Order out of Chaos

The whole world’s in a terrible state of chassis,’ says Captain Jack Boyle in Sean O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock (1925). Of course he meant ‘chaos’ – despite solemn expositions on the internet explaining that he meant that the world was stripped down to its ‘chassis’ like an old car! (I’m not making it up!). Set in 1920s Dublin, there was plenty of ‘chassis’ around, despite the moments of comedy.

A bit like our own world at present. On the face of it, chaos reigns. The atrocities in France and Belgium in recent months have demonstrated how easily national security measures can be breached by determined and ruthless terrorists. An apparently random knife attack in the centre of London – whatever the reason behind it – takes the life of an American visitor the day she was due to return home with her husband. Life is very fragile. In many parts of the world events seem to be far beyond the capacity of any government or collection of governments to influence, much less control. Syria, to take but one example, is most certainly in chaos, with the people of cities like Aleppo (some of them our brothers and sisters in the Lord) living in conditions that defy imagination.

On a thankfully less violent stage the politicians of the United Kingdom are by and large looking at each other in perplexity as to what to do next after the Brexit vote. Not even the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign expected the result. What a difference a few weeks made: Cameron gone, Johnston knifed in the back, Gove in the wilderness, May chosen as PM unopposed in the end, Johnston as Foreign Secretary. You couldn’t make it up, and you don’t have to. Civilised, refined, but pretty chaotic. And as for the USA, with a presidential election contest between a candidate whose next words not even he can predict and another who is deeply distrusted even by many in her own party – we’ll not go there, if you don’t mind!

Chaos on all sides. It’s not new of course. Even the most superficial acquaintance with history will show that the world has generally been in what seems to be a state of chaos. Perhaps the only difference now is that, thanks to modern means of communication, we hear vast amounts of news from every corner of the globe and so are much more aware of events in places previous generations knew nothing about. Whether our understanding of world events is any better as a result of the tidal wave of information that engulfs us is a very different question.

The answer is that, in fact, we do not see things as they really are if all we perceive is the surface appearance. ‘Chaos’ suggests lack of order or control, an absence of meaning. The Christian, with a mind moulded by God’s revelation in Scripture, knows that appearance is not reality. In the pages of the Bible we are addressed by a God who is in sovereign control of his entire creation and whose infinitely wise, holy and loving purpose guides all that happens. Above the rebellion and chaos of the nations depicted in Psalm 2 sits a God who, in and through his Son, works out his sovereign plan of salvation. It is only when Asaph, perplexed by the seeming prosperity of the wicked, ‘entered the sanctuary of God’ (Psalm 73:17) that he understood something of the reality of what he had perceived. Obtaining a little of the divine perspective corrected his mistaken human viewpoint. Sinners are fully responsible for their sins, yet they are called to account by the Lord and his will ultimately prevails.

That is not to say that we, with our very limited capacities, often skewed by sin, can grasp exactly what the Lord is doing in any particular situation, and we do well to be wary of those who can come up with an answer to every question regarding what God is doing in contemporary events, personal, national or international. There was a divine purpose in Job’s sufferings, yet Job was never told what it was and had to be satisfied with a powerful demonstration of the glory and sovereignty of God.

We do know, nevertheless, that the Lord reigns. All things are in the hands of King Jesus because in those same hands are ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ (Matthew 28:18). We can rest in that assurance and, by God’s grace, experience ‘the peace of God which transcends all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7). Chaos does not have the final say, but our sovereign God does.