Complex systems

The twilight sky over Boston’s intertidal flats is glorious.

Normally, I’d be annoyed by the wing of the plane photobombing my shot, but tonight, I’m good with it. I’ve been thinking about complex systems for the last two days and I’m enjoying how many are in this one view. Weather. Tides. A city. And air transportation.

Those are all incredibly involved operations. Nothing plain about this plane view.

This contemplation started on my drive down to my original airport a day ago. Snow and ice had coated the trees so that each stood out as individual elements. The chiaroscuro contrast isolated each of them. Beautifully.

For some reason, this got me thinking about the church – and of Paul’s description of it as a kind of interconnected organism.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many… But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1                                 Corinthians 12:14, 18–20)

If Paul were writing today, he’d have a much wider range of examples to pull from. If everyone was a gate agent, who would fly the plane? And if everyone was a pilot, there would be no one to operate the jet way and none of the passengers would ever disembark! (Okay, it was only an extra ten-minute wait, but it felt like an eternity.)

As I stare down at the darkening landscape below, with lights of habitation set into the blue-black surface, I wonder at the plethora of systems in the world. Everything seems so interdependent. And nuanced. And so delicately balanced that if one critical element is deleted or added, the connections can collapse.

The world is this way because it has a Creator who is, in himself, a complex system. One God, three persons. But the Godhead is not so much interdependent than inter-resplendent, sharing and bestowing glory and honor on each other. From all eternity.

If I stop and consider the fragility of earthly ecosystems, it is quite startling to think that God has opened up his balance of love to add in billions of rogue elements, each one having to be taught how to act within the organism. Eyes that disdain hands. Heads that dismiss feet.

And yet, somehow, God is enfolding his redeemed ones into something that simply grows in complexity and beauty with each new addition.

Wow. My brain is not nearly complex enough to comprehend that.

Great Creator, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, Three in One, we see your imprint of connectedness everywhere we turn in this world. Thank you that each one has the power to remind us of who you are and what you are doing. We are humbled that somehow you are enfolding us into your ecosystem of love.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it!

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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