Random Blog Clay Feet: July 19, 2008
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Control or Authority?

Over the recent past I have become more and more uncomfortable with using the word “control” when referring to God's relationship to our lives and especially to what goes on in this world. Because of the implications intrinsic in the way in which this word is used it conveys popular misconceptions about God's character and fosters a great deal of hidden bitterness in the hearts of millions of people.

Nevertheless it is a very popular theme in much of Christianity. There are popular songs written to promote this belief, and if considered carefully one will come to realize that songs are one of the most powerful means of instilling beliefs that there is. A great deal of the beliefs of many Christians is derived from the theology in the songs that they listen to far more than in any personal study and examination of the Word of God for themselves. This is why so many errors can perpetuate for so long undetected because there is so little accountability to the virus-checking function of the Word of God.

This idea of insisting that God is in control is possibly one of the most widespread assumptions in Christianity. It seldom is challenged as it never occurs to most people that there should ever be any doubt about it to start with. But if they stopped to consider it much more carefully I think most people would soon come to realize that in their real heart they don't really want God to be in control nearly as much as they thought they did.

What I have observed is that people like to believe that God controls events and people's choices as long as this God controls things for the benefit of the person believing that idea. It is definitely part of the create-god-in-your-own-image syndrome. Since we are ourselves addicted to wanting power and control over others we tend to gravitate toward belief in a God who will reinforce our desires and punish those whom we think are not making things work out the way we want. However, when it comes to our lives being at odds with someone else's concept of God and their desire for God to control or punish us to come into alignment with their desires, we recoil with horror and label them as heretics or even dangerous terrorists.

Just think about the world conflicts and tensions brought about by the discrepancies between the typical Christian view of God and Islam's view of God. Most Christians tend to view Muslims as dangerous because they are often so militant and violent in their promotion of their religious views. But if you stop to think about it more carefully you would realize that Christian's desire for domination and promotion of their pet beliefs are not that different as far as the issue of control goes. Muslims simply believe in a God who is to be defended at all costs and unbelievers are to be eliminated. But deep down inside many Christians harbor similar beliefs and want to eliminate all those who don't agree with them by converting them or causing them to become powerless when they refuse to cooperate.

So it can be seen that both sides of this conflict subscribe to the notion that God must be in control and many times His human followers are eager to help Him be in control. Our ideas about religion are deeply infected with the poison of belief in the power of force and coercion if gentle persuasion does not have its intended effect. The history of the Dark Ages is filled with the results of this kind of thinking and it is not nearly as far away from us now as we might imagine. We still worship, to a great degree, the god of power and control.

But to suggest that God is not in control sounds at first like one of the greatest heresies that a person could suggest. I know that many recoil with horror at the first thought that maybe God is not in total control and are afraid to even discuss that possibility. But again, if we are willing to be honest and consider the implications of a controlling God seriously I think most people would come to loath the idea of a God in total control because in their heart they know that they despise such a God.

Cherishing a picture of a God who is in control also affects the way we relate to each other and especially those under our “control” such as our own children. I have personally been aware of unspeakable horrors perpetrated in the name of godly control in the home by husbands or mothers who have tragically mistaken views of what God is like. Outsiders look on these situations with total disgust and unbelievers jeer at such examples of religion gone awry. But if we were to be really honest we would see the seeds for similar potential in our own hearts of flesh and particularly found embedded in these notions of the need for control.

Control, as the way it is typically inferred, is in direct opposition to the concept of freedom that God has such passion about. We simply have very little concept of how important freedom is to the heart of God. This is because of the blindness brought on by our addictions to power, control and force that permeates nearly everything else we believe in our hearts. Because we pay little attention to what is really important to God and instead try to make God out to be the enforcer of what we think is important, we largely miss the ability to see things from God's perspective or value the things that God deems most important.

Our theology of a God in control has lead to a lot of tragic notions when it comes to times of grief and pain. Because of our mistaken ideas about control we come up with suppositions and theories that fly in the face of reason and end up sometimes doing more damage to the heart than healing. We think we are comforting someone who has just tragically lost a child by telling them that God is in control and wanted to take their baby to heaven to be with Him. But in reality we are enforcing a picture of God as a selfish being up in the sky jerking us around on a whim with little consideration for our feelings or needs.

Our belief of a God in control also leads to all sorts of other false ideas that are generally accepted by popular Christianity too numerous to enumerate here. It lies at the root of popular Evangelical notions about the physical, political nation of Israel being restored to a place of power and prominence in the last days. It sometimes figures prominently in our nationalism and patriotism and our penchant for confusing the desires of God for the desires of our politicians to control other nations in the world by force if necessary. We find ourselves frustrated when this God who is supposed to be in control doesn't seem to be utilizing His abilities and powers to control things the way we think He should and so we sometimes assume that He is waiting for some help from us.

Insisting on a God who is in control influences the way we conduct evangelism and infiltrates many of the beliefs and conclusions we arrive at even in our study of the Scriptures. This is not a new notion and all throughout history can be seen the ill effects of people desiring a God who is controlling – of course always on their behalf and not the other way around. When it comes to someone else's idea of God being in control and ourselves being on the controlled end of that exercise of force we suddenly shift gears and then insist that their God must be a false God and their religion is dangerous. We then tend to turn to our own notions of God and try to figure out how to help Him be more effective in staying in control. Thus all of religion becomes something of a power struggle between opposing belief systems about God all subscribing to the use of force to accomplish their domination.

