He said to the disciples, “Why are so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 4:40
Control: kənˈtroʊl [kuh n-trohl] – to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command. Control has always been a capital“B” capital “T” Big Thing to me. Friends, jobs, relationships, family, dog’s bathroom habits, cable channel remotes … all of these and a thousand other things offer abundant opportunities to exercise my “control-at-all-costs” gene. Control. Sure, I’m the master of it!
My genetic pre-disposition for control showed itself early. In sixth grade I alphabetized all 63 of my mother’s spices – much to her dismay, as she apparently didn’t cook on an A-Z basis. Later, I would iron. Iron everything (nothing like a good crisp crease to make the world right).
It turns out Control is also one of our species’ favorite pastimes. Look around at the endless devices we’ve erected to “control” our environment. We feel if we can just bring order to chaos and make the unpredictable a little more predictable we can make sense of an incomprehensible world. Control becomes our answer to the soul-searing question “WHY, God?” Control becomes our proxy for … Love.
This is especially true in times of traumatic global calamity – for example in the face of horrific events such as the Holocaust of World War II. Survivors from death camps like Auschwitz and Dachau tell heartbreaking stories of watching their fellow Jews being marched to gas chambers, wondering aloud why God had so utterly forsaken them.
“What happened?” they wondered. Why had God forsaken their covenant? Why did He not protect them now? A group of Auschwitz prisoners felt so moved they conducted a formal trial, to try God for His indifference (this true story was turned into a BBC television special entitled God on Trial in 2008). For those who find this a curious notion, putting God on trial would not have been a blasphemous oddity, but rather something altogether understandable to Jews – in the tradition of the psalms, the Book of Job – and even Christ’s terrible accusing cry from the cross: “Why have you forsaken me?”
In the end, a group of prisoners finds God guilty. And immediately, one of the rabbis among the prisoners says: “So what do we do now?” The reply is classic: “Let us pray.” That is, the Jews accepted God for what He was.
I thought about this story as I read the verses from Mark 4:30-41. This passage is the well-known episode of Jesus calming the waves during a storm while his Apostles panicked. I was curious with a line from near the beginning, where the evangelist says, “They took him, just as he was, in the boat.”
What might this mean? For context, Jesus had been teaching people by the lake all day. Mark mentions several parables in this chapter (the Sower, The Mustard Seed, The Growing Seed) and the implication is that by day’s end Jesus was exhausted, probably in need of rest, maybe a bit withdrawn. His Apostles had been with him all day, and were probably just as tired. Perhaps they wanted rest. Perhaps they wanted to eat. Yet, the passage tells us they cast aside those concerns and took Jesus, as he was, in the boat with them. Jesus may not have delivered what the Apostles needed at that instant, yet they accepted him.
I travel a great in my business and often read books about faith while in flight. It’s fascinating to me how many folks I meet are interested in talking about the matter of belief. Frequently the subject of God’s role in their life comes up, and often it takes the form of disappointment – either God has disappointed them or the church hasn’t lived up to expectations, or they believe they’ve somehow disappointed God, and turned away from Him in shame.
Obviously, in these situations people feel hurt and abandoned in some way – by circumstances, or God, or God’s people, or their families, or even by themselves. I’ve talked to many people who have a similar reaction: “I don’t need people or gods who I can’t depend on, so I’ll be my own protector.” The ultimate profession of “control.”
This profoundly saddens me because it is so obvious these individuals are crying out for love or compassion yet can’t see that the problem is their own need to impose order and control rather than turning their eyes to God in humble acknowledgement that we cannot know all things as God knows them. In the absence of control, we abandon.
Jesus had an entirely different approach.
Indeed, Jesus’ ministry was built on a deep and profound reconciliation between people and God, as he continuously reminded his followers. He admonished the Pharisees and Sadducees for their insistence on arcane rules and points of Law as a way to control the lives of men and maintain righteousness. He chided the self-righteous and pious leaders of his time who rejected those who showed less adherence to the Law than they.
Perfection is a fiction existing nowhere except in our imaginations, where it rages like an out-of-control virus
In contrast, Jesus modeled love and reconciliation in everything he did. He accepted everyone, meeting them where they were, loving them as they were, assuring them God loved them the very same way. There was no requirement to perfect their lives before they could enter the Kingdom. He did not try to control their hearts or thoughts. He showed them the Way and invited them to follow. Love wins every time with Jesus.
Yet Saved does not mean Perfect. If God required us to be perfect, there could be no salvation at all. Perfection is a fiction existing nowhere except in our imaginations, where it rages like an out-of-control virus, leaving nothing but the wreckage of human shells devoid of emotional or spiritual depth in its wake.
I hear this over and over from people who feel they’ve been pushed away from God by the controlling motives of those who require them to measure up to some arbitrary standard of alleged perfection. And how many personal relationships have been destroyed by this very issue? It’s sad that people often turn their backs on God (or each other) when their expectations aren’t met. How many times have we run away from God because we perceive God has let us down?
These are all examples of our reacting to a world we don’t understand by trying to seize control. By abandoning someone who has hurt us, we control our emotional outrage. By turning our back on God when we find ourselves in the midst of what we consider unwarranted calamities, we control our own inner sense of justice in the world.
Such acts of desperation masquerading as bringing order and chaos and meaning to our lives are, in fact, the very things that destroy souls. Control is not the answer – forgiveness grounded in love is. When Jesus said “turn the other cheek” he wasn’t encouraging masochism. Instead, he was teaching us that the urge to take control of a perceived wrong by inflicting another wrong will only perpetuate the brokenness of the relationship. Forgiveness, accepting people as they are, loving them as they are (or even in spite of who they are) instead of attempting to change them into the perfect example of whom we think they should be is the very essence of living a Christ-filled life.
To be sure, forgiveness and acceptance don’t mean we’ll never have conflicts or need to exhort or correct errant behavior. In the story from the Mark, Jesus
accepted his disciples, and loved them, even though he was dismayed by their lack of faith. He probably didn’t appreciate being awakened from a sound sleep (I wish I could sleep that soundly in a tossing boat!) and if he reacts to low blood sugar the way I do there’s a pretty good chance he wasn’t feeling altogether hospitable (they didn’t have Red Bull in those days). Yet, he also gently scolded them for their inability to trust God.
It’s ok to tell people (or God) when you’re hurting because of something that happened. It’s healthy and normal to say “this is causing me pain,” or “I think what you’re doing is self-destructive” because that’s what people who really love each other do. That’s what real relationship is about. And that’s the kind of relationship God wants to have with us. It’s the kind of authentic relationship in community that we should have with one another.
Because in the end, Love really does win.