Having control of our lives feels good. We love and crave control because we hate surprises. The allure of control is that the details and quality of our future can be predicted and altered as need be.
The thing about control is that our appetite for it is insatiable especially when envy comes into play. Our tendency is to look out at the lives of others with envy in regards to control. It’s not that we believe everyone we know has more control of their lives than we do. It’s that there are many we know who seemingly have more control over some aspect of their lives and envy can begin to poison our attitude. Experiencing exhaustion as a result of pursuing more control of our lives is inevitable.
How much control do I (or any of us) actually have?
The thing about control is that it doesn’t exist (at least not the way we often think it does). The way God talks about the type of control we desire is that it is something He alone possesses.
In Proverbs 16:9 Solomon writes, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” We are volitional and cognitive beings who make “plans.” However, God presides over us in such a way that ultimately He is the one “establishing” and directing our steps.
Similarly, in Ecclesiastes 7:13 Solomon calls us to, “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” There are things in your life that are “crooked,” which you desire to change, and conversely there are things in your life which are “straight” (good) which you wish to never see change. The point is that we are incapable of truly altering the outcome of those things which God has made crooked or straight. Any change that comes as a result of our actions happens because God allows to happen according to His plan.
As finite beings it is impossible for us to fully-grasp how it is that we make plans, decisions, and choices but yet God is in control. Our grasp of cause and effect is simply insufficient in terms of accounting for God’s sovereignty.
The Danger of Control
Recently I heard a song called If You Want Love by Nathan Feuerstein (‘NF’) and a couple of lines stuck with me. Feuerstein sings, “I’ve always tried to control things; In the end that’s what controls me.” He is spot on. Control is like a drug which once tasted has the ability to take control over us. We never feel as though we have enough control because control is absurdly addictive and for good reason.
Our sinful hearts sell us the lie that control is necessary because God operates according to a rigid sense of retribution. Within this framework of a rigid retribution we wrongly believe that God immediately and proportionately rewards righteousness and punishes wickedness. Solomon goes on to confront this wrong way of viewing God in the next few verses of Ecclesiastes 7:14-16. Unfortunately, this way of thinking distorts the very nature of God’s grace and mercy. By definition grace is God giving us what we do not deserve and mercy is God NOT giving us what we deserve.
How do we respond to God’s control? Faith, not Apathy
Someone could argue that a high view of God’s control (sovereignty) results in people being given over to indifference/apathy. The rationale being that if we aren’t truly in control in the exact way that we want then why even bother trying and doing.
A balanced view of God’s sovereign control recognizes that God in His sovereignty utilizes and accounts for our decisions, plans, and choices. Yes, we are to yield to God and His control of all things meaning that we relinquish our grasp (or at least our perception of having a grasp) on our lives. But this surrendering does not lead to indifference or lack of effort on our part. Just the opposite is true. Our responsibility to live and move in faith is unchanged and we strive to make choices, decisions, and plans which are God-pleasing.
With Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10 we proclaim, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
By grace we live by faith.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Obadiah 3 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.