responsible than any other single person for saving Western civilization.

But what if the car had been driving faster and Churchill had been killed that day? There would have been no Prime Minister in London in 1940 with the courage, character and intelligence to withstand Hitler. The Nazi swastika might well have flown in rage and hatred all across the continent of Europe, England, and perhaps the world.

The accident that happened in New York City was the kind of "ordinary" event that has occurred thousands of times since that day in 1931. Neither Churchill nor the driver knew at that time that the world would be in great peril only nine years later. But the outcome of that collision made all the difference. World-shaking consequences hung in the balance that day, and only God knew it.

But God did know it, and without lightning or thunder He arranged for Churchill to be spared on that New York City street. God did not split the earth or the sea that day, although He had the power to do it. Instead, God moved through ordinary, small events of to bring about His intended purpose. God, in His providence, saved Winston Churchill and with him the civilization of the Western world.

Scientifically speaking, the New York accident was a case of the "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory. Historically and theologically, it was a case of the providence of God. Chaos theory in history provides a way for God to carry out His providence through His unseen hand, and bring about His purposes and intentions, without splitting the earth or performing any other major miracle. In this way God can frustrate even the most careful plans of a wicked man like Hitler. As the old saying goes, "Man proposes, but God disposes."

Another illustration of the "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory can be seen in the attempted assassination of President Reagan. If the bullet had been a little closer to his heart, would Communism have fallen in the former Soviet Union? Would Central America now be under Communist rule? We can say for certain that the bullet was about a half inch away from Reagan's heart. He lived - and Communism fell. No one can refute those basic facts. Scientifically, this was a case of the "Butterfly Effect," and theologically it was another example of the providence of God.

In the case of China, in the case of Churchill's accident, and in the case of President Reagan's survival, the "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory illustrates the power and providence of God, and shows that

"God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty"

(I Corinthians 1:27).

IV. The "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory is seen in the Bible.

Almost 2,500 years ago the Jewish people were nearly destroyed by an evil Persian (Iranian) man named Haman, who was the Hitler of his time. Most of the civilized world, including Israel, was governed by Persia under the rule of their king, Ahasuerus. Haman was the king's closest advisor. A Jewish man named Mordecai had saved the king from an assassination plot, and received honor from the king for his service. Haman became insanely jealous of Mordecai for having received the king's favor. So Haman insidiously persuaded the king to order the extermination of the Jewish people throughout the Persian empire.

There was only one possible way that Mordecai could cause a change in the king's mind, and it didn't look very promising at that. The wife of King Ahasuerus was a young and beautiful Jewish girl named Esther. Queen Esther was a relative of Mordecai and Mordecai had adopted her as his daughter. Mordecai persuaded Esther to approach the king on behalf of her people, although she had to risk her life to do it, since it was against all the rules to approach Ahasuerus when he hadn't requested the meeting. Mordecai sent this message to Esther:

"Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

(Esther 4:13-14).

Esther replied, "So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16).

Mordecai was exactly right. God had placed Esther as Ahasuerus' queen in precisely the right place, so that she could intercede with him for her people. Esther spoke to the king at a banquet and accused Haman of conspiracy. God's people were rescued and Haman was executed. Esther was in the right place at the right time, put there by the providence of God.

What many people don't know is that Esther was placed as queen through a subtle series of seemingly ordinary events. Before he married Esther, King Ahasuerus had another queen, a woman named Vashti. But she disobeyed her husband, refusing to appear at a party he had given, and was removed from being queen. Then the king and his associates set up a beauty contest to find another queen. Esther won the contest, became queen, and later rescued her people from destruction.

God was already operating in His providence long before Esther approached her husband the king on behalf of her people. God arranged for Vashti to be removed from her royal position as queen, which opened that place for Esther. If Vashti had been obedient and remained as queen, Esther would have had no way to get near the mighty ruler.

God's providence was evident in placing Esther as queen "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14). The disobedience of Vashti was not what people would call a "miracle." It was an ordinary happening in human life. Events like that had happened many times before and would happen many times afterwards, to common people as well as royalty.

Furthermore, no one - not Vashti, not Ahasuerus, not Haman, not Mordecai, and not Esther - knew that the long-term results of Vashti's act and the king's reaction would lead to the rescue of the Jewish people from death. But God knew what would happen. And God, in His providence, moved through the ordinary events of life and history to provide for His people.

Esther was God's instrument in preserving the Jews. Yet God was not dependent on Esther, although He used her. Mordecai knew that God had chosen the Jewish people for Himself. That's why he said that deliverance would come to the Jews from "another place" (Esther 4:13). God is clearly the only Person who could have saved the Jews in a different way and from "another place." God moves in His providence and uses human instruments, and His promises never fail. If one person refuses God's call, He will carry out His purposes in another way. The interplay between God's purpose, His providence, Esther's own will, and God's determination to save His people with or without Esther, shows how the different aspects of God's nature and His relations with people work together in the events of life and history - without contradiction and without failure.

