Chaos Theory and Violent Scriptures

Though I have proposed a solution to the problem of divine violence in the Old Testament, this solution only helps explain a small number of the violent texts in the Bible.

Understanding the rest of the violent texts requires further information about God and the kind of universe He created. It all fits within the frame of Jesus, but we must have the full picture of what is going on so that we can consider each problem passage in the context of the whole.

Chaos Theory

chaos theorySo before we look at any specific passages, I want to briefly present a framework for how to understand what is going on behind many of the violent and destructive passages in Scripture. In this post I will present the basic framework, and in the following couple of posts I will present what I call the “Six Principles of Chaos Theory.” Only then will be well prepared to begin looking at some of the violent texts of Scripture to see how they do not reveal a violent and bloody God, but a God that looks surprisingly like Jesus Christ.

The big picture context is that the world God created is a chaotic place.

We humans desire neat answers and tidy solutions, but like it or not, this is not the type of universe God has provided. While it is popular to point out that in Genesis 1 God took what was formless and void and filled it with beauty and light. He brought order to the chaos. The truth, however, is that there was still quite a bit of emptiness and chaos in God’s good creation. Even before sin entered the scene, the universe was a messy place. This is revealed partly by the very fact that sin could enter God’s good creation.

To say, as some do, that God’s universe is a giant machine in which every cog and wheel moves directly under the control of God means not only that every leaf falls and every butterfly flaps its wings at the direct command of God, but also that Adam and Eve sinned at the direct command of God along with every sin, rape, and murder committed since. Such a view makes God a moral monster, and against such a God the only righteous response is atheism.

God, the World, and Relationships

chaos theoryThankfully, this is not the God that created the world, nor is it the God portrayed in Scripture, nor especially is it the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The true God, the God who created heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who raised up Kings and Prophets in Israel to carry His message, the God ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ, and carried now by the Spirit through His Church, is a God of infinite love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, long-suffering, patience, kindness, and grace. This is the God who desires a relationship with each person on earth.

But real relationships require freedom. Not the fake “programmed” freedom, where we are actually robots who think we are free but are actually carrying out pre-planned instructions without wavering from our course.

No, God has given us genuine, creative, interactive, relational freedom. And yes, there are limitations to this freedom. Human freedom is within the bounds of God’s overarching divine plan, and even within our freedom there are certain restrictions so that we are not as “free” as God. I have no desire to get off into the weeds of this philosophical discussion. The point for now is that one of the results of genuine freedom is an increase in potential chaos.

This chaos is what helps explain much of what goes on in violent Old Testament texts.

An Analogy from Jurassic Park

chaos theory jurassic parkAn analogy might be helpful. You probably remember the scene from “Jurassic Park” where the wild-eyed scientist, Dr. Ian Malcom, talks about “chaos theory” and illustrates it by watching drops of water roll off his knuckle. He shows that even though the drop of water lands in the same place each time, it rarely goes in the same direction.

His point was that science cannot accurately predict all possible scenarios of any situation, and that the natural order of the universe depends in many ways upon chaos. In any given situation, there are a nearly infinite number of variables which affect the outcome. Since nobody can completely know all these variables, nobody can ever with absolute certainty know the outcome of any particular event. Though there are large, governing rules of the universe which tend to guide all actions and behaviors (such as the laws of gravity and entropy), the nearly infinite number of other variables can often lead to unforeseen outcomes and unexpected results. In other words, not everything can always be explained.

When Bad Things Happen

The same holds true for when bad things happen in this world. In any given event, there are a nearly infinite number of variables which led up to that particular occurrence. The vast majority of these variables can never be known by anyone except for God. He alone, as the only omniscient Being, knows all the variables and causes of any particular event.

Nevertheless, just as in science there are some overarching governing rules of the universe which tend to be active in all situations and events, so also in trying to understand some of the bad things that happen in life, there seem to be some overarching rules which guide and govern these actions.

I believe that the idea presented in the previous posts (see the list below) is only one of these rules. In other words, it is a governing rule that just as Jesus took the sin of the world upon Himself so that He might bear the sin and shame for all, so also God did this in the Old Testament by taking the blame for the sinful actions and behaviors of the people who lived during that time. This rule helps us understand some of what is going on in the Old Testament texts.

However, this is only one of the governing rules. Just as gravity is not the only law of the universe, so also, there is not just one explanation for why bad things happen in this world.

Though I have said that God takes the blame for the sinful actions of human beings, and even inspires people to write that He told them to do these things when He really did not, this guiding principle does not explain every evil situation that takes place in the Old Testament, or in the rest of history. Just as gravity is not the only rule of the universe, so also, Jesus becoming sin for us is also not the only rule for why bad things happen in this universe.

