the life and times of a twenty year old designer

reckless, scandalous, and out of control

with 5 comments

“Do not worry, because God is in control. He has a plan and a purpose for you. “

I have heard these words (or similar expressions) many times before. I have seen them written on home decorating products and facebook walls and internet ads. I have heard them come from the mouths of people I love, respect, and admire. And when I heard them spoken over a worship gathering I attended recently, I was hit with an overwhelming, essential realization. I wasn’t trying to find fault or be contrary, but the assurance came out of nowhere and hit me squarely in the heart.

I don’t believe God is in control. 

Ok. That is a statement. Breathe in and out with me for a bit. Come on in and sit a while. After that, blow up the comments, debate, engage, encounter, seek. But first, let’s walk through a few steps together.

Here is how I think we (middle and upper class USA culture) understand control. At the center of control is immense power. When we seek to control some aspect of our lives, we are often primarily seeking to exert power over it. We schedule our days to the hilt, seeking power over time and space and people. We plan our futures in month or year or 5-year increments, seeking power over spans of time that contain unforseeable mountains and valleys, praying that we will never “spin out of control.” We organize our relationships in rigid categories and strict expectations, seeking to control our friends, family, and neighbors rather than love them. We look down on those in our lives who have “lost control” or are “out of control” , assuming that their inability to align with our proscribed structures indicates a basic human failure. But our lawn is pristine, our house is in order, our shirts are ironed, our retirement is planned, our property is insured. We. Are. In. Control.

So when we say that God is in control, it is comforting to us. We want to know that there is plan, purpose, and meaning, and that God (like we so desire to be) has all of his ducks in a row and that nothing happens outside of his will. We want a King who is powerful, authoritative, and majestic. We want him to have all the answers, make all the decisions, fight all the battles, and always, always win. But our concept of control is a poor choice to frame our understanding of a God who is love.

There is one who seeks complete control at all times, because he does not understand love. Satan, the fallen angel who sought power over God in heaven and continues to seek power over God on earth, approaches people with a desire for control that is unsurpassed. All of the sins that have plagued the world, lies, fear, addictions – they are all fighting for control of our hearts. And why do we give in to them?

In our fallen nature, we believe we would rather be controlled than loved. We would rather be given a simple, understandable set of rules about the way the world works, and, falling victim to the lie that through understanding the rules we will gain control over the system, instead fall prey to the lie of control and it’s immense power over us. We worship control, praising our own ability to order the universe as we see fit, and every grab for power builds the illusion that we are able, of our own accord, to hold everything together. And when the cracks begin to show and our attempts at perfection fall short, we are left with a gaping awareness that in our thirst we have allowed control to supplant the role of love in our lives.

Love is bigger than control. Love is more powerful than control.

Our lives are spent in a vicious spiral of control seeking – beating our head against the wall and screaming “Why isn’t this going my way!” At times, we feel we have succeeded – we are happy, successful, achieving, well off. In. Control. At other times we feel lost, alone, afraid, and as though everything we held power over has slipped from our grasp. And there are only two exit gates from this spiral. One is the aforementioned way of the Controller. To claim control as our right, power as our inheritance, and ultimately fall slave to the power which seeks to control us.

But there is another way. This way is the way of love. And this way is the way of surrender.

God did not choose to control the world. He chose to love it. In a radical departure from the way any ancient or present culture has or does understand what it means to be God. He made us, completely, from the ground up. He should have been able to claim what artists call “creative control” over his creation, the right to oversee how it is used, what it becomes, who can influence it, and how far it can stray from the original vision.

And then, in love, He set us free, desiring only that our response to this freedom would be to choose to love Him back.

In the absolutely crucial, most pivotal moment of our faith, Jesus could have rewritten the story we know so well. He could have claimed control as King, ruler, sovereign, authority. He could have broken the whips and shattered the cross, taken revenge on the men who sought to do him harm, taken the seat of the empire and seated his disciples in positions of power. That would have been a picture of a God in control. None would have been able to stand against him, and everything would have proceeded in exact accordance with his specific will.

But instead, Jesus chose to surrender. He surrendered his right to control his circumstance. He allowed himself to be consumed by the will of God, to be instrumental in communicating God’s great love for his people, and redeemed a relationship fractured by our desire for control. (In eating from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve sought equality with God, greater control over their circumstance, and power that was only meant to be held by God. This deeply fractured their love relationship with him, their ability to live fully in his presence and to walk in his ways. God has been calling his people back to himself ever since.) 

In surrendering control, Jesus gained a power that control-seekers could never imagine or understand. Jesus is the only human who has ever managed to perfectly exchange control for love. Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” And what a glorious deluge he unleashed. 

Because when we begin to understand God’s love, our response becomes so much greater than a simple acquiescence to a higher power’s control. Yes, God is the god who makes order from chaos, life out of destruction, bringer of peace, hope, and healing. And he wants us to choose to be part of his story. To choose to accept a love that refines, cleanses, purifies, makes whole. We love because He first loved us. And through his love, we are able to join him in the work of redeeming his creation.