Some unbelievers understood that God could move in His providence through human events. Haman's own wife warned him that his evil purpose would surely be frustrated, since he had opposed the Jewish people. She spoke to Him of "the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall" (Esther 6:13).

Though God's name is not mentioned in the book of Esther, the providence of God is definitely present throughout the book. Haman made his plans, but God worked through human events to defeat them. "Man proposes, but God disposes." As William Cowper put it in his classic hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
   And rides upon the storm.
       ("God Moves in a Mysterious Way,"
           by William Cowper, 1731-1800).

"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty"

(I Corinthians 1:27).

Several hundred years before Jesus was born, the Hebrew people lived in their land, but they were divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The king of Israel was a wicked man named Ahab. The king of Judah was a godly man named Jehosaphat.

Ahab asked Jehosaphat to help him in a battle against the Syrians. Jehosaphat unwisely agreed to join the battle, although the prophet Micaiah warned of defeat. The crafty Ahab disguised himself, but asked Jehosaphat to put on his own royal robes, so the enemy soldiers would aim their arrows at Jehosaphat rather than him.

The king of Syria ordered his men to fight against king Ahab. During in the battle they saw that the man in royal robes was not Ahab. The fighting then became very confusing. In the midst of the noise and confusion

"A certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness" (I Kings 22:34).

That Syrian soldier did not know the consequences of his act. He hadn't planned it in advance. Instead, in the heat of the battle, he drew his bow "at a venture" and shot it into the crowd. The arrow struck King Ahab and killed him.

The man who shot the arrow hadn't made a plan ahead of time. He just acted on the impulse of the moment. He didn't know he was the instrument of God's judgment against the king. Ahab himself had no idea that he would be slain by such an ordinary, seemingly random event. In fact, Ahab had set up a careful plan to escape from judgment by disguising himself and setting Jehosaphat to receive the enemy's attention. But God was wiser than Ahab and his plan. God used the incidental shooting of an arrow to cut off the life of the evil king. "Man proposes, but God disposes."

What happened in that battle is an illustration of what science calls "chaos theory." The battle was certainly chaotic. Soldiers were moving from place to place, and arrows were flying everywhere. No one could predict in advance exactly where someone would step or where an arrow might fly.

Most of the arrows did not change history. But one of them struck King Ahab, as an example of what scientists call the "Butterfly Effect." A single arrow killed King Ahab, changed history - and the event is forever written in the Scriptures.

The Bible record gives many examples of people who thought they were wiser than God, men who made their plans and came to ruin in the end - men like Haman, Ahab, and countless others. I have known people who thought they could be blessed while living against the will of God. They made their plans, but over the course of the years both they and their plans have come to nothing.

Don't be one of them. Live a humble and obedient life. The Bible says:

"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time" (I Peter 5:6; cf. James 4:10).

The Bible also says,

"God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble"

(I Peter 5:5; cf. James 4:6).

Which will you be - one of the proud, or one of the humble? Will you obey God, or will you proudly cling to your own devices and plans? If you trust your own heart and follow your own way, God will cast you down sooner or later - if not in this life, then certainly in the life to come. When God sends judgment, it usually comes suddenly, in an unexpected way.

"He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy"

(Proverbs 29:1).

Young person, the choices you make today will determine your entire future, both on this earth, and in eternity. It may seem like a "little" thing for you to decide to come to church every Sunday. But it could very well determine whether you get saved and live a Christian life, and go to Heaven for eternity. It may seem like a "small" thing for you to come to Christ and be converted, but it could have great consequences for you and many others both in time and in eternity. As the poet Robert Frost put it,

I shall be telling of this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken").

Take the right road! Why be lonely? Come home - to church. And come fully to Jesus Christ and be saved by Him. He died on the Cross to pay for your sins. He arose physically from the dead. He is alive in Heaven, at the right hand of God. Come to Him. Be washed from your sins by His Blood - and you will live forever with God!

"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty"

(I Corinthians 1:27).

(END OF SERMON)


Scripture Read Before the Sermon: I Corinthians 1:26-29.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"God Moves in a Mysterious Way" by William Cowper (1731-1800).

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."




THE OUTLINE OF

THE CHAOS THEORY IN SCIENCE
SHOWS THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty" (I Corinthians 1:27).

I.   The "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory shows that big things
can have small beginnings, Genesis 24:46; Ruth 2:2-3.

II.  The "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory is experienced in everyday
life, Jeremiah 17:9; Proverbs 28:26.

III. The "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory is seen in history,
I Corinthians 1:27.

IV.  The "Butterfly Effect" of chaos theory is seen in the Bible,
Esther 4:13-14,16; Esther 6:13; I Kings 22:34; I Peter 5:6;
James 4:10; I Peter 5:5; James 4:6; Proverbs 29:1.