The Problem with Control

I like being in control. I like knowing what’s coming next in life. I like knowing that I have all the resources I’ll need to do whatever I want. This level of control is what our culture teaches, isn’t it? We hear the message associated with all stages of life through retirement.We value it not only for ourselves but for our institutions and our nation as a whole.

I don’t see much differences between Christian Americans and non-Christian Americans on this. We all like to be in control. Unfortunately, being in control is largely antithetical to living a life of faith in God.

In this book, The Land, Walter Brueggemann says:

“When Israel craved for kingship like the others, it was attracted precisely to those examples that presumed to manage their own existence and seize initiative for their own well-being in history. Whereas life on the other side had been utterly derived from Yahweh, now the yearning was to eliminate all of that uncertainty and derive life from policies and institutions totally under human mastery.”

For now, I’m going to leave other folks out of the discussion and just pick on my fellow Christians. In my experience, my faith grows the most and is the strongest when I am in situations where I need God. As long as my life is entirely stable, secure, and safe, I don’t need God. Oh, I can say I need God, but I’m thinking of God as “eternal life insurance policy” or God as “adornment.” Certainly not God as God. My faith grows most when I’m desperate for God, when there’s no way I’ll make it apart from God.

Churches are the same way. We have our policies and procedures, our budgets, bank accounts and endowments, all in place to make sure our churches are stable, secure, and safe. It seems like the godly thing to do, doesn’t it? God has entrusted us with all these things (buildings, money) that it is only right to guard them carefully. But in our primary pursuit of stability, security and safety, we usually miss God.

As we can tell from reading the Old Testament (so Brueggemann notes), our dilemma is nothing new. Ancient Israel knew well the joy of security – and the problems it brought. “We needed God in the wilderness; we couldn’t have made it without him. But that we’re in the land we can breathe safely. Thanks, God, for allowing us a such a cushy life that we don’t need you any more!”

We face danger either way we go. If we go the way of security, we miss a life of blessing with God. If we go the way of needing God, forsaking security, well, that’s just plain scary. Look where it got Jesus and his first followers. I think I’ll choose the dangerous way of Jesus rather than the dangerous way of security.

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