So we cannot hold the freedom, the choice, the love that he lavishes on us and wishes to express through us in one hand, and tell others to “Relax, God’s in control” in the other. God’s power is so great, his sovereignty so vast, that he can choose to exert his power through love rather than through control – and it is through this love that He is calling us to come home to Him.

In summary. God created us. God loves us. God has immense power and is fully able to alter any circumstance, change any heart, fulfill any dream. But God does not control us. In him we live, and move, and have our being. We acknowledge and fall prostrate before God, from whom all blessings flow. But not because he has bent our necks. Because his love has broken our hearts. His reckless, scandalous, completely nonsensical and entirely out of control love. And no matter how strong the temptation to be controlled by the world may be, we who have known what it is to live in God’s love will constantly be searching to follow His light home, and to invite as many as we can to join the journey with us.

I feel as though I could write for days on this topic, and maybe I will someday. This is an attempt to follow the grace I’ve been given, to start a dialogue, to scratch the surface. Please, engage with me in the parts that  speak love to your heart, the parts that are poorly constructed , the parts that are jarring, the parts that wrestle and debate. How have you experienced God’s love? How has that shaped your concept of God ‘being in control’? 

Written by Taylor Webster

June 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Taylor, have ever read (or been reading) Greg Boyd? This sounds very much like things he has talked about (and I only mention it because I’m currently reading “Is God to Blame?”, which is his treatment of suffering). A couple things I noticed, but first thanks for writing this! It’s always good for me to hear the message of love that we have through the Cross.

    I guess my first question is this; do you think that God fundamentally lacks control, or is God practicing some form of self-limitation of control?

    Also, I’m gathering that you are juxtaposing love with control by defining love as selflessness (in the sense that control is ultimately a selfish act). Is this correct? If so, is this where you see God and Satan being in tension? It was a little unclear in the blog about that.

    I haven’t read any of your posts yet, and now I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner!


    June 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm

  2. Many times i believe that people use the statement “God is in control” when they feel there is no other explanation for the course of events. It is there way of coping, not wanting to take responsibility for their actions or the actions of others. When natural disasters occur or evil shows its physical presence people want to believe that at some point God has a purpose for all that happens.

    Of course God is in control. That is the whole point of HIStory. And whenever this world ends, HIStory will become complete for mankind. God showed his control by sending His Son not in any way that man could comprehend. Complete control is being able to understand all the permutations of a situation from all angles. God. God chooses to manifest His control in ways we cannot understand because we equate control with power, not understanding and grace.

    May you continue to analyze the norm and challenge the status quo. 🙂


    June 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm

  3. Been mulling this issue over a bit more…Seems i have come to the observation that we are not in control. That is God’s job. God is in control.

    However where we get the concept confused is that we are given free will or choice. We don’t really control anything, but we can make choices that affect our circumstances. How do i know this? if i had complete control, i would never die.:) Since God tells us that the wages of sin is death, then He must be in control and he ALLOWS me to make unlimited choices throughout my life.

    i am a participant in His creation, not the Being that controls it.

    well that’s it for now…probably spend tooo much time riding a mower and thinking about stuff 🙂


    June 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm

  4. Taylor, I think your premise is a good point. From an absolute standpoint, I believe God has the ability to control (so in some sense he is in control) but love is the expression in which he chooses not to remain in direct control of every detail. He gives up that control because of the greater power of love as you said. Many times in the gospels where Jesus’ answers stump the pharisees, it makes sense that his words are brought out of love where they expect him to give a rigid law-like answer. For example, in the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus says “he who is without sin throw the first stone.” In essence, Jesus says he who has a right to control the situation, do it and none of them do. None of the them are in control (though they act like it).

    Is Jesus in control, though? Here is where a definitions matter. God is omniscient, which some people might argue means that he is automatically in control. But what is control? If you send a homing pigeon to deliver a message, are you still in control of the message? Even if you understand every variable that would affect the pigeon, do you control the message? Is there any difference in control between you delivering the message and the pigeon? Is understanding the same as control? I would argue that they are different. Even if you understand exactly what will happen, you can choose to not exert control over the situation. There is a difference between controlling and being in control in a similar way that there is a difference between loving and being in love.

    Simply, I would say God has the authority and ability to control, but through love sometimes chooses not to exhort that control. The reason I say “sometimes” is because of Romans 9 where God declares “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”

    Thanks for writing. You are very good at challenging what is just accepted but using a systematic basis. I tend to view God as more authoritative, but as I study scripture more and more I realize that there is this dichotomy of control and love.


    June 22, 2013 at 1:53 pm

  5. if God isn’t in control, then why do we pray to Him? kind of puts a damper on all those omni adjectives we ascribe to Him (present, potent, etc.). also have spent sometime pondering the trifecta of the relationship between control, temptation, and choice.

    you make me think toooo much. 🙂


    June 25, 2013 at 12:33 pm

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