So in the following few posts, I want to present some of the other governing rules.

In any given situation when a bad thing happens, not only is there a nearly infinite number of small variables swirling around that event, but there are also a number of larger, governing principles which may be active, and which help explain why some of these bad things happen.

And just as it is impossible in the physical world to know with certainty why a drop of water runs down the right hand side of a knuckle instead of the left hand side, so also, we can never know with absolute certainty why some bad things happen in this world.

Nevertheless, if we understand some of the larger variables and governing rules that are at work, we can arrive at something close to an answer for why bad things happen.

God of the Old Testament and JesusThis post is part of my ongoing series on how to understand the violence of God in the Old Testament. Specifically, I am trying to answer this question:

How can a God who says "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44) be the same God who instructs His people in the Old Testament to kill their enemies?

To see what I am arguing so far, click here.

Also, when I am done with this series of posts, I will be publishing them as a book. If you want a free digital copy of this book when it comes out, make sure you have subscribed to my email newsletter.

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  1. jonathon says

    “Chaos Theory” or “Choas Theory”.

    The former term is more familiar to people, due to its usage in physics.
    The latter term is perhaps more appropriate, due to its meaning in magick.
    OTOH, that usage may also give rise to charges of heresy, based only on that specific vocabulary, and not what you mean, nor what you delineate by that term. (IOW, heresy over and above any attributed to you by those who read your content.)

      • jonathon says

        TTBOMK, Choas theory was developed in Oregon, which is partially why I thought you might have chosen to use that term.

        By the way, there are still a coupe of references to Choas theory, rather than Chaos theory on your site. I can’t do a cut and paste, otherwise I’d give you the URLs.

  2. says

    “… it is a governing rule that just as Jesus took the sin of the world upon Himself so that He might bear the sin and shame for all, so also God did this in the Old Testament by taking the blame for the sinful actions and behaviors of the people who lived during that time.”

    “… God takes the blame for the sinful actions of human beings, and even inspires people to write that He told them to do these things when He really did not…”

    Very interesting thought. I never considered that before.

  3. Aoikita says

    I am a young believer, and I just love Jurassic Park so much, that when I finally re-watched the first film, it struck me when the ‘chaos theory’ idea was shown…like “WOW, that is JUST how I view this world and why I am in such anxiety to make decisions! I GET IT-and I don’t even know what 9×9 is (lol, true story, I suck at math but am very abstract minded and creative)”.

    Even though I stray with angry feelings and doubts in my life, I can easily pick up a lot of opposites in the teachings of a single church I attend. One teacher will say confidently “God is in control of everything”….but even though I rarely actively read my bible or anything “Christianly” on a habit basis……I know that God gave us freedom….and if he was in control, than we don’t actually have choice or freedom!. Perhaps he has a ‘plan’ for us, yes….but, it doesn’t always mean we shoot right into this plan on time, it doesn’t mean we “get” God’s plans….and I would think, that God has plans for some people (I tend to doubt every individual has a plan, but some to be positively affected by other’s plans and therefore perhaps seeks God?)., if we are scared or don’t know what it is, it may take some time for us to know or find this ‘plan’….or, we may stray with people who make us defy God’s plans for us…and though he “has” a plan, perhaps, we don’t follow it.

    Certainly, the preachers needs to get things straight—and to say that all things are in God’s control, is to say indeed that rape, murder, pain and suffering beyond reason (not suffering that gives growth to bigger plans, but suffering without any justification whatsoever by hands of evil and never knowing good deeds)….would all be is control, indeed is depressing…and when we say these things to young people like myself (age 25) or younger, or even those seeking a spiritual life the first time…..what do we expect?! they obviously got a legit reason to think followers of that idea are nuts!

    I think to believe in the idea of chaos (not ‘evil events but simply you cannot predict your every life step with math and money) is a good way to awaken from the dread of the unknown—to at least, be able to adapt and realize you cannot control everything in your life. Personal responsibility is teached for good reasons, but….in the end, you do your best and hope and pray for the rest, right? and than move on and do the next task, and just try to just make a decision…as procrastination has done more damage to my career prospects and my self-growth than at least trying something new probably ever would’ve done (assuming it’s a well moderated activity with emergency nearby or a casual hobby lol).

    Also, I hate how everyone tells you to be “confident” in everything…when if you believe in chaos theory of the universe….you are confident, yes…but not in an outcome, rather, confident that you Do NOT know the answer or the true solution…only time tells us if it really works.

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