God’s Work of Creating Order
In Genesis 1: 1-2 we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” It is hard to miss the abundance of words and phrases that describe an initial condition of chaos. Empty, darkness, waters. These are all words that, in the Ancient Near East, carried the connotation of a lack of order and purpose.
Beginning in the third verse, God begins to impose order upon the reality He has created. He ordains functions for the elements of reality and declares them to have specific purposes. He declares each of these as “good”. Let that be a focus that colors your view of scripture and your worldview for a moment. God declares that order is good. Purpose is good. Regularity and objective function are good and, therefore, the abolition of chaos is good. And this is a continuing theme throughout scripture
The Chaos of Nature
What we have, then, is one means of determining what is good and what is not. That which is ordered by God is good. That which is chaotic and defies the designated functions of God is not. Chaos has within it, a tendency towards evil, in that it is a movement away from Godliness. This is not a strictly religious or Biblical idea, however. It is common sense. For instance, if you cut your finger, you know this to be a bad thing. Suddenly, there are several things which have lost their function and order. The flesh has lost some of its continuity. The blood no longer flows contained in a vessel towards an intended destination. We we can see how, when the functionality of something has been disrupted and the system become chaotic, we consider it a bad thing which needs correction.
It’s easy to apply this to physical “bad’ events. But what of other areas in life? What of our mental states? Of course. This is why we use the word “disorder” to describe mental illness. What of society? Certainly. We see violence and a lack of basic human needs when law and order break down. What of relationships? We strive for peace, do we not? And what is peace, but order? Is not peace that state where two or more people have agreed upon a common order and a common purpose? Even when we disagree on many or most issues with another person, we find a common goal of respect, non-violence, and agreed upon principles of ethics and morality. We look for areas of agreement, as a means of maintaining order.
The Nature of Chaos Within
In our personal lives, though, what do we seek? Certainly, we want an ordered life; don’t we? We want a steady job and friends who stick around. We desire our spouses are faithful and our children obedient. We want the traffic to flow smoothly according to regulations and we want the providers of services to stick to what they promised to deliver. But what of our internal lives?
Within our own minds, and within our own moral landscape, we tend to be less rigid. Have you noticed this? We easily justify a bit of disorder here and a smidgeon of chaos there. We don’t need to always eat the right foods, be discerning in our entertainment, careful with our words, pious in our thought life, follow the exact speed limit, be perfectly honest on our taxes, etc. We tend to demand it of others, however. It is all too easy to point out the faults and shortcomings of the people around us. We seem to be most bothered by disorder when it is not our own.
Permitting and Promoting Chaos
Now you would think that, feeling the conviction of hypocrisy, we would make an effort to be as demanding of order within ourselves as we are of the world outside of ourselves. But that’s not what happens. We instead accept our internal chaos as normal, and maybe even permissible, and we grant that same privilege to others. We say, “Well, I’m not perfect, so I certainly can’t expect anyone else to be.” In fact, it moves beyond even that. We actually start to condone and encourage disorder without, as a means of normalizing it without, and therefore also within. And then it starts to feel like altruism and a loving kind of tolerance. And the more disorder we tolerate, the more that disorder seems normal.
This is precisely what we are seeing today. The catch words are tolerance and freedom. The gold standard of happiness is moral autonomy. We get to do whatever we want, and so can everyone else. Or, more accurately, we allow others to do whatever they want, so that we will be allowed to do whatever we want. We preach this normalized disorder to the public square and then we take it to the voting booth. We vote for the candidate that promotes disorder, or at least is the most tolerant of chaos within individuals, so that we can maintain our own personal disorders.
Chaos As Policy?
Eventually, we not only normalize moral autonomy, but we attempt to create a new order which will ensure that our autonomy cannot be taken away. Legalized abortion, acceptance and promotion of any and all sexual behaviors, legalized marijuana, legalized prostitution and pornography. This moral autonomy begins to feel like an inherent right. In time, the freedom from constraint makes us feel like we are also entitled to be given whatever we lack. We want free education, without holding anyone accountable for what we are taught. We want free contraception, free healthcare, higher wages for the same or less labor, etc. We want it so bad that we say we have the rights to it. We fight for those rights for others, so that we can benefit as well, and so that the responsibility of caring for others falls on someone else, because we have the right to take care of ourselves above all others.
Observe what is happening right now, as people feel their rights to autonomy threatened. Are the streets filled with people demanding peace between each other? Are we striving for common ground on which we can order our lives? On the contrary, the instinct all too easily indulged is to create disorder, to dig in the heels and not to say, “This far and no farther”, but rather, “This far and farther yet. We will not abandon the chaos we have fought so hard to achieve, and we will create further chaos to ensure its perpetuity!”. And, if that isn't enough, we fight for policies that impose restricttions on anyone who would oppose us, vote in politiciams who will defend against anyone who seeks to take away our favorite form of chaos.
The Damage of Chaos
What do we really gain by fighting for our own moral autonomy and the rebellion against God’s intended order? Is it really better to simply do whatever we want whenever we want? Like children, we often believe so, but the evidence of the world speaks volumes against this idea. The more we stray from self-control, the more sorrow and loneliness we discover. It is not, in the end, beneficial to anyone to be wholly autonomous or without moral restraint. We are meant to be in community and community thrives on peace. We cannot have peace if we cannot have order. We do not have love or give love without relationships and we must compromise our autonomy for that to happen.
Return to Order
Because we already live in a chaotic world which constantly moves toward chaotic states, even striving towards order can create chaos. One system cannot be removed and replaced without a temporary period of disorder. We have ordered our lives around the defense of autonomy and personal freedom. Dismantling these systems will inevitably create unease in our lives. We often hear the benefits of “shaking things up a bit” and there is a certain truth to that. We get in ruts and it takes intentionality to get out of the comfort of our disorders. But let us not simply move from chaos to greater chaos. Let us seriously consider the benefits of order and stability.
What God desires is order, and what he expects of us is order. From the beginning, our job as the image bearers of God has been to continue the work of ordering this world in a manner that mirrors the perfection of God Himself. To promote or allow chaos is to allow evil to propagate. Though we are destined to a world beyond this one, we are currently in charge of this one. To relinquish that responsibility is to fail to strive against evil. But let us not take that so far that we believe we are the ones to impose God's intended order upon the world by force or political bullying. There is a better way.
To obtain love and peace (which seem to be almost a universal desire), we must seek order in ourselves, first and foremost, and then promote it in our communities, large and small. If we each seek order in our own lives first, there will be less need to enforce order outside of ourselves. We will expect it of each other and others will expect it of us. Unfortunately, we as Christians understand that our human nature is not bent toward order or self-control, but towards chaos and moral autonomy. We need to refer to something outside ourselves for a better standard and an external solution to an internal problem. Fortunately, we do have that solution. We have a God who changes our hearts, inclines us to act in selfless love, peace, and charity, and we have the life of Christ as an example of obedience and self-sacrificial love.
For our secular brothers and sisters, they must rely on their own rationality and derive answers from emotion and logic. There is nothing eternal and unchanging for them to grasp as a measuring stick for what order ought to be. And so, we can be an example to them of the beauty and benefit of order. Let us no longer live as people of the world, with loose lips and unruly hearts. Let us love our LORD above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. Let us not fall into the lie that the Church has nothing of value to say and give to the world and to each other. It is our silence and timidity, along with our desire to be like the world, which is partly responsible for the chaos around us. With the help of the LORD, let us be content in the Holiness of God so that our order and peace be a light on a hill, a beacon to the lost, and a stabilizing force in the world, while we patiently await the next.