A couple of months ago I wrote a piece titled ‘Who lives my life?’ And the short summary of it was: ‘That’s me, and I’ll really flourish if Jesus is my source of energy’. As a counterpart to that, this text will deal with the question who controls my life. That is: who decides about my circumstances and the events that happen in my life. And I think we can all predict the short summary: that’s God only.
So we know the officially correct answer. But, do we really accept this? With accepting, I don’t mean stoically resigning to the inevitable, but that when something bad happens we accept it as Job did (Job 2:10). I want to stress that this does not mean that we ignore it and try to just make the best of what we still have left, nor does it mean that we must pretend that it is actually a good thing. But I think God invites us to trust him, and to believe that He makes everything work out for the best (Rom 8:28). And I think it also means obeying his commands, trusting that He knows best, and cooperating with him. Obviously, if we can bring ourselves to do that, we would be much happier. Unfortunately I haven’t yet swallowed it. It is hard and it hurts. Frankly, I really don’t like it so much to be dependent on someone else’s decisions, especially when they can be painful and unpredictable.
So what then? If we don’t allow God to be in control, what’s the alternative? Most people nowadays tend to be led by their emotions. ‘Follow your heart’1 is the adage. Or, as my previous ICT company chose as a new slogan: It’s all about emotion. This was one of the things that made me change my job. Especially in programming, but also very much in real life you must keep your head clear of any prejudice and open to all facts, otherwise you will just not see what the real problem is. A brilliant book, full of great examples of this, is Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman. It’s about the first World War, and she is especially good at highlighting how the emotional states of the generals and the likes affected their ability to make decisions. People completely overlooking clear facts because they didn’t fit into their plan. Or the opposite: seeing things (even as large as battleships in a harbor) that they expected to see, but in reality weren’t there at all. Although most of us probably aren’t programmers, nor in a war2, we still should be aware that if our emotions take over we are likely to make decisions that will have us end up in more trouble.
So, no emotions in control. Then we will be rational people. Perhaps this is especially tempting for Christians, because we think that God will bless us when we are behaving as He tells us, this gives us some sort of feeling of control. The fear of losing this control will make us even more afraid of doing something wrong. I think that the parable of the prodigal son depicts these two options: emotional versus rational. The younger son follows his desires and quickly ends up in trouble, making it easier for him to see that he can better return. But the eldest son is in more trouble, sadly just because he is trying so hard. Being rational makes you believe that you are right, and all troubles are not your fault but of the other irrational people. Needless to say, you don’t make many friends this way3. And he was only trying to do as he was told! Please don’t be too hard on him, because the Bible and the Church are always telling us what is right and wrong. At least a few people are bound to take that seriously, don’t you think? For us, onlookers, it is obvious that he had one blatant sin: he didn’t love his brother. How is it possible that this escaped his own notice? I think the answer is, as Dallas Willard4 says: In a world apart from God, the power of denial is absolutely essential if life is to proceed. If we want our own rationality to be our God, then we must ignore the obvious flaws in it, otherwise it won’t work.
The possibility that nothing or no-one is in control is so dreadful that I won’t expand on it, so now I am back at the beginning. I have not found anything trustworthy to control my life. I am rather unsure about God, but trusting him is the only option that is left. It is a rather negative way of saying it, but perhaps still a helpful push in the right direction. Thankfully God is more than willing to help us out of this impasse, and He is constantly trying to show us his love, if only we would be willing to be quiet and listen. I’ve jotted down in a poem one of the times that God reached out to me. Hopefully it helps us all to see that God really cares about us.
God begged me out
To walk in the rain.
His tears fell on me,
Was He feeling pain?
He cried over me,
It made me start.
Don’t cry, dear Lord,
I will change my heart!
Tears poured down,
I continued my way.
Tears of joy? Or sadness
About my delay?
Dear Lord, I cried,
You know I just can’t.
I want to be yours,
Please give me a hand?
As the rain washed the earth,
It looked brighter, more whole.
I thought just perhaps
He was cleaning my soul.
- This use of `heart’ is different from how it is used in the Bible, where heart means the deepest inner core of our life. For a good explanation of how to open your inner heart to God and let him change all aspects of our human life, so that we can really enjoy living and working together with God, see Dallas Willard’s book Renovation of the Heart.
- Actually we are, see Eph 6:20
- Blocking emotions also makes it difficult to feel loved and to love, and so connect to people. See, for more info, the book Feeling Loved by the psychologist Jeanne Segal.
- Again in Renovation of the Heart. Dallas Willard has really some very liberating things to say, there are also lectures by him on Youtube that are very much worth watching.