So, it’s the 4th of July, 2013—Independence Day, as it’s sometimes known. It causes me to think of the freedom we’re offered in Jesus, and of a world that is constantly trying to take that freedom back—a world, it seems, populated more and more by controllers.
Control vs. trust– -polar endpoints on a divine continuum? Are they mutually exclusive in a life of faith? My obsession with this paradigm comes from two books that impacted me tremendously: People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck, published and read back around 1985, and Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning, published and read in 2002.
The late M. Scott Peck, MD was a Christian psychiatrist with impeccable credentials, and his book is about evil—evil people, psychopaths—and by implication the evil being underpinning our fallen world. For me, Peck’s main point is that the impulse to control others for our own selfish, and often nefarious needs, is the essential evil. I see it everywhere, from non-trusting spouses and control-freak bosses, to one nation or race or religion trying to destroy (and thus control) another. Murder is the ultimate manifestation of control. It makes the news every day in stories about someone (usually a man, usually a narcissist) killing their spouse, and in the horrific stories of children beaten to a pulp by an enraged parent trying (and failing) to impose their will on their child.
Religion or religious systems are great ways to control people. I see it in religious cults like Gothard’s IBLP, and in overly legalistic churches and denominations like the LDS (Mormons)—and churches that never mention the freedom we’re offered in Jesus, and that dwell overly on “the rules” and all the doctrinal and dogmatic paraphernalia that many see as being necessary to being a believer. The IBLP and Latter Day Saints are just two cults that quickly come to mind—there are literally thousands. I don’t think the plethora of rules they espouse are really needed. What Jesus offered as the keys to the kingdom were pretty simple: love God; love others. The rest is largely an extension of someone’s comfort zone–and that’s why people become controllers–so they can live in a predictable and comfortable world. To hell with the world of others as long as mine is comfortable.
I think denominational control is the prime reason mainstream Protestant denominations are dying off. Some guys in the home office in Omaha think they know what’s best for a local body of believers—not. They are five decades and two time zones away from reality—so caught up are they in their little control paradigms that the world has moved on and they didn’t notice.
I see control issues in the homeschooling movement. Given what we see in public education of late one cannot fault parents for wanting more say in what their children experience–and surely, the impulse to educate our kids responsibly is benign? Not always. Some draconian parents simply feel the need to control every aspect of their child’s life. My own thought is that it can be a prescription for an eventual rebellion. Also, I think in some cases responsible, caring parents are not necessarily parents competent to teach. But some have given in to the spirit of fear by removing their kids from public education. Lots of parents simply can’t give up control enough to allow others entrusted with rearing and educating young people to do their jobs.
And I see the impulse to power and control in trends and movements. I’ve been reading recently about another wannabe trend called the “New Apostolic Reformation.” This is all about certain “religious leaders” and their attempts to recapture part of the spirit of the First Century Church by reinstating or reviving the roles (office) of “apostle”or “prophet”–as in there are apostles and prophets and there is the rest of us–and guess who the apostles are that want to delegate apostlehood?
I think going into the ministry or priesthood is just a cheap way for many to acquire power and control. How many of us grew up thinking our pastor surely had God in his hip pocket–and so we paid close attention to their every word. How many trusting people could simply not imagine a man of God being a sexual predator? But as the scandals (Bakker, Swaggart, etc) have unfolded in the mainstream media over the past few decades we realize that many ladies have been subject to the predation of ecclesiastical males. My blogger friend Jim Wright has lately been exposing the predations of one of the organic church movement’s gurus.
And then there are the kids. We all know about the Roman Catholic Church’s attempts to cover-up or downplay the sexual abuse of young boys by priests. It is costing them a ton of money now–and rightfully so. And because of that it appears to be causing long needed changes. But Protestants and Evangelicals are not immune to this evil. Boz Tchividjian has a ministry (G.R.A.C.E.) devoted to uncovering predatory child abuse in the church. And there is a current brouhaha over Sovereign Grace Ministries and that franchise’s effort to sweep ongoing sexual abuse allegations under the carpet.
“All this power will I give thee. . .” (Luke 4:6). This is the offer satan makes to Jesus–and to us. Power/control constitutes the single longest section of my book on our Lord’s wilderness temptations. I list twenty examples of what I see as societal abuses of power/control. I perseverate on it so much because it troubles me so much.
However, for me, the ultimate abuse of power/control–and the greatest evil stalking this planet today is the holocaust of the unborn: abortion. Most abortions happen simply because a pregnancy or a child is inconvenient. Sadly, many powerless feeling women feel the need to have the power of life and death. It is all about them–and not about the life of another. Abortion is the story that isn’t deemed newsworthy by the mainstream media–or discussed in polite discourse–thank goodness the Kermit Gosnell trial and its macabre horror story is finally out of the news! Abortion is the 500-lb gorilla in the room that everyone ignores.
For many, I think, prayer is just another form of control. If we say the right words we can get God to perform, and fulfill our wishes like some magic genie. Surely, the right incantations will release Him to do our bidding. I think it is that way for some people. I think quite a few of us pray in a spirit of “Hey God, how about helping me out with this” and not “Thy will be done.” I think that’s what’s behind the “health and wealth” and “word of faith” ministries that are the staple of TBN–the big hair network.
Lets face it, in this day and age the most dicey factor is other people’s behavior. The controllers, folks not comfortable with ambiguity or unanswered questions want to make the world as predictable as possible. They want everyone to think alike–to think like them–so hopefully, all will behave alike and thus make the controllers reality more predictable, more comfy. They want to control everybody and every thing. But C. S. Lewis said, “To live in a predictable world is not to be a man.” I think real manhood means staring down and coping with life’s chaos and unpredictability, and trusting God enough to say like any good 12-stepper, “My life is unmanageable.”
The world doesn’t generally appreciate loose cannons, devil’s advocates or truth sayers (prophets). It seeks to shut them up–and if they don’t go quietly, then kill them. Maybe, its just me, but I don’t find God all that predictable, or knowable. I think it was R. C. Sproul who said something to the effect, “If you think you understand God, then either you are, or He isn’t.” He doesn’t ask us know Him as much as He asks us to trust Him. Like Moses, He gives us glimpses of his backside. He lets us know just what we need to know, not all there is to know, and He takes followers on strange and dangerous journeys from Abraham and Jonah on to down to Peter and Paul.
Jesus’ first words to Peter and Andrew were, “Follow me . . .” And His last words to Peter were, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.” (John 21:23). In Ruthless Trust Brennan Manning says that Jesus gave his life for our trust, and our only possible gift back to Him is that trust.