Tag Archives: chaotic systems

Isaiah 65:1-12

Scripture: from verse 8

Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it…

Observation: God is talking about His people, and how they have once again been choosing things He does not delight in, and how He will have to punish them accordingly.  But then He compares them to a cluster of (presumably wild) grapevines that turn out to have sweet juice, and how the vines are not destroyed because there is something useful inside.

I have plenty of failings, as does everyone, and sometimes I worry that I cannot trust God to use me because I will fail to understand what He is and isn’t saying to me.  God recently reminded me of the last story in I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, in which the characters mention that the giant computers that run the futuristic world economy cannot be disobeyed, because they will note patterns of disobedience and adjust their suggestions accordingly.  God is much bigger than I am.  He knows my failings.  He has already planned for my weaknesses.

Application: Trust God to use you to be a blessing.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, I praise you because you are bigger than I am.  I praise you because you understand me even when I do not understand myself.  I praise you because you can take my human weaknesses and make something beautiful out of them.  Please use me to be a blessing.  Amen.


Isaiah 50

Scripture: verses 10 and 11

Let him who walks in darkness and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.
Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.

Observation:  I was praying with my someone this weekend, and we came to the conclusion that we had created a false yardstick by which to measure ourselves, and we needed to lay it down.  I commented that humans like to think we are good at measuring, but we never take into account the nonlinearity of everything.

We have this notion that we can help ourselves. We think that we can strive towards our goals and measure our own progress and accomplish things and that will please God.  The problem is that we are uniquely bad at measuring things, and our whole purpose is to build castles in the air (whether they are art or stories or songs or logic or discoveries or engineered structures) that reflect God’s glory.  We have inverted our purpose.

And when things look difficult, we rush around in circles, determined to fix the problem ourselves.  But we can’t even see the whole problem – not properly – and we can’t fix it.  That’s not our purpose.  Our purpose is to trust in the name of the Lord.

Application:  What problems are you determined to fix?  Are you lighting your own torches when you should be praying for light?

Prayer:  Father of lights, I praise you because you will always have a way out of the darkness.  I praise you because you have a plan and a purpose for every darkness that I go through.  Thank you for walking with me.  Help me to rely on your light.  Help me to value my castles in the air the way you do.  Amen.

Isaiah 48:12-22

Scripture: from verse 17

I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit…

Observation: “Profit” is the Hebrew word ya’al, which is a root word meaning to gain, to profit, to ascend, etc.  With a very slight tweak it becomes the word ya’el, which means mountain goat.  (Yael (usually spelled Jael because Hebrew transliteration conventions are stupid) is also the name of a woman in Judges 4 who killed the commander of the Canaanite army.)

So we’ve got two images for what the Lord teaches us.  He teaches us to profit, meaning to gain good things.  Following His rules, our finances prosper.  No law of economics or business can counter the presence or absence of His blessing.  And He also teaches us to be nimble and safe like a mountain goat.  We can move freely in dangerous and rocky terrain, knowing that He is between us and the drop.

In Matthew 6, Yeshua tells us that if we make seeking God a priority, all other blessings (such as food and clothes) will be given to us.  In Matthew 11, He says that He will give us rest for our souls.

We are safe.

Application:  Follow Him.  Find rest.

Prayer:  God, I praise you because you are the one who teaches us how to profit.  I praise you because you are the only one who can see the whole of our world and how its elements interact, to make poverty and to make wealth.  Thank you for leading me.  Help me to trust you, and to let my soul be at rest.  Amen.

Isaiah 30:1-13

Scripture: from verse 1

The rebellious children…make plans, but the plans are not Mine.

Observation:  The more fool them.  Jeremiah 29 says that God has plans for us and that His plans are for good, to give us a future and a hope.  The problem with making our own plans is that they are much less likely to lead to a future and a hope.

It isn’t impossible, of course, since there are infinite plans to be made and infinite futures to reach.  But life is a chaotic system, and the more we ignore the elements of God’s plan, the less likely our plan is to work out well.  Astonishingly enough, we aren’t as good at planning as He is.

The plans God was speaking of involved alliance (very expensive alliance) with Egypt, which had wealth and power and might and wasn’t actually willing or able to do much in the way of supporting Israel.  We have a bad habit of running around trying to find people who can help us (or who we think we can manipulate into helping us) when God has help already planned out.

