The Butterfly Effect

Posted by on Sep 8, 2014 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

August 31, 2014

“The Butterfly Effect”

Scripture: Exodus 1:8-2:10, selected verses


What if I were to tell you that what you do this week could change the world? Would you believe me? Imagine it so? Smile politely but secretly scoff?

Two women once made a decision, took a chance and changed the world.  Their names are Shiphrah and Puah. Their names may not be familiar to many of you, so let me share a little of their story.

The beginning of Exodus starts on a chilling note. A ruler, wishing to solidify his political base, identifies a common enemy, a scapegoat to blame for whatever current problems plague society. We’ve seen this before. In the thirties, especially (though not exclusively) in Germany, it was the Jews. More recently, some have identified the Muslims and others the illegal immigrants.

In Exodus , it’s the ancient Israelites. They get fingered by a Pharaoh who has conveniently forgotten that for generations the Israelites had been considered allies and honored guests.

In Exodus 1: 9-10  he said to the people, “Look, the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous, and if war breaks out they will join our enemies and fight against us.”

Fear is a powerful tool. And so he first enslaves them, forcing them to do hard labor…but they still increase.

That’s when Shiphrah and Puah enter our story. They are Hebrew midwives. The king tells them “to kill all the Hebrew baby boys that are delivered.”  But they refuse. They do not kill the boys. They lie to Pharaoh, telling them that the Hebrew women give birth too quickly, delivering the babies before the midwives arrive on the scene.

It’s a courageous act of civil disobedience that changes history, for one of the boys that is spared will be called Moses and he will lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. He will deliver God’s law to the Israelites and bring them to the Promised Land. And it all starts here, with two women willing to say “no” to an act of injustice. I doubt very much they thought they were changing the world. But they were, just by being faithful, by following the dictates of their hearts, by listening tothe call of conscience.

Andy Andrews wrote a little book called The Butterfly Effect in which he catalogues the extraordinary impact of simple and courageous efforts,(1) except when you go back, you can never really tell which efforts made the biggest difference.

So, for instance, should Norman Borlaug, who developed high yield, disease resistant corn and wheat, be credited with saving two billion lives from famine, or should Henry Wallace, the one-term U.S. Vice-President, who created an office in New Mexico to develop hybrid seed for arid climates and hired Borlaug to run it. Or should we credit George Washington Carver, who took a young Henry Wallace for long walks and instilled in him his love of plants. Or should it be Moses and Susan Carver, who adopted the orphaned George as their son. Or should it be…

Well, you get the idea. Andrews points out how inter-connected our actions are, creating an unforeseen butterfly effect that can ripple across time and space to affect the lives of millions.

His title, The Butterfly Effect, comes from the ideathat the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in South America could affect the weather in Texas. (2)

Little things can have big consequences.  The things we do this week — our actions, decisions, choices — will, in fact, ripple out with consequences foreseen and unforeseen, for good or for ill, for the health or damage of the world. That question isn’t whether, but what…what will we do this week to make a difference in the world?

Each of us will change the world this week.

Will our actions have a positive affect…or a negative one?

Wonder what we might do differently if we really believed the simple Butterfly Effect?


1The Butterfly Effect : How Life Matters  by Andy Andrews , Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc., Publication date: 8/31/2010

2 In 1963, Edward Lorenz made a presentation to the New York Academy of Sciences and was literally laughed out of the room. His theory, called the butterfly effect, stated that a butterfly could flap its wings and set air molecules in motion that, in turn, would move other air molecules–which would then move additional air molecules–eventually becoming able to influence weather patterns on the other side of the planet. For years this theory remained an interesting myth. In the mid 1990s, however, physics professors from several universities, working in tandem, proved that the butterfly effect was accurate, viable, and worked every time.