The Ripple Effect

It was just a tiny creature, breaking the glassy stillness of the pond on a cool autumn morning. But his foray to the surface sent a ripple effect across the once-calm water.

On Friday, September 26, a despondent contract worker at the Aurora, Illinois, air traffic control center sought to take his life by dousing himself with gasoline and then striking a match — inside the lower level of the control tower! Within seconds, flames triggered the automatic sprinkler system, spraying water throughout the building and, of course, into the electronic systems vital for controlling air traffic! The flames were extinguished, and the poor man’s life was spared, but that one relatively minor act sent a ripple effect felt throughout the world. Air traffic was disrupted for thousands of flights, a couple thousand were cancelled, and an incredible number of people were adversely affected.

My wife and I were two of those people. We thought we’d be OK. We were scheduled to fly to Vermont by way of Philadelphia on Saturday the 27th. Before arriving at O’Hare, however, we had already received word that our flight was delayed 40 minutes. The situation became more dicey, we discovered, when we attempted to check in. The delayed departure meant a later arrival in Philadelphia, and we wouldn’t have time to make the connecting flight to Burlington, Vermont—and all remaining flights to Burlington on that day were full. We would have to wait on standby and hope something opened up. If nothing did, then we’d be spending the night in Philly. That was a problem, not merely an inconvenience. I was scheduled to preach in Shelburne, VT, Sunday morning—the pastor and people were counting on it! If I didn’t show up, the ripple effect would extend that much further!

What to do? We could’ve taken a flight to Albany, New York or Manchester, New Hampshire—both airports about 3 hours from our destination—but we wouldn’t arrive until 10:30 that night. Yet, while were exploring and discussing options, even those flights filled up. The helpful USAirways agent suggested we could go ahead and take the delayed flight to Philly and hope our connecting flight was delayed. What to do? We finally opted to risk missing the connection and, if so, then we’d rent a car and drive from Philly to Burlington. With the decision made and boarding passes in hand, we headed for the security line, and I received a text notification that the connection was delayed long enough for us to make it! Delightful! Until a few minutes later when I received a follow up text with the “good news” that the connecting flight was back on schedule.

As it turned out, we missed the connection by 30 minutes…discovered there were no flights available to Burlington until Monday…paid a hefty fee to rent a car for 24 hours so we could drive to Burlington (it was more than the fee for a week-long rental in Vermont!)…and finally arrived at our destination at midnight. At least I made the Sunday morning preaching opportunity!

Musing on our plight, I realized that our relatively insignificant difficulties were multiplied thousands of times over the course of that weekend—ripples messing up the otherwise smooth travel plans of untold numbers of people—all because of one individual’s thoughtless, selfish act.

From 2 Samuel 12 throughout the rest of David’s life as the king of Israel—the king hand-picked by the Lord—the ripples of his sins in chapter 11 are felt by David’s family, and even by his entire realm! One evening of fulfilled passion, one act of marital infidelity, dropped in the pond of life sent ripples of deception, death, rape, shame, murder, abandonment, isolation, rebellion, distrust, conniving…. And only the Lord knows how many lives were impacted!

Before we drop that pebble in the pond, we need to stop and ponder the ripple effects.