In Israel’s case, if they turned back to God He’d stop sending the attacks and troubles that they needed help with in the first place.  God can address the root of our problems when we can’t even see it.  We treat the symptoms, but usually only God can go in and cure the disease.

Application:  Make His plans yours, instead of the other way around.

Prayer:  Father, I praise you because you can see all the strands of time.  You are the only one who can reliably chart a course through life.  Thank you for planning a good future for me.  Help me to follow your plan instead of my own.  Amen.

Isaiah 29

Scripture: from verse 9

If you make yourselves stupid, you will stay stupid!
If you blind yourselves, you will stay blind!

Observation:  This passage is about the people of Israel who pay lip service to God but mostly live as if He doesn’t exist or can’t see them.  God later compares them to a pot saying that its maker didn’t make it and has no discernment.  It’s not that they don’t know about God – they just don’t really think He sees them and knows them and is relevant to their plans.

The result is situations of dramatic irony.  If they asked God for guidance and relied on His wisdom, they could make really good choices.  But as it is, they make the best choices they can with the information they are willing to acknowledge, and God is left sitting helplessly like the movie audience watching the ditsy blonde walk into the creepy building.  She’s the only one who doesn’t know it’s a bad idea, but she does it anyway.

Application:  Assume God has useful input.  Ask for it.  Don’t wait for Him to prove that He’s stronger than you (as God says He will in verse 14) as that’s often a rather unpleasant process.

Prayer:  Father, I praise you for having far more wisdom and knowledge than I have.  Thank you for guiding me when I ask you to.  Help me to follow you, and bless me.  Amen.

Isaiah 18

Scripture: from verse 1

Woe to the land of whirring wings…

Observation:  The next line identifies his target as the land beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.  I’m not sure what people group that was at the time, but a couple of commentaries seem to think it’s Egypt, Ethiopia, or Cush.  So that’s not terribly helpful.

In any case, the point is that “The Land of Whirring Wings” is a very cool name.  And despite being an enemy of God, this nation has been deriving its identity from its wildlife – which God created.  The prophet later calls them “a nation tall and bronzed,” which is again both a point of pride for these people and something that God created.

We have a bad habit of taking pride in things we didn’t make and don’t control.  Sometimes it’s obvious that we are doing this, as it is for this nation.  Sometimes it’s more subtle, when chance and choice architecture and poorly-understood social forces have played a far larger part in an outcome than we realize.  Either way, we should be spending far more time than we do being grateful for what we have been given.

It’s a beautiful world God made.  We’re just living in it.

Application: Notice when God gives you things.  Be grateful.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for giving me so many things.  Thank you for the weather today and the birds outside and the fact that my hair is behaving well.  Help me to remember that you have given them to me.  Amen.

Isaiah 10:1-17

Scripture: from verses 6 and 7

I am sending [Assyria] against a hypocritical nation,
ordering him to march against a people who enrage me…
That is not what Assyria intends…
they mean to destroy nation after nation.

Observation:  Israel was proud and corrupt, so God was sending the Assyrians to attack them and destroy much of their wealth.  Assyria, however, thought they were using their own power and planned to conquer all of the known world.

Humans are constantly trying to get more control over our lives.  We try to control ourselves and our bodies, we try to control the people around us, we try to control our circumstances.  None of it works terribly well.

We make decisions and form plans and take action, but the results are rarely what we predict they will be.  The possibilities that we choose from are limited by our data.  There’s always one variable we had failed to consider (or never knew about).  The future is a chaotic system, and there is no was to predict it.  We have far less agency than we realize.

At the age of sixteen, Hero knew that he would grow up to marry me and work in computer hardware design and live in our area.  So he went to college for computer hardware design and kept dating me and here we are, ten years later.

But for most of us, life isn’t that simple.  Our colleges and our jobs and our homes and our families are influenced by hundreds of tiny decisions and thousands of factors and influences and variables.  We may think we chose our school or our career, but in reality it was heavily influenced by chance.

But God controls chance.  God knows how the thousands of influences will converge.

So we have a choice.  We can keep pretending we know what we’re doing, keep assuming that every trend we see now will continue forever.  Or we can let God do what He does best: teach us the truth.

