Developing a Theology of Chaos

“Chaos” is such a loaded topic. I thought about sending in one of those bubble mapping outlines we used to do in high school English class, except it would look like a pot of spaghetti. As I attempted to begin writing about chaos, I found no coherency in my thoughts, whatsoever! One day, while procrastinating scrubbing the bathroom or writing this post, I picked up the book sitting next to me and read this:

“I shivered, looking up at the stars, wondering for a moment if all of it—everything I was seeing—really was just random. Just chaos. An unguided byproduct of an unguided universe that was completely indifferent to everything we were going through down here. But no, there had to be more to it than that. There had to be more than I was seeing. All of this might not make sense now, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t ever.” P.92 Fallout C. Morphew

Here’s the thing I wonder about (and I have a hard time containing my wonder to 800 words): does God allow/create/use chaos to guide his people? Or, is chaos ALWAYS from the enemy? When we experience chaos, should we hunker down, dig in our heels and determine that we will stay put, hold our ground and endure no matter what the world throws at us?

In my experience, there are no cut and dried or black and white answers here. I can’t choose one or the other. I believe that chaos is, at times, a ploy from the dark forces at work in the world to throw us off track. At the exact same time, I believe that God can use chaos to lead us on.

We endured plenty of chaotic seasons and situations during our time in China:

    • Melamine in infant formula (thank God I was breastfeeding!)
    • H1N1 scare (no visitors, no entry to campus buildings even though I lived on campus, no leaving campus . . . except maybe you can . . . we don’t really know)
    • Toddler screaming, baby crying, neighbor banging on the ceiling (repeat every day for a long year)
    • You’re moving, no you’re not, oh yes you are . . . pack your boxes . . . wait no you’re not
    • Your visa’s good, no it’s not . . . wait . . . yes, it is (head spinning in confusion and neck hurting from whiplash)

I could write a chapter of a book about each of the 10+ chaotic seasons and situations we persevered through while living in China with the daily chaos of life on the streets of a pragmatic city of 8 million people as the backdrop. We saw that in the big moments that looked too chaotic to bear, God provided! The situations that were bigger than my well-laid plans and at the mercy of the unorderly nature of life turned out better than I could’ve imagined.

I’m humbled and thankful when I think of the big stuff, such as the births of two children in a hospital in a city where we weren’t residents, visas that came through at the last minute, and the arrival of the best kindergarten teacher in the whole world just in time to teach my child when I thought we’d have to leave to survive (you know who you are, A.P.)

But, then we met up with chaos we could no longer bear, or no longer had the endurance to handle. I’m still wondering if God used that out-of-this-world confusing year to usher us into a new place where He had carefully laid plans for us. We prayed our way through that season and felt the call to leave. We trusted that beneath the chaos, God was working FOR us and had a plan, even though we couldn’t see it.

I’ve heard a wise woman tell a room of younger women they need to develop a theology of suffering. She told us we need to decide before suffering happens that God is good and nothing—no worldly circumstance no matter how dire—will EVER change that. When you’ve set your heart on God’s goodness before the trial, when the trouble comes, you’ve got a much better chance of standing…or at least crawling through it.

As I process this idea to develop a theology of suffering, I think about chaos. What’s your theology of chaos? Mine is that God can use chaos to bring about his plan, and a change in your heart or even a change in your geographical location. None of it is wasted, and none of it is an accident.

Maybe you need to hash out your theology of chaos before life gets all hectic and upside down so you don’t find yourself questioning whether it’s all just “an unguided byproduct of an unguided universe that was completely indifferent to everything we were going through down here.” Persevere, lean in, seek God’s will and trust that he will speak louder than the tumultuous hand you’ve been dealt.

16 Comments

  1. Hadassah Doss October 22, 2017

    I love that VA tackles these difficult issues! Just reading about your chaos brought tears to my eyes, because even though mine might look different, I totally understand the strain involved. I always tell people that at our last assignment, it just felt like we were going from one crisis to the next, barely keeping our heads above water. And, like you, I completely agree that God can use all things-even chaos-to bring about good. I know that I had to really lean into Him for support during that time, and I feel like my relationship with Him, my trust in Him, and my awe of Him really grew, as did I. It’s so hard to thank God for the chaos as one is surrounded by it, so I also believe it’s important to come to an understanding beforehand, like you said. Thank you for sharing so candidly, M’Lynn! You did good, no matter how long it took you to write;)

    1. M'Lynn October 23, 2017

      So good to hear from you, Hadassah! I’m glad to continue to find that here in this place we call Velvet Ashes, we find common ground amidst the struggles!

