when control goes bad


We like to think total control would be awesome!  Think of phrases like, “controlling the weather” or “price control”.  “Control” from the Get Smart TV show was the name for the good guys, “Chaos” the bad guys.  But there are other times we readily admit control is toxic.  Like in relationships.  We speak of “controlling spouses” or “controlling bosses” and this is never a compliment.

What We Relinquished

As Christians, the very act of becoming a Christian came down to the relinquishment of control to God.  Saving faith in Jesus meant I gave up the control I had over myself, control I exercised in pursuit of my own version of goodness and happiness.  Instead, I cast myself on God’s powerful arms, trusting his control of my life and all life.

The pandemic is testing whether this faith is theory or reality. 

Experts Say

In early March, the University of California San Francisco held a panel discussion of infectious disease specialists on a new virus which had, at that point, killed 41 Americans. These experts not only estimated 60 to 70% of America’s population would eventually contract the virus, but our best attempts to contain it, either through lockdowns or contact tracing, would be, in their words, “basically futile.” (Business Insider).

9 months later, the lack of strong correlation between lockdown efforts and any semblance of control over COVID spread is bearing these words out.  But how it grates against us!  We seek and expect total control over everything.  The great leaps we have made in science, medicine, and technology have taught us to believe we can control everything.  We live with an assumption the world is totally understandable.

This makes us what Dr Craig M. Gay calls, “functional atheists.”  We believe, Gay says, not only can we “comprehend reality in its totality,” but “we are capable of rendering it stable and predictable.” In other words, we will ultimately make the world “work for us.”

Who Would Not?

Of course, who does not want this level of control? 

Now, Christians do affirm the use of will and human power in the direction of God directed, good ends.  Like lessening suffering for example.  However, what happens when we face something we cannot control?  Oh, it exposes our power addiction!

COVID is an existential threat to the “convenient fiction” of our control.  John Stonestreet said,

  • “How quickly we went from the “we acknowledge we can’t control this” of the UCSF panel of experts to “we absolutely can and will control this” of our elected officials.”

The Worst Part

And here is the worst part our control addiction:  anger and fear.

If you think we can control everything, then when anyone contracts COVID, it is because someone failed.  Somebody screwed up.  Everything would be great, if it were not for you morons!  It could not be because it is a novel, incredibly contagious, 100 nanometer virus which we don’t fully understand. Nope, practical atheists want control. When control is lost, we get angry.

Or we get afraid.  A friend of mind from AC3 said to me this week, “I think anxiety is a symptom of the heresy of control.”  It is true.  Anxiety is what we feel when faced with an out-of-our-control world.  How terrifying it is to bear the weight of controlling this fallen world without a good God to trust in!  Oh no, it is all on me!  Fear!

A Little Clarity

Therefore, this moment is so clarifying for us.  Are we practical Atheists or actual Theists?  Christians act in the world as if God is a part of everything.  Which includes a pandemic.  Has COVID escaped God’s notice?  Did COVID overwhelm God’s muscle and break through unbidden, or did God allow this?  If God allowed it, does he not know where it came from, and how it will end?

Some of you, your brain explodes when you think about God ‘in charge’ of a pandemic.  This makes God a monster, you think.  Reform your thinking with the truth:  What is truly evil in this world is not caused by a good God.  Nevertheless, a good God can and will use what free agents intend as evil, for good.

Example:  Paul looked at some physical ailment in his life as evil – it was caused in some way, by spiritual evil.  Yet, over this, was God.  A God who agreed, this ailment is evil, it is not caused by me. Yet it is allowed by me, it is under my supervision, for a purpose. Why?  To teach him this:

  • “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So, because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:9-10

No Fear and Calm Down

Therefore, unlike practical atheists, we do not have to be angry or afraid.  Because, if God works out all things for good, we do not have to be angry about mismanaged control by free agents, both human and spirit.  And we do not have to be afraid.  We can instead rest in our limited understanding, our limited powers, and our limited control, because God’s control, unlike others’, is always good.

More thoughts or questions check out our Ask Anything page.