Application:  Talk to God before making plans.  He’s better at it.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for having a plan for me.  I praise you, because you understand how the world works, and how every piece of it interacts with every other piece.  Help me to know when I think I know more than I do.  Amen.

Isaiah 9:11-20

Scripture: verse 12

Yet the people do not turn to the one striking them,
they don’t seek AdonaiTzva’ot [Lord of Hosts].

Observation: So Israel is being Israel (idolatrous, prideful, etc) and God has been doing some smiting to bring them back into line (by way of the Assyrians, this time) and He is hoping that they will turn to Him.  They don’t.

Which isn’t very surprising, from a human point of view.  Humans don’t like discipline.  We try to avoid it.

But God doesn’t want us to be thinking like humans.  He wants us to turn the other cheek, to bless our enemies, to lend without demanding a return (Matthew 5:39, Romans 12:14, Luke 6:34).  We are to be different, because He is different.

And we know that, when bad things happen, it isn’t blind chance or implacable persecution.  We know that God controls it, because God controls everything.  We know that He will work it to our good (Romans 8:28).  We know that what we see is not all that is.

It’s easy to forget that God is there.  It’s easy to assume that He can’t be bothered to help your little problems.  But that isn’t the truth.

The truth is that He sees us fall.  The truth is that He keeps our tears.  The truth is He loves us.

Application:  Don’t be afraid to turn to God.

Prayer:  Father, please help me when I forget to come to you.  Thank you for knowing me and loving me.  Thank you for rescuing me when I need it.  Amen.

Isaiah 8:1-10

Scripture: from verses 9 and 10

Listen, all of you from distant lands:
arm yourselves, but you will be shattered;
devise a plan, but it will come to nothing;
say anything you like, but it won’t happen;
because God is with us.

Observation:  God is the Overriding Factor.  I usually talk about Him being the Source, which He is, but this is a different facet, a different end of the equation.

Humans like trying to guess the future.  We like spotting patterns and gathering data and identifying important variables.  We come up with signs and lucky tokens and ways to keep the juju flowing.  We’re surprisingly rotten at it, actually, but we keep trying.

But none of those things matter when God is involved.  He’s the Game Breaker and the Invincible Hero, and He’d be the God-Mode Sue if He weren’t, you know, actually God.

According to The Hobbit, “it does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”  And that’s exactly what we do.  We forget that God is able to override and overcome all of our pat little plans for how life is going to be.

We also forget that God is able to overthrow all the plans of the Enemy to destroy us.  That the bureaucracy or the bully or the impossible situation that stand in our way are nothing to Him.  He made them, and He knows the way through.

Application:  God is the Overriding Factor.  Don’t leave Him out of the equation.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for simplifying the mathematics of chaos so easily.  Thank you for being the one variable that actually matters.  Help me to pay more attention to where you are and less to where I think I am.  Amen.

Colossians 3:1-5

Scripture: verse 2

Focus your minds on the things above, not on things here on earth.

Observation:  “Above” is where Messiah is, according to the verse before.  We are to focus on God and God’s plan, not the things we see around us.

In Next Level Living, the author comments that when things are confusing in the physical realm, it means that something is happening in the spiritual realm.  We are sitting on top of a floating iceberg, quite certain that our little island of ice is the whole story, unaware of the giant mass of ice below the water.  But it’s only by studying the giant mass that we can understand the little island.

I made a playlist of cheerful music recently for someone who is having a rough time with life at the moment.  I included Creed by Third Day, which isn’t really cheerful.  The lyrics are the singer’s creed: a simple list of the things he believes.  But the more we think about God, the more we see from His perspective, and the more we can understand about the spiritual forces that underlie the events we see.

The song ends “This is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.”  The other advantage of focusing on God is that He is outside us, that He is objective and eternal and unchanging.  He is our firm foundation, our secure footing.  Without Him we have to rely on our own judgement and emotions and thoughts, and that’s a scary thought.

Application:  Focus on God-things, not human-things.  Look for the underlying spiritual happenings.

Prayer:  Yeshua, thank you for seeing what I can’t.  Thank you for guiding me through events far too complicated for me to understand and predict.  Help me to value your perspective above my own.  Amen.