"From Chaos to Creativity"

Date Sunday January 09, 2000
Service Baptism of our Lord
Text Genesis 1:1-5
Author Dr. Stanley C Sneeringer
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?To all of you Saints here this morning, grace and peace to you from God our Father, from His Son, Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. AMEN

Ever feel as if your life is pure chaos? In a condition of complete confusion? Disordered and random and disjointed, sort of like the state of the universe before Creation?

Hey, join the club. Most of us feel like that every day, especially first thing in the morning, trying to get out the door to work or school or church. And it may not be such a pathetic place: According to recent research, Club Chaos is the hottest spot in town.

Surely you've seen the books. There are currently over 1,200 on the topic, including:

* Chaos: Making a New Science, by James Gleick,

* Greg Bear's Foundation and Chaos, part of the Foundation Trilogy Series,

* Absolutely Normal Chaos, by Sharon Creech. Yes, that's right: Absolutely Normal Chaos -- must be a first-person account of life with a teenager!

But there's more. You can also pick up Agent of Chaos, Applied Chaos, Angel of Chaos, Beyond Chaos, Bordering on Chaos, and the best-selling business book Thriving on Chaos. For anyone who craves insight into chaos, there's a mountain of books to be found at Borders.

Some of the best thinkers today are straining their brains over Chaos Theory, which is the study of forever-changing complex systems using advanced mathematics. Chaos Theory techniques have been used to model biological systems -- which are, as you might guess, some of the most chaotic systems imaginable. Systems of equations have also been used to model everything from population growth to arrhythmic heart palpitations, and from the spread of epidemics to the sounds of dripping faucets. Super String theory seeks to resolve in creative tension the apparent conflicts between quantum physics and Einstein's theories. (www.students.uiuc.edu/~ag-ho/chaos/chaos.html, June 22, 1999). All of this in an effort to develop a Theory of Everything.

Not that Club Chaos is all work and no play -- it also has a toy department. With the swipe of a credit card, you can have your very own award-winning kinetic sculpture toy called "Chaos, World of Motion." Along with a motorized ball lift, Chaos includes several tracks, curves and stunts, and it teaches children about the physics that governs the world in an exciting new hands-on way. Who would crave Hot Wheels when they could have Chaos, World of Motion? (www.chaostoy.com, June 22, 1999).

For those with an appliance orientation, there's a Chaos Washing Machine -- no joke! In 1993, the Goldstar Company created a washing machine that utilized the latest in Chaos Theory. The washing machine supposedly produced cleaner and less tangled clothes ... although whether it continued to lose socks is anybody's guess.

As a member of the Chaos Club, you can even find chaos in the stock market ... in long-range weather forecasting ... and in the solar system. Chaos Theory certainly isn't new to astronomers, since most have long known that the solar system does not run with the precision of a Swiss watch. Long story short: Chaos rules. Or does it?

When God gets to work, he creates ex nihilo. The first step in creatio ex nihilo? Chaos. God creates and "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep" (1:2). This state of the universe before creation is chaotic -- a kind of raw material that God uses for his creative activity, a state of affairs that is not yet in harmony with the divine purposes in creation.

So this pre-creative chaos is not nothing, nor is it bad. Contrary to several popular perspectives, chaos is not an evil reality that persists beyond God's ordering activity, providing a negative backdrop and potential threat to God's world. The Bible is confident that only God can decide when to destroy things, and it asserts that there is no reality independent of God that can pose a threat to his creation. Only the Creator can crunch us, implies Scripture -- not chaos (Terence E. Fretheim, "The Book of Genesis," The New Interpreter's Bible [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994], 356). Suddenly a "wind from God" sweeps over the face of the waters (v. 2), a divine wind or spirit that begins to work in a creative way with the raw material of "the deep." God does not reject or say no to this chaotic material -- he simply uses it as part of his ordering of Creation. With a word God flips on the first light, and then he splits the light from the darkness and names the two Day and Night. "And there was evening and there was morning, the first day" (v. 5).

Clearly, it can't be said that Chaos rules. No: God rules.

But God is not crazed by confusion, nor disturbed by material that seems disordered or disjointed. He moves confidently from chaos to creativity, making something radically good out of the raw material of the primordial deep. God's Chaos Theory holds that order can arise from disorder, and that real creativity craves a certain amount of chaos.

