When chaos comes, or we become aware of the mess we are in, we have choices to make. Charge at it, retreat from it, or engage in the mystery.
All the nicely laid out plans had been turned upside down. I had a recipe for life, and now all the measurements and list of ingredients had fallen off the page. It was a mess, chaos.
The question was what to do next.
The word chaos comes from the Greek word khaos – denoting a gaping void or chasm.
You’ve been there, I’m sure.
To varying degrees, we have all faced times when life was disordered, seemingly out of control, messy. It could be a relationship breakup, illness, job loss, a hurting family member or friend. Really anything that shakes your life to the core.
There is also the daily chaos that you walk in. Nothing is ever straight forward. There are always challenges, obstacles, and areas of confusion.
You want to move forward, but you don’t know-how.
You might retreat from the chasm, but it’s still there. In that ‘no – mans land’ of indecision, depression and anxiety stalk around you looking to take you down.
I have found that there are generally three responses to chaos.
Three responses to chaos
- We charge at the chaos
I think of the biblical character of Samson taking on his world of chaos with all his muscular strength. He runs right into the battle, arms flailing, war cry, stamping his will on the problem. However, instead of heroic success, he ends up as a prisoner with his eyes gouged out.
Then there is Peter on the mountain when Christ meets with Elijah and Moses. He has to do something. He looks at the chaos and offers to make a tent. Matthew 17:1-4
We do the same. Its easy to make snap judgments, speak when we need to listen, determine how things should be. We act without consideration.
- We run from chaos
Perhaps the chaos will be resolved without my involvement.God brought chaos to Jonah, and he ran. Moses ran into the desert and Elijah into a cave.
We want to avoid the struggle.
The chaos seems too much, and so we run and hide.
Like Adam and Eve, we gather up a few fig leaves and try to hide our vulnerability and nakedness.
- We engage in the mystery
All of the characters above had to come to a place where they engaged in the mystery of the chaos.
Life is not like a crime novel where the mystery is solved and you, the observer, can return knowing that all is well in the world.
Engaging with the chaos involves moving into it and asking questions which may have no clear cut answers.
We enter a dark room. Stoping, we let our eyes adjust to the darkness and try to remember what we know of the layout. We pray for the first glimmers of sunrise.
How to engage with mystery
The first mention of chaos in the Bible is in the very first verses of the creation poem. It sets the stage for the rest of life.
The earth was without form [formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness] and void [emptiness], and darkness [darkness, obscurity] was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering [to grow soft, relax] over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:2 Bible Hub
Over that place of chaos and mystery, God was in a place of softness, relaxed with what was happening. No stressing out.
Gods invite is to become relaxed with mystery and chaos, knowing that something good can creatively come out of it.
We then speak and ask for light to appear.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:3
We speak questions into this chaos, knowing full well that there may be no clear cut answers.
Then we listen for whispers of truth to guide our stumbling. We pray for light to be spoken into darkness. A glimmer we can hold onto.
Mystery and chaos do not have to be feared. In the chaos, there is an invite to trust.
Quotes to consider
- “I want to be part of a church that neither reduces mystery to formulas to get what I want nor describes the Christian life in such lofty, abstract terms that I stay lost in the fog. I want my church to help me identify the categories I can think in and reflect on as I decide how to navigate my way through life, as I make the thousand decisions that life requires me to make every day and handle its thousand challenges.” Larry Crabb Real Church, Chapter 17, “Signposts Pointing into the Fog,” pp. 104
- Masculinity begins to grow when a man asks questions for which he knows there are no answers. No man can escape the sphere of mystery. If he lives in relationship and has any desire at all for the relationship to work, he will face unsolvable confusion. If a man is to be fully a man, he must learn what it means to move in darkness. And that will require him to admit “I don’t know what to do” with a despair so real that no recipe will help. Larry Crabb The Silence of Adam pg 66
- Am I willing to move into the mystery of relationship with another human being, renouncing all efforts to control the outcome?” Larry Crabb The Silence of Adam pg 110
- The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. Richard Rohr When Things Fall Apart
- Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians. Richard Rohr When Things Fall Apart
- The Jewish community has a unique expression to describe this Creator: “He who spoke and the world came into being.” He is a God who uses language to establish relationship. He does not retreat from darkness and chaos. Rather, he speaks into it. And after his creative activity, he keeps the Sabbath. Larry Crabb The Silence of Adam pg 90
Questions to answer
- What is your most natural response to chaos?
- How does it feel to ask questions where there are no clear cut answers?
- Have you had a ‘belly of a big fish’ experience? How dark was it?