But the real truth is that God has no interest whatsoever in being a controlling God and He never created our hearts to thrive in such an environment. The whole problem of sin did not catch God by surprise and He has not needed to change tactics or His character to deal with this problem that has infected the universe. What He is about is working in and around and behind all things to bring us to a clearer revelation of the real truth about Himself and the truth about His feelings about us so that our hearts will be won back to allegiance to Him without any force or coercion. For the use of force is an element introduced by the enemy of all righteousness and has absolutely no place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So if it is considered that maybe God is not in control in the way we usually think of control, then what relationship does He have over events in this world and our daily lives? As frightening as this scenario is for some to consider, if it is potentially true enough to examine then what is the alternative belief that will replace our penchant for believing in a God who is in total control? And how could we even come to appreciate the superiority of a God who does not control?

The real crux of this issue is the incredible respect and value that God places on the freedom of the intelligent mind and heart and will of every individual that He has created throughout all His vast universe. The real problem that He has to deal with in overcoming sin in the universe is not bad behavior but maintaining respect for the rights of freedom that every person has to not love. Yes, that's right, the freedom not to love. For love by its very nature is impossible to coerce, for the moment that force or coercion is introduced then any love that was ever present in the heart of the individual instantly evaporates and fear takes its place.

You see, God only accepts the service of true love and nothing less than this will ever satisfy His desires for any of His children. Love by its very nature must come from a heart free to not love or it is something other than love. If one stops to think about it carefully, our own hearts crave to be loved with this kind of unconditional love ourselves because that is just how we were designed – in the image of God. So to employ any amount of force precludes the very existence of real love and any imitation of love simply does not satisfy the heart the way real love can and must do.

So for us to live throughout eternity in the presence of a perfect God who is Himself the very embodiment of love we must be restored to a state of perfect freedom fostering spontaneous love based on genuine appreciation for the love that God has for us – for love cannot be based on fear. This is made explicitly clear in 1 John. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)

If we were not designed to be controlled or to control others through the use of force or punishments, then what motivation is left to obey God? This is a very frightened question that often comes up into the minds of many who have been “serving” God from a basis of fear for all of their lives. They honestly believe that if we are not afraid enough of a God who waits to inflict dire punishments upon any who dares to cross His will that there would be no incentive left to obey Him and everyone would suddenly fall helplessly into the arms of temptation and would follow every evil desire of their heart. And that is true in the absence of a knowledge of the real truth about God and His passionate love for us.

But “obedience” based on fear of punishment is also based on selfishness at its root, and selfishness can never produce true love. This is why, when properly understood, God, in fact, never punishes the wicked directly in spite of what we assume the Bible teaches. Yes, God has used human language and adaptations to convey His warnings to us that make it appear that He uses threats and punishment to coerce obedience. But when we pull the veil back and we see more clearly into the real workings of God's heart, it will be seen that God is simply respecting our choices and allowing His protection to be removed from our lives in response to our insistent rebellion against Him and the natural consequences of sin take their course.

One thing must become very clear in our thinking, and the sooner the better. It is SIN that kills, NOT GOD. God is the Source and Author of all life and God does not go around conflicted with Himself. Death is not a punishment dealt out to anyone who refuses to pretend to love a God who threatens them with punishment if they don't love Him. Death is simply what happens to a person who refuses to align themselves with the only Source of life that exists.

So if control is actually a counterfeit, then what is the legitimate principle that it is counterfeiting? The bottom line issue at stake that we must relate to in this most important arena of our life is authority. And there is something quite interesting about authority that is often overlooked; authority must be given or ceded to someone, it is not something demanded or imposed on them. Authority is a choice made by the person living under authority, not something coerced on others against their will.

Our sinful hearts have all of our lives lived under the authority of Satan, the archenemy of God instead of choosing to make God the rightful authority for our lives. But since authority (along with love) cannot be forced on us by God, then if we are ever to experience the reality of salvation that He has provided for us, we must choose to come under His authority in response to a knowledge of His real love and kindness and compassion for us. Fear does not inspire love and God never attempts to do what our heart was not designed to do. It is only by love that love can be awakened and it is only by respect and love for the real truth about God that we will be attracted and drawn to cede authority over our hearts and lives to a God who genuinely cares for our heart no matter how good or bad our performance may be.

So the real truth about control is that it is actually a very convincing counterfeit of true authority and has become very confused in the minds of nearly everyone in this world. Subsequently we have projected these mistaken views of authority and control onto our beliefs about God and tend to view His actions toward us in the light of our own ideas about obedience and authority instead of the truth as it is in Jesus. We need to engage in a much more careful study of His Word and His dealings with His created beings all throughout the whole conflict brought about by Lucifer's rebellion and see more clearly the true heart of the Father.

If I want to know God and experience the power of His transforming love in my life, I must be drawn to Him by fresh revelations about Him to the place where I will freely choose to make Him the ultimate authority of my life above my own selfish desires that clamor for control. God will never offer to control me against my will, but He does offer to transform me so thoroughly through the presence of His indwelling Spirit and the influence of His kindness that I can become a loyal servant filled with the real joy of love to the One who loves me beyond all comprehension. I will become so glued at the heart level in my attachment to His heart that it can only be described in human terms as a love-slave, a bondservant of Jesus Christ. This is how many of the apostles came to see themselves and they enjoyed using this term to describe their emotions about their relationship with God. And this is the kind of relationship that I crave to experience much more fully as I get closer and closer to knowing the real truth about God.