We all like to think we are in control, or at least wish we were. We strive to feel on top of things, to have everything ordered and in its place. Family, careers, relationships, life. We tend to avoid any situation that we can’t feel some level of control over.
But the truth is, we can’t even control our bodies. We can’t tell our lungs to stop breathing or our nerves to stop sending signals to our brains. We can’t halt the spread of disease or tell our hearts to stop having a cardiac arrest.
We're out of control
In reality, we are so out of control of our own lives that we seek to deceive ourselves by trying to control aspects of our experience and even impose control over the experience of others. We accumulate money, power and popularity in a vain attempt to prove to others and to ourselves that we have it together. We numb the fear of being out of control with things that we think we can control. But how often do these things end up controlling us, proving yet again that our experience is falling short of what we hoped life would be?
Some turn to drugs and alcohol, some abuse power to subjugate others, some blame God for all the bad things in the world and decide to get as far away from him as they can. If God is in control, how can earthquakes and disasters kill so many people? Why did he let my child die? Why is my life so terrible? Is he unable to help or does he just choose not to care?
Running from the question
These thoughts can be used to justify attempts to take back control, but rarely do we actually press in to these questions and examine them as fully as we should. Why? Because to do so is to admit that we aren’t in control, and that is a very scary place to be. It challenges our identity and questions everything we thought we knew about ourselves. It dares us to ask the question we spend so much of our lives avoiding: “Who am I? Who am I, really?” But for most, it is easier to blame God or ignore the question, rather than go deeper down the road that these questions invite us to travel on.
So why do bad things happen? Are we so deluded into thinking that we are in control that we need something we can’t control to invade our lives and show us the futility of believing such a vain concept?
To ask the question “Why me?” is to accept, even for a moment, that there are external forces affecting us - more in control of our present situation than we are. Whatever control we thought we had has suddenly vanished in a whisper of a moment and turned our lives upside down.
Everything is meaningless
What can we do when we come to the realisation that we aren’t in control? When we find that we can’t actually do anything of worth to better our situation? That all our attempts at gaining control are short-lived and futile? Even the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, wrote, “Everything is meaningless, completely meaningless.”
The book of Ecclesiastes is a journal of his attempt to find meaning in his life. And what a life he had. More wisdom, more money, more power, more fame and more women than anyone before or since. Yet all of the control these things afforded him meant nothing. Solomon writes of the futility of wisdom, the futility of pleasure, the futility of working, the futility of power, the futility of wealth and finally, the futility of life. If this man, who had it all, couldn’t do it, how can we believe that we can?
So what, in the end, are our options, if we have finally come to accept that our lives, and the quest to find meaning, are out of our control? Do we succumb to this depressing thought and give up; medicating ourselves until death finally comes to relieve us of the futility? Or perhaps we can submit our inadequacies to God and give up our control to him, allowing him to show us the meaning we so desperately need. Both options require a giving up of control, but only one has any hope of a future worth living.
Is God in control?
God’s people aren’t immune from this lack of trust when it comes to giving him control of their lives. We give where we can, but often stop short of really putting ourselves out for someone else, because it is “wise” to look after ourselves and our families first. To make sure I have enough of a nest egg for retirement, that my family has the best quality products, clothing and gadgets before I give money to the local food bank. To give ten percent to the church, but then look the other way when I pass someone down and out in the street.
We love going to church and mixing with people who look like us, talk like us and think the same things as us. It is easy to feel in control and comfortable in an environment like that. But what happens when a lesbian couple, or a homeless man walk through the doors? We pay lip service to love and acceptance, but could we really accept them with open hearts? Or would their presence threaten our sensibilities? At what point do we trust in God’s acceptance of and love for them? Can we accept that their search for control and meaning is as futile as ours and that we are, in actuality, all equal in God’s eyes?
We're all equal
Perhaps we could come to the realisation that they are on a journey, just as we are - to find purpose. Are we able to welcome them as brothers and sisters in this shared experience? Or do we fear losing control of our church if certain people come searching for something? Isn’t it God’s church after all? Surely He should be the one in control.
The question of control is ultimately a question of trust and vulnerability. How far will I let my trust in God go? Will I choose to trust in my own understanding and the rules and limitations that I impose on myself and those around me? Maybe I could choose to give God control and allow him to open my heart to the raw vulnerability of trust in his unconditional goodness.
Russell Croft has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft