Every afternoon at 3 PM, the house is calm and quiet and orderly. It is neat and tidy, the front entranceway is clear, the coat hooks are organized, the horizontal surfaces are clear. But by 3:30 it is approaching the status of a full-out disaster area. Backpacks, hats, and mitts leave a trail down the hall and into the living room. The kitchen is cluttered with snacks and lunch bags. People are sprawled out all over the furniture. The whole house has been transformed. Deformed, even.
We do what we can, of course. We try to train our kids to be thoughtful. We try to get them to clean up after themselves. But somehow it always seems to be a losing battle.
It’s especially hard on Aileen. I try to comfort her in my too-blunt, masculine way. I try to tell her this is just part of life, that a prominent part of our mandate as human beings is this very task of bringing order from chaos. I’m not sure it helps much.
But I wonder if you have ever thought about this before. No matter your culture, your gender, your vocation, your life, it is a key element of your calling. Chaos giving way to order—this is what makes up so much of life. Let’s rewind a little bit, to see this motif take shape. As usual, It is best to begin at the beginning.
Perfect Order from Perfect Chaos
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Recorded history begins at the moment God makes something from nothing. The primordial matter God speaks into existence is “without form and void.” It is formless and empty, without shape and without life. But then, through six days, God brings form. He divides the heavens from the earth, he separates the waters from the land, he fills it all with creatures. He brings order from chaos.
God creates a garden and places the first human beings within it. He directs them to multiply so they will spread out over the entire earth. As they do so, they are to subdue and exercise dominion. They are to push out the walls of Eden, bringing its order to the unordered world around. The world will not be complete until humanity has spread from pole to pole.
Right here, though, something terrible happens. It would seem that to this point the trajectory from chaos to order works in only one direction. What is made orderly will remain orderly. But Satan is a master of chaos. He is committed to unmaking what God has made, undoing what God has done. He leads humanity into the disorder of sin. They have unwittingly but inexorably become like Satan instead of like God.
Their woeful choice changes everything. Inside, their moral order gives way to chaos, their purity to depravity. Outside, the creative order also gives way to chaos. Now, what does not receive constant care will inevitably regress. The field that is left unwatched will be choked with weeds; the home that is left untidied will become cluttered with stuff; the soul that is left untended will spring up with sin. Humanity will now battle to establish order and battle again to maintain it.
After the Fall
Much later in history, Jesus commissions his followers to once again spread over the whole of the earth. The original mandate remains, but this time they are to take the gospel with them. Humanity has spread, but they are still disordered in their hearts and lives. His people are to preach as they go, to preach the gospel that brings structure and meaning. The gospel introduces order into spiritual chaos.
But the preaching and receiving of the gospel is not the whole commission. Those who believe must also be trained to obey. They enter the Christian life in a state of moral disorder, with deeply-embedded habits of unholiness. They are to apply law and gospel to their lives until they become renewed, re-ordered in their thoughts, their desires, their deeds.
All the while, they are to live ordinary lives, establish ordinary families, do ordinary jobs. They are to carry out the ordinary chaos-to-order tasks that are the stuff of life. Where they see chaos, and especially moral chaos, they see evidence of depravity. Where they see order, and especially moral order, they see evidence of grace.
This brief survey of history explains so much of our experience in life.
Moms labor to maintain a semblance of order in the chaos of a busy home. Parents labor to instill discipline in disorderly little lives. Janitors labor to preserve tidiness amidst the disarray. Factory workers take in a mess of parts and roll out trucks and televisions, mechanics make broken cars run, plumbers make clogged pipes flow, writers make jumbled thoughts lucid. Our lives are never less than bringing order from chaos. It is our constant task, our God-given calling. It is difficult, it is repetitive, it is frustrating. But it is good.