That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1b)
In 1968, the state of Vermont passed a law banning roadside billboards. The state did not want the signs disturbing Vermont's picturesque views. People are clever, however, and found a way to work around the law by creating giant statues to promote their businesses. As a result, driving through Vermont today you will come across statues of giant chickens, a squirrel in a red and white striped bathing suit, and a twelve-foot gorilla holding up Volkswagen.
This phenomenon has been cited as one example of an unintended consequence.
Unintended consequences are the results of actions that are not anticipated. These unintended consequences can be a good thing or a bad thing, or in the case of Vermont just plain funny.
After the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, "a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem." One of the most ardent leaders of that persecution was a man named Saul. Acts tells us Saul "was ravaging the church" and dragging people out of their homes and sending them to prison.
It seems likely Saul and others involved in the persecution intended to stomp out the early church. They wanted to end this whole "Jesus-craze" once and for all. They believed that by persecuting and scattering believers they could do just that.
What happened, however, according to Acts, was that those who were scattered went out into the countryside proclaimed the gospel there. And people gathered to hear them. And they liked what they heard, and many were baptized. By driving the church out of Jerusalem, Saul and the others hastened its spread. Soon, the movement was spreading like a wildfire, out of control.
The God we worship is a God of unintended consequences. I think that may be where God does the best work, bringing good out of bad situations, hope out of despair, new life out of death. Whatever our situation, may we always be open to the unintended possibilities God is working to make real.