  2. Zahra D October 23, 2017

    Thank you for this timely post! As I read this, ‘chaos’ reminded me of Peter and how the waves crashed around him, yet Jesus instructed that Peter keep his eyes on Jesus. This is God using chaos for our sanctification and drawing us ever closer to Himself! I imagine the crashing waves, horrendous seasickness, the noise, the heaving from side to side, the fear of a watery death, the uncertainty of what the next two minutes will bring, and yet in the middle of all that, we have calm with our focus on Jesus. Strength, safety, and peace.Our refuge in times of trouble. Our overcomer in the midst of tribulation. Perhaps the chaos is less about us and more about us seeing Him and His faithful and beautiful attributes in the midst of the chaos. Such a great topic to discuss!

    1. Cecily October 23, 2017

      Zahra, I appreciate your reference to Peter’s experience with walking on the water. The thing that gets my attention is the fact that Jesus invited Peter into the chaos! He didn’t say, “Oh no, Peter! This is way too chaotic and crazy for you. Don’t come out here.” Nope! He said, “Hey, yes! Come on out here!”
      Maybe we are much too worried about our own safety (which shows our lack of trust in our Keeper).
      Maybe the Lord is beckoning us into chaos? (I’m asking myself this question.)
      If you really look at the life God calls us to live, by reading what the Bible says, it’s a life filled with chaos but undergirded with a peace that passes all understanding. Jesus was constantly stepping into chaotic scenes, but His heart was full of peace and joy. His eye was on the Father, so He would do only what He saw His Father doing. So, apparently, His Father was quite prone to intentionally diving into chaos.
      Think about the position Jesus took when He was presented with the woman caught in adultery. He could have easily been stoned to death, right next to her… He engaged with demon possessed people, lepers, crazy mobs that wanted to throw Him off a cliff.
      Hardly a life of safety. But His Father kept Him until it was time to face the most chaotic moments of His life on earth.
      But even then, the chaos of the cross led to the peace that is ours through our risen Savior.
      Will I follow this kind of God?

      1. M'Lynn October 23, 2017

        I totally agree that Jesus invites us into the chaos, Cecily! (and I’d say Zahra and Hadassah do as well…) I’ve enjoyed reading the thoughts this post brought out from the three of you!

    2. M'Lynn October 23, 2017

      “Perhaps the chaos is less about us and more about us seeing Him and His faithful and beautiful attributes in the midst of the chaos.” Love this! Thanks for your response.

  3. Monica October 23, 2017

    Amen, amen, and amen. We too, spent 10 yrs. in the same country, but way, way south, in quite a rural area. The visa issues, landlord, work, health care access always threw me for a loop… like every day. But we survived, and actually thrived depending on the season. I had developed a theology of suffering first living in rural East Africa, which actually prepared me for Asia remarkably. Knowing and embracing God’s sovereignty in the midst of chaos carried me through some very challenging times. I so resonated with your post, thank you!

    1. M'Lynn October 24, 2017

      Hi, Monica! Yeah…I know how it feels to be thrown for a loop every day! LOL! But I still wouldn’t trade it for anything! Isn’t it interesting how one thing prepares us for the next?

  4. Rachel October 23, 2017

    Love this, and all the comments!
    “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” has been my go-to verse in chaos. So thankful God is still at work when things are out of our control (I mean, I know in reality we are never in control, but sometimes it gets REALLY obvious). I love how some of the most chaotic times have also turned out to be the times when God’s presence and provision were the most clear. I really like that idea of having a theology of chaos. So valuable.

    1. M'Lynn October 24, 2017

      Hi, Rachel! That’s a great “go-to” verse for chaos! It’s always a good idea to keep those handy!

  5. Amber October 23, 2017

    “When you’ve set your heart on God’s goodness before the trial, when the trouble comes, you’ve got a much better chance of standing…or at least crawling through it.”
    I definitely resonated with this part, M’Lynn- and I’m so thankful for wonderful, trusting parents that invite kindergarten teachers into community. <3

    1. M'Lynn October 24, 2017

      Good to hear from you, Amber! Miss you!

  6. Aylin October 24, 2017

    Really appreciate this post. Appreciate your honesty and also your conviction that God IS always good. Something that struck me from your story was God’s leading in it. In one moment He asked you to stay in the chaos and he sustained you through it. But another time he called your family to leave. His ways are always so wise and full of mercy. What he asks of us is not always the same, but I am glad His goodness doesn’t change. Thank you for sharing!

    1. M'Lynn October 24, 2017

      Aylin, I think that’s what really strikes me as well! I’ve been processing my “theology of chaos” for over a year because of the experience of hitting a season of chaos we were not called to stay in. Life would be simpler if it were more formulaic, but I’m still glad that’s not how God works!

  7. Andrew Smith November 10, 2017

    Nice information and great topic. Thank you for distribution such a suitable information here in the blog.

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