Control Or Trust?

Updated: Feb 9, 2019

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me” (Job 38:1-3).

What in the world led to that moment? I have been in a few really uncomfortable situations where someone had to speak a hard reality into my life such as being fired my my boss or scolded by my father when I was young. But can you imagine if it were God on the other end? So, what happened? How did Job get to this point?

Like others in the scriptural record when Job’s understanding of God conflicted with his experience of God, Job fell back on control instead of trust. These two responses are not compatible. We cannot both trust and control. They are opposed to each other. Trust is hard. It requires vulnerability. It requires patience. Trust is a walk blindfolded where you cannot see where you are going, how far you are going or what you might run into on the journey. That is hard. The author of Hebrews puts it this way: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). How can you trust in what you do not have, but are only hoping for? How can you trust in what you cannot see?

Besides for that, our past is littered with painful experiences that did not always turn out how we wanted them to. Our past has mounds of unanswered questions cluttering up the landscape of our present lives. All that baggage makes it that much harder sometimes to trust. That’s why Job is in this situation, and why he is not alone in his reaction.

In the beginning Job did trust: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). However, after days of suffering and the loss of everything, this blameless and upright man (not my words, but he Lord’s … see Job 1:8), has had enough. He just wants to die (Job 3:3). And so begins a debate between three men who started off really empathizing with Job, but who would get kind of mean overtime, and Job who eventually starts challenging God Himself. What is happening? What has become of Job’s initial trust? It has transformed into control.

Here it is in a nutshell: Job and his friends had a simple theology that is actually found in the Bible. This is what they believed: “The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous” (Prov 3:33). Well, that is clearly not happening. And that is problem. Before we are too harsh on Job or his friends, the very theological foundation that has caused all these issues is part of the Bible. Job’s problem is that what is happening to him does not match his belief system, nor that of his friends as all four actually believe the same thing. What do we do when our experience challenges our theology, and our theology is clearly in Scripture? Job could have continued trusting despite this, but that was too hard at that moment. Instead he sought control. He went so far as to challenge God to a bring his case to the heavenly court where Job believed. given the right circumstances, he could argue persuasively for his innocence. Job did whatever he could do to try and control a situation that did not match his understanding.

John the Baptist does this while in prison by sending his men to speak with Jesus in order to confirm that Jesus is really the one who is come (Matthew 11:2-3). Judas does this by making a deal with the Pharisees to betray Jesus and try and force his hand to begin the revolution (Matthew 26:14-16). Peter often does this. He tries to defend Jesus with a sword when Jesus must be arrested (John 18:10-11). He returned to fishing when he does not know what to do with Jesus after the resurrection (John 21:1-3). When things become heated between Jews and Gentiles, Peter turns away from the truth God revealed to him (Acts 10) and goes back to just eating with Jews until Paul confronts him (Gal 2:7-10).

We should not be too hard on anyone who turns from trusting to controlling because we all do it. When our circumstances go haywire and no longer fit within our systems of thought OR they are simply more than we can handle, it seems most of us have a default mode not of trusting God when we most need to trust God, but of trying to control whatever we feel is getting out of control.

While trust is hard, control is much easier to practice. We fall back on control because it is simpler. It is more comfortable. It is what we know. It means we do not have to rely upon someone else (even God). It means we have an ability to direct our future course (as inadequate as that may be). The Israelites made an idol when Moses was gone too long because it was the way of control instead of the way of trust. Moses told them he would return, but there were far too many reasons to doubt that would happen. When our doubt takes over, control provides a (false) measure of security for us. Control helps give our minds something to focus on instead of waiting on God. But, what we all know, and what we see played out over and over again is that control will ultimately fail. No matter how much control we exercise, we cannot control everything. Our attempts to control parallel a sailboat. As long as the winds are just right, we do pretty good job, but when there is no wind or too much wind, we are in trouble.

Even worse is that our attempts to control instead of trust turn us away from the love, provision and direction of God. Our control creates a different and dangerous path for us to travel on. We actually distance ourselves from our heavenly Father who can bring us through our struggle. What we desperately need in these times is a raw, unfiltered and radical childlike faith that does not give in to our lack of answers, to darkness we don’t understand or to pain we don’t deserve or want to feel. We lean either into ourselves or into God, but we cannot do both. Only when we are leaning into God completely do the doors open to allow us to know the “peace” that surpasses knowledge and guards our hearts (Philippians 4:7).