Tag Archives: Chaos Theory

The Significance of a Life, Part Two

ImageIn our last post I suggested that we all should relax about measuring the significance of our lives because we are butterflies. I meant that as per the ‘Butterfly Effect’ of mathematical Chaos Theory, the seemingly insignificant things we do can have disproportionately HUGE effects. However, I also mentioned a problem with that thinking–a problem I call the ‘Butterfly Trap.’

Let me say first that it’s quite normal to hope to have made a difference. And so the idea that the smallest things we do can mean a lot is an appropriate comfort. However, the trap of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ is that it still feeds our temptation to measure our lives; It contributes to the idea that the difference we make is quantitative–it’s all about some amount of effect, knowable or not. That’s simply not the whole truth.

What we do is important but who we are is of first importance. God most highly values the disposition of a person’s heart. Therefore, we do well to consider our lives in terms of qualities of being more than quantities of doing. To do that we need to pay less attention to measuring our lives and more on testing the patterns of our hearts.  

When hard times are upon us have we demonstrated patience, forgiveness, courage, and love? When we are rich with good times, have we been generous, self-less, empathetic, and caring? Are we honest in failure, humble in success? Exactly what qualities of our character has life revealed? 

These questions and more are worthy of our reflection. Indeed, God loves all his children, even those of us who don’t ‘test’ so well! But regularly asking Him for a heart inclined like His will change the very nature of our lives…and the world around us. If we can imagine being a reflection of God’s grace, we will have caught a glimpse of all the significance we will ever need.

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The Significance of a Life, Part One

butterflyAs we get older, many of us begin to consider whether our lives have meant anything. Maybe we’ve had a career at an anonymous desk, worked off a ladder, or drove a truck; we may have invested years in a seemingly hopeless cause or spent decades watching TV. We wonder if we’ve made any difference at all.

It helps if we understand that we are butterflies.

The Greek word for ‘soul’ is ‘psyche,’ the same word for ‘butterfly.’ So what? Well, think ‘Butterfly Effect,’ the idea that comes out of Chaos Theory (Google it) which basically says a butterfly’s wings flapping in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Florida, etc.

Most of us measure our lives according to an assumed metric: ‘any action has an equal and opposite reaction.’ So, we add up the things we’ve done and calculate the likely effect. However, the mathematics of modern Chaos Theory tell us that our calculation is wrong. The truth is, we are unable to know the monumental effect that one random act of kindness, one gesture, or one day at the desk may have on the world. Our effects are disproportionate to our actions.

Who had a more significant life:  Billy Graham, George Washington, or John Doe? We think we know, but we don’t. Some John or Jane Does did or said something that affected Billy and George in ways that made them the men they became. The point is, we ought not fret about whether we’ve made much of a difference: of course we have; We are butterflies.

Now for the bad news: this thinking can lead to what I like to call the ‘Butterfly Trap.’ More on that in my next post.

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