I believe that control is an illusion.
Humans can manipulate people, emotions, situations, circumstances, facial expressions, and myriad other things. However, humans do not have control, mostly because not only does God have the ultimate control (Isaiah 55:8,9) but humans exercise the ability to make a choice. They may feel forced into doing something against their own will, but this is only because they ignored the other option, whatever it may have been.
You might disagree with me. That’s fine. However, if we, as humans, really did have any control over anything, then why is it when parents raise their children to be fine upstanding men and women of society these children turn away and go against all of their parents wishes? Or when a dear family member is suddenly taken from our lives, why is it so impossible to squelch our grief, even if it’s internalized? I’m not a scholar or a theologian, but if God is the ultimate authority, the ultimate ruler, then what control do we really have?
Here’s my argument.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22,23 (ESV)
If self-control is one of the many fruits of the Spirit, this means that without God divinely intervening with His son, Jesus Christ, we would be incapable of having genuine self-control. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (ESV) Apart from God, we can do nothing. This includes having self-control. I’m not even talking about intense, zen, self-control where someone can poke you in the eyes, pull your hair, and eat your bacon in front of you and you don’t move a muscle; I’m talking about defeating the daily obstacles and annoyances that plague our minds and our hearts. It takes divine self-control to grow even from the small things.
So while we may be constantly aware of our own emotional state and able to manipulate them by justifying, convincing, and arguing, we do not have proper control over our emotions without the help of God. Apart from God, we can do nothing.
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Matthew 6:31, 32 (ESV).
Sometimes we feel that when we worry, we are ostensibly one of three things: responsible, mature, or more in control. I cannot number the times I have planned an event (a Christmas party, slumber party, outing, whatever) and I have worried about how it would turn out long before it actually took place. I felt as if when I worried about it more, I was in greater control of the outcome. Mentioned in the end of that verse in Matthew is the omniscience of God, the fact that He is totally aware of the fact that we need certain things like food, shelter, and clothing. The mentioning of this divine knowledge would infer that God would be the ultimate distributor of this necessities. It’s kind of like saying “Daddy knows you need food; don’t worry about being hungry.” Being the distributor would infer that God has the power to give us what we need; He has the control to keep us fed, clothed, and protected. Despite our manipulations of our own circumstances (applying for jobs, bidding on houses, etc), God is the ultimate giver of finances, food, and that “roof over your head.”
Even over our own circumstances, the ones that seem so personal and so close and in our range of human control, we exercise no control at all.
“…for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” Isaiah 46:9-11 (ESV)
God draws the line of difference between the begging and the end; He ordains events and occurrences to come about; He summons creation. God is in control of time itself.
“In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,” Ephesians 1:11 (ESV)
The Message translation of the Bible puts this verse in an interesting perspective: “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had His eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.” Ephesians 1:11/12 (MSG)
Granted, this particular verse delves into the argument of the difference or the coexistence of free will of humanity and God’s sovereignty, but just put that out of your brain if you can.
We do not have control over our emotions; if we did, we would be able to keep ourselves from falling in love with someone; we would be able to keep from feeling sad about being let down; we would be able to be indifferent when obstacles presented themselves before us. Yet, without God-given self-control emanating from the Holy Spirit, which we receive upon acceptance of the gospel, salvation through Jesus Christ, we cannot hope to exercise any kind of manipulation of our emotions. Even when we grow the fruits of the Spirit, the control is not ours, but that of the Spirit within us.
We do not have control over our own circumstances. While we are completely capable of manipulating our situation, we cannot control whether or not we keep our job, who we meet, if we have money for food, etc. Granted, we can manipulate our situations, but we cannot control them.
Webster’s Dictionary for Students (2007 Edition) states:
manipulation-n. 1. the act of working with the hands or using mechanical means and especially with skill.
2. the act of managing skillfully and especially with intent to deceive.
control-n., v., 1. to keep within bounds; restrain; to have power over.
2. the power or authority to control; ability to control; self-restraint.
There’s a difference. Humans are capable of manipulation…though we are not capable of having ACTUAL control.
Now, you may be running situations like “well, what if I have someone locked in a closet; then don’t I have control over them?” or “well, what if I poison someone’s food? Then don’t I have control over their health?”
First of all, if you have done either of those things….no, don’t do that. Please don’t tell me you have someone locked in a closet or doubled over because their stomach is suffering from food poisoning.
Second of all, those are certainly holes in what I think. I would still like to say that locking someone in a closet is simply a manipulation of circumstance, but it does kind of look like the other person is being controlled by you, doesn’t it?
The food poisoning is a little easier to explain; while the person has a choice of whether or not they consume the food before them, you are also manipulating (in this case, deceiving) them and their circumstance. Make sense?
What’s the point of making this argument anyway?
Well, if you choose to believe that you have absolutely no control over anything, then that means you have to believe that something (or Someone) has control. If God has control (which He totally does), then that means I have absolutely no valid reason to worry. I KNOW beyond a shadow of doubt that if I shouldered the responsibility of exercising control over my life (every area, including my circumstances) I would be a total mess. I would never get anything done; I would be a basket case.
I may not ever be able to appropriately tap into the divine-control of the Holy Spirit to manage my emotions. In fact, I’m pretty sure this whole over-emotional, crazy, up-and-down, I-want-chocolate-one-moment-and-then-want-to-run-throug-a-meadow-picking-dandelions-the-next, thing will be with me for the rest of my life; it’s just my personality. But I do believe that, despite my disuse of the divine fruit of self-control, God is constantly exercising control over my life. He is constantly moving people around the world so that they meet me or so that I meet them at the right moment; He is continuously bringing about events for me to attend and choices that I have to make so He can mold me into the woman He wants me to be; He is forever working out His plan for my life every day I am alive.
God is in control. You just have to choose whether or not you are going to let Him prove it.