Talking with my brother recently—I wish over coffee—we mulled over our controlling tendencies.
Beginning in childhood, we all acquire a few battle scars:
- Chronic chaos
- Loss of a loved one
- Frequent moves
- An absentee parent
- Bullying at school
- Never good enough
Whether major or minor issues, no family is perfect. But if wounds remain untended, we close off pieces of our heart.
Desiring to protect the broken pieces, we decide, “If it’s going to be; it’s up to me,” playing let’s make a deal with the world—beginning with God.
Quoting my brother. “I think most people make an unspoken deal with God—
“I go to church, pray and try to be good, and God keeps bad things from happening to me and mine. Most of us buy into this in the beginning. We pray for safety and health for our families and try to earn that response from God.
“Then something terrible happens, and we get angry with God for letting us down, not holding up His end of the bargain. It’s all control.”
“Oh my goodness! You nailed it, brother. I did this until 3 years ago.”
We achieve, then receive.
The subtle nuance? We act, then God responds—we’re in control.
My brother continues, “The fear comes after the terrible event. We’ve lost control. How do we get it back? What now?
“I don’t think many of us immediately decide to trust God. It’s so hard. We try to rework another deal to regain control because we’re now afraid of more terrible things happening.”
This theology pervades western Christianity. But it’s upside down. Jesus acted first, in love, when we were at our worst. He loved us to death, literally.
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8
He moves first; always in love. He is love—utterly incapable of acting apart from it. So, in actuality, it’s the reverse.
God achieves, then we receive.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
Maybe you’re thinking, “I know salvation’s free, but I can earn good gifts. God makes multiple “if-then” promises, right?”
He does, and indeed there are rewards for obedience. But when Jesus came, He fulfilled all the laws, so we no longer have to—we get to because of love.
Christ set us free to love because He first loved us.
So, how do we reconcile bad things happening to good people? I will never pretend to know; I still struggle to understand, but I believe it comes down to one thing:
My youngest daughter took a 4-year intensive worldview course in high school. Reading the collegiate level books with her the first year, we got into Calvin, and I silently slipped into a crisis of faith, eventually making an appointment with my pastor.
I can’t debate Calvinism vs Arminianism, but something he said gave me a peace I still possess when atrocities happen around the world or close to home.
“When I don’t understand why, I trust He is good.”
It’s a decision—a mindset I preach to myself. Between the heartbreaking global crises and my family’s continued struggles, if I didn’t believe and preach this daily, my feet would not still be hitting the floor each morning.
Faith helps me endure—awarding hope and guiding me to the truth that I am:
Everyone who belongs to Him is! (Ephesians 1-2)
Therefore, moment by moment, I can relinquish my feigned control, and stop making deals with God. Because everything He does is for our ultimate good and His glory. (Romans 8:28) Certainly, an eternity of comfort and joy awaits us, both in heaven and today! (Psalm 23) But don’t mistake them for consumer comforts. What Jesus offers is infinitely more relieving, restoring, heartening and delightful. Why?
The world is broken, but Jesus wasn’t.
We can rejoice when we run into problems and trials, for we know they help us develop endurance. Romans 5:3
Jesus comforts us in trials, and they’re divinely purposed—making us stronger, opening our eyes to God’s truth, allowing us to help others struggling as we have.
Can you envision a world filled with people whose chief aim is to love Jesus and others? The seeds of love sprinkled everywhere—and it starts in our heart:
- Resting– with Him
- Relying – on Him
- Rejoicing – in Him
- Reaping- by Him
So, back to my sibling conversation and control—it usually takes a crisis to understand we possess very little of it.
At that moment, we decide—faith or fight. It’s not easy, but we can choose surrender, releasing our desires into the most capable, tender hands ever known—the hands that formed the world and then were pierced to save it.
Faith goes up the stairs love has built and looks out the windows hope has opened. Charles H. Spurgeon