This morning I listened on the radio to the new song “Control” by 10th Avenue North. The main line of the chorus, after which the song is named, is telling God “I give you control” (full lyrics here). I couldn’t help but think as I was listening – is that really what God wants? Does He want control over our lives? Does He want to control our every action and every decision? Given that God’s very nature is relationship (which is, by the way, why we as beings created in His image are made to be in relationship, why we crave and long and search for it, albeit in all the wrong places — but that’s another post), does wanting control fit? Is that what you want in your relationships — control? Do you want to be able to control your wife, or your husband? Or your parents? Or your children? Or anyone really important to you? Is that really what you are looking for?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not banging on 10th Avenue North (I like a lot of their music). I think I understand what they are trying to say (at least I hope I do). But I am increasingly alarmed by how we talk about God, what He wants, how He feels, who He is — and how the way we talk about Him does not reflect The Truth. We consistently stray from (or sometimes deliberately avoid) using His words to describe Him, and use our paraphrased, often well-intended, but nevertheless anemic and wrong characterizations instead.
God doesn’t want control. We are given strong evidence of this from the very beginning. God created man, put him in the garden, gave him a companion, and then gave them what? A choice. He gave them everything they needed, and then told them of something they needed to stay away from. He did the very opposite of taking control; He gave it away, to them. And He did so, knowing fully (because He knows the beginning from the end), that they would misuse and abuse that control and make wrong choices. Even when they blew it (and they really, really blew it), God’s answer wasn’t “Ok, give me control back again, you can’t handle it.” That wasn’t His answer because that’s not what relationship is about. And relationship is what God is after.
Sadly, in an ironic twist, people would not only misuse the control God gave them, but they would ultimately try to control Him (for some good examples, read the rest of the Old Testament). God is not some magic talisman for us to wield against the injustices of our lives, or to bring us the blessings we so desperately desire. This is how the Israelites often treated God, particularly vicariously through their use of the Ark of the Covenant. Tragically, it is also often how many professing Christians treat God today. But God neither wants control, nor to be controlled. Both are antithetical to relationship, and that’s what God really wants.
This presents a dilemma, among others, to the reformers among us, who argue not that God wants control, but that He never actually gave it away even in the minutest details of our lives. God is most certainly sovereign, and His Sovereign Will will ultimately prevail, but not by Him using the remote control on our lives. God uses His sovereignty to grant to man the one thing necessary for the kind of relationships we all long for – choice. We are no more compelled to love God than we are to love each other. Love has always been a choice, which is why it is also a command in the Bible. In fact, it’s the greatest commandment, and the second one which is like it; it sums up all the commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). We choose to love, or not to love. This is how the earliest Christians understood it from God’s Word (a good study of this can be found here), and this is a clear message of the Scriptures. Why would Jesus command people to love, or to do all sorts of things, if He knows some of them never will, or even can, because ultimately He controls all of them? That’s more than weird; it’s perverse.
What God wants is most certainly *not* control, or He never would have given it away. Rather, by giving it to us, He has shown that what He wants is our love, demonstrated by our faithful , willing obedience to what He has commanded. He wants to be our delight, the apple of our eyes, our greatest desire. Giving up control and giving it to God doesn’t make Him that. Giving up control for too many is really just trying to abdicate responsibility, something which Scripture clearly teaches we cannot do. We *are* responsible precisely *because* He has given us control. It’s what you do with that control that matters, and that shows what matters to you. Giving up our preferences, and our will, in favor of His, goes a long way to communicate how precious and valuable He really is to us. That’s not giving up control; rather it is exercising it to show love. It is using our will (given to us by Him) to bend our desires to His will, and doing so joyfully not begrudgingly. This is what God wants. This is what we were created for.
Isn’t this what you want in your relationships? Doesn’t it make you feel loved when your spouse decides to prefer you, and chooses your likes and wants, over their own? Doesn’t that build trust, and affection, and real connection? Isn’t this what you want from and for your children? Isn’t it what you’ve always hoped for in every relationship?
God doesn’t want to be your pilot. And for the record, He has never been interested in being your co-pilot either, despite what the bumper stickers might say. Rather, He has mapped the expedition He desires for you and Him, together (Hebrews 12:1-2). He wants you to choose it over your own. God wants you to pilot the ship (i.e. “run the race”), but to fly it where He wants to go (“marked out for you”), and to trust that it’s going to be exactly what you need, and that ultimately, it will be worth it. It’s not love if He’s the one piloting it for you. I don’t want my daughters to just stop flailing and go limp so I can carry them everywhere. I want them to walk beside me, and to delight in us being together. This is exactly what God wants.
So show Him, by using what He has given you – control — to consistently, gladly, excitedly, choose Him.