Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Control and God and Us

I have a tendency to do stupid things when I'm feeling out of control. My underlying unhelpful belief seems to be that I get my control from passive rebellion. That is, as long as it doesn't involve direct conflict, making the wrong choice makes me feel more powerful than the right one. At least temporarily. After all, if I do the thing I'm supposed to do, I'm just letting other people and factors push me into it, right? If I do the opposite, it's my choice. I think that's the emotional thought process operating below the surface.

Everything that I feel I should do is in danger, even if it's something I really want to do. Even small things like replying to an email (sorry, friends). Of course this leads to feeling even more out of control, for I'm not following through. I'm all over the place, and I can't trust my future self not to sabotage my present self's desires.

Now, what Christians like to tell anyone having control issues (or to just say in general, informing the public at regular intervals) is that God is in control.

This is very true. He is. I'm not, or, at least, I'm not in control of quite a lot of things.

This is an important distinction. Maybe if I were a better person the fact that God is in control would be sufficiently comforting and helpful. But then again, maybe there's another truth, not so frequently mentioned, that He wants me to grasp. Just maybe.

See, God is in control, but He's given us a certain measure of control as well. That's why we're held responsible for our actions -- He's given us choices! We have the power to decide how we will act! Isn't that... control? Yes, yes, I think it is.

So no, I don't have power over life and death. I can't make the sun shine or water fall from the sky. But I am not one hundred percent helpless, either. I have power, and I will be held accountable for that power. That's important. Really, really important.

I mean, even if you're a hardcore Calvinist, you still have to do something with all the passages in the Bible that hold us responsible for our actions. There's a tension there, and woe to him who destroys that tension in order to fit everything into his nice little box. I once heard it said, "Pray like a Calvinist, live like an Arminian." I can go with that.

You (O theoretical Calvinist) might say that God is still in control of our hearts, desires, and decisions, but that He will punish us for our wrong decisions nonetheless, and who are we to question God? I don't believe that's supported by the whole of Scripture, but even so, in practice, regardless of who you believe has ultimate control of your decisions, don't you try not to sin and to live a holy life? That's more or less what I'm talking about here. Living in accordance with God's will, how He's designed you to live. (If you don't know what Calvinists and Arminians are, don't worry about it. These paragraphs are written to those who have a hangup on this issue.)

So what does this mean? When I find myself doing stupid things because I feel out of control, what should I tell myself, if not "God is in control"?

Well, I've started reminding myself of the decisions I've made recently. This includes the decision to get out of bed, and at what time. It might not seem like much, but some days, it really is. I might think I don't have a choice, but I do. If I'm in that "let's do stupid things because I feel out of control" mode, I often get up way too late, and even make myself late for work. Sometimes very late. To just shut the world out and stay in bed all day, hiding under the covers? Yeah, I bet I could do that. Given sufficient depression, yeah. I could do it, and screw the consequences.

So I remind myself that I didn't, that I got out of bed. And so on. Good and bad, I look at the decisions I've made. Then I look at the decisions coming up that I'll be able to make.

Weird that reminding myself of my screwups can make me feel a little more safe, but it can. Because I had the power to make those screwups. They weren't inevitable, they were choices. I might make them again, but I really don't have to. I don't have to. Okay, it might seem obvious to you, but it means a lot to me.

It's no easy instant fix for all that ails me, but it does help a little. Thank God.

On the other hand, it is true that it's not a technique that seems to ever be portrayed in Scripture. I'm trying to think what was normally said to the people in the Bible who just wanted to curl up in a little ball because the world seemed like too much...

There was Elijah, running off into the desert. Hmm. God's answers in such cases seem... complicated. Individual. Unique.

Anyone else see a pattern here that I'm not getting? Am I wrong, does God tend to just tell people to trust Him?

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