Perhaps the same is true for us, as individuals and as a community. In the Lord's unpredictable and unfathomable plan for us, membership in the Chaos Club may be the best preparation for a life of complete creativity.

Consider this: In an article on building wealth, MIT economics professor Lester C. Thurow points out a number of "new rules" for individuals, companies and nations, including this one: No society that values order above all else will be creative; but without some degree of order, creativity disappears.

He tells the story of China at the beginning of the 15th century, a tale that is a particularly prophetic parable for the 21st-century church. Half a millennium ago, China's curiosity, its instinct for exploration and its drive to build had created all the technologies necessary to launch the Industrial Revolution -- something that would not actually occur for another 400 years.

China had it all: blast furnaces for making steel; gunpowder and cannon for military conquest; the compass and the rudder for exploration; paper and movable type for printing; rotary threshing machines and mechanical seeders for agriculture; the decimal system, negative numbers and the concept of zero for sophisticated mathematics. Seven major Chinese expeditions explored the Indian Ocean with ships four times as large as those of Columbus.

But the Chinese rejected and forgot the technologies that could have given them world dominance. The geographic conquests and the industrial revolution that COULD have happened did not occur. They blew their big chance.

Why? It's simple: They became uncomfortable with chaos. New technologies were perceived as threats, rather than opportunities. Innovation was forbidden. Imperial rules and regulations prohibited the building of new oceangoing ships that would take people away from the Chinese coastline. Membership in Club Chaos became strongly discouraged. By the end of the 15th century, the demand for ORDER had overridden intrinsic human curiosity, the desire to explore and the drive to build ("Building Wealth," The Atlantic Monthly, June 1999, 63).

I think this is something that we in the church need to hear! Are we facing this same "China Syndrome" as we embark on ministry in a new millennium? Are we perceiving online technologies as threats, rather than opportunities? Are we frightened over musical and dramatic innovation in our worship services? Are we passing rules and regulations that prohibit mission work and spiritual exploration beyond the church's safe and comfortable "coastline"? Are we discouraging membership in Club Chaos, and allowing only participation in groups that have been formed, framed, and even fossilized for generations?

Remember: Creativity demands a certain amount of chaos, like the "formless void" and "the deep" out of which God created the heavens and the earth. The ChristBody needs to tolerate a chunk of chaos, a healthy measure of really raw and rough material, in order for creativity to happen. The Good News of the gospel is gonna fly farthest if we launch it into cyberspace, the joy of the Lord is gonna erupt most enthusiastically if we innovate in worship, and the mission and ministry of the church is gonna transform more lives if we take it beyond our sanctuary walls. Let's not become so obsessed with order that we choke our spiritual growth.

On the other hand, membership in Club Chaos does not include carte blanche for craziness or an invitation to anarchy. Lester Thurow, who so wisely warns us about China's collapse, also drives home the point that creativity will disappear without some degree of ORDER. Looking back at Russia in the 75 years before the Russian Revolution, he reminds us that an amazing amount of creativity flourished in the chaos of a dying empire: There were great authors, magnificent musicians and artists and world-class scientists. You know the names -- Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Pavlov and Mendeleev. Their contributions created tremors that still rock our world today.

Russia managed to pull creativity out of chaos during these last years of the empire, but this positive movement was doomed to fail. Why? Without some degree of ORDER, it was impossible for the Russians to use that creativity to develop a successful economy. Chaos led to more chaos, and ultimately to the Russian Revolution. When an oppressive new order was imposed by the Communists, creativity keeled over and died (63).

Fellow citizens of the God's Kingdom: We need the right combination of chaos and order if we are going to help build up the kingdom on earth. With too much order, we'll choke our spiritual growth and end up like China. With too much chaos, we'll spin out of control and self-destruct like Russia. Together, our challenge is to balance Club Chaos with the ChristBody, and to use the raw material of this world to create great things for God.

The secret is to follow our Creator in not being crazed by confusion, nor disturbed by disorder. Along with our Lord, we can move confidently from chaos to creativity, making something radically good out of the raw stuff around us, and finding ways to manage the tension between order and disorder that doesn't let either get out of hand.

Hang tight to Chaos Theory -- God's Chaos Theory. Our Lord demonstrates decisively that disorder can be harnessed into order, and the old world of chaos can give birth to a new world of creativity, excitement and unexpected growth.