James Gleick in Chaos famously cites the “butterfly effect,” the potential for a butterfly moving its wings to alter weather patterns around the globe. Gleick convincingly demonstrates mathematically that small events can have large consequences.
While exercising last week, my wife stepped on a large bug. I commented that she might have altered the cosmos by killing that bug. She immediately replied in the affirmative, saying that she thought the cosmos was now a better place.
In fact, almost every action may have cosmic consequences. (Remember, not acting constitutes an action as well, e.g., had my wife not stepped on the bug that also might have had cosmic consequences – especially if the bug had bitten her!) Unfortunately, the actor rarely will know, or even be able to know, all of the future consequences of a particular action.
One implication of recognizing the potential cosmic consequences of every act is that we should seize every opportunity to be kind, to be loving, to do good, to care for others and the world. Any one of those actions may have enormous cosmic consequences. Betting on positive consequences emerging from positive acts seems a more reasonable bet to me than does the converse: doing something bad in the expectation that the cosmos will consequently become a better place.
At various times in a person’s life, most people doubt whether their individual life has counted for much or made much of a difference. A second implication of the potential cosmic consequences of small acts is that nobody, even the least amongst us, can confidently assert that his/her life has not made the cosmos a better place. The interconnectedness of all life means that even the most isolated person still acts or refrains from acting in ways that potentially alter the future of the cosmos. Each human life is significant because of it incarnates the possibility of dramatically altering the cosmos.
A third implication of small actions changing the cosmos is that God does not need to act in large ways to change a life or even the cosmos. Small acts by God like small acts by any actor can have outsize consequences. Instead of seeking to see God at work in dramatic ways, perhaps people of faith more profitably look to see God at work in ordinary things, making what appears to be a small difference but that has the potential to become something significant.