We Christians sure do love control.
You can’t really fault us, though. It’s kind of in our DNA – we’ve been doing it for a few thousand years. For nearly two millenia we killed people if they refused to convert. Then, when we came to an informal consensus that killing people for disagreeing with our world view wasn’t really justified, we just kicked them out of church (that doesn’t work so well any more either, now that fewer and fewer people want to attend church).
Then, since it was no longer popular to kill people who disagreed with our religious beliefs, and throwing people out of church didn’t work, we resorted to playing the hell card, not out of any actual concern that real human beings might suffer eternal torment, but mostly just because we wanted people to do what we wanted them to do, and fear is the primary motivational force used to influence humanity (by almost everyone, not just Christians).
We ran into a problem – these days the hell card doesn’t work half as well as it used to because not everyone even believes in an afterlife, or a literal hell. And those who do just figure they’ll deal with it when it happens. We panicked. We were losing control.
That didn’t last long, though. Our pending lack of control led us to throw our hats into the political arena. And the first thing we did once we garnered enough support? We used our new, broader platform to trumpet God’s love, grace and mercy.
Actually we decided to continue trying to control people by brute force, in this case passing laws so that no one could do the things we considered sinful.
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I have a friend who is in the midst of a huge decision. Of course, I know the right decision for her to make. We always do. We always know what’s best for other people, what the responsible choice would be. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by a feeling of frustration that I can’t make her do what I know she should do.
In fact, if I was given the opportunity to brainwash her so that she would make the “right” decision, I would probably take it.
Where does this urge to control come from?
It’s not just a tendency of Christians. It’s a human thing. We naturally want the world to revolve around us, to cater to us, to move according to our views and value systems. We want people to do what we think is right, fair, moral or beneficial.
But control has a way of turning the tables. You can’t control someone else without becoming completely obsessive over them, and, before you know it, you are controlled by your desire to control. You can go crazy with anger or depression when you continually try to impose your will on someone else.
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Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthians, “So, my very dear friends, when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can.”
When we use God to try to control other people, we embarrass ourselves, make enemies of potential friends, and belittle God’s power. Paul identified this as such a serious situation that he encouraged the Corinthians not to barter or try to change these control-freaks – he said, flat out, “Get out of their company as fast as you can.”
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. (Galations 5:22,23 The Message)