A bit of honesty here. I’m an artist with a perfectionist bent. This means two things: I like playing God a little too much and struggle immensely with the control I know I don’t have over everything and every one that’s not Ben Davis. I know the only thing I genuinely control is how I (re)act either in love or spite towards others. That’s it. Yet, control (which I now understand plainly to be the misguided perception that I’m greater than God) is most often the thing that gets me. The odd thing is that ‘control’ is something that the loving God of Christianity, the God I claim as my own, gives over instantly and innately in the greater context of the faith. We’re never to define God. And I believe there’s so much truth, human humility, and divine praise in what Peter Rollins speaks about when he says that even when we speak of God we must know spiritually and intellectually that we’re speaking of something so much better, complete, and magnificent than our words could ever truly capture. This is a small tangent, but it’s a romantically philosophical thought that I truly believe captures the essence of God’s grandeur and mystery juxtaposed against His creation:
A few quotes of his I like:
“The argument is made that naming God is never really naming God but only naming our understanding of God. To take our ideas of the divine and hold them as if they correspond to the reality of God is thus to construct a conceptual idol built from the materials of our mind.”
but he then goes on to say…
“That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”
Both talking about our inferiority, yet our need to address the all mighty, greater than ourselves THING that made us (God). I’ll get back to this, but for now:
Even if Rollins claims that while speaking of God we’re only speaking of our understanding of God, I believe that understanding is blessed, interpreted, and cared for via the Holy Spirit… and from that, in the very least, one of the facets of God’s character that we see over and over again in the Bible from the fall of man through Christ’s friendships with his disciples is this: the God of the universe — the God far greater than the words I’m using to describe him now — gives up control for his creation.
Think about that.
It’s truly an incredible act of love, one that’s perhaps only rivaled by that same God’s sacrifice.
CS Lewis talks about this idea at length here in THE CASE FOR CHRISTIANITY:
“Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they've got to be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (...) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”
It’s 3:30 in the morning. I gave up on sleeping about twenty minutes ago. My struggle with control gets the most real during these times. It starts like this. I wake up, I start to worry about all the things I can’t control—the job/girl/achievement/friend I can’t please or win, I pray, I still can’t sleep, I start to blame myself beating myself down for letting these ‘weaknesses’ happen, I eat a granola bar, I start to get angry that I can’t even control the fact that I can’t sleep, and I fall asleep. It’s a bad, bad cycle that ran rampart through the middle part of my twenties when, to be blunt, the only God I served was me.
Earlier this year I visited a Christian therapist in LA a few times. I explained to them my battle with control/anxiety and how it often gripped me hardest in the middle of the night, when ironically, there’s nothing to act on. At 3AM there’s nowhere to throw that pent up angst toward ‘winning’ the friend/job/girl/achievement, which can be hell for a romantic doer or gesture/action driven person like myself. He asked what I did when I woke up in the middle of the night with this longing for control?
Get frustrated. Pray. Get more frustrated. Fall asleep.
He asked me how I prayed?
I told him. And when I heard what I said out loud, when I heard how I was praying, I realized my prayer sounded a lot more like dwelling in my own lack of control — like a declarative mandate for God to make me Him. I don’t mean this in a pure way — I’m not talking about the sanctification of my spirit to through Holy Spirit, I don’t mean praying to be more like Christ, or anything like that. I mean like a raw, backroom deal I’m trying to make with my creator to exalt me above Himself. \
My therapist helped me realize that I was projecting my need for control onto my relationship with God and that some humility may be in order. That instead of focussing on how I can use God to fill, fix, and love my life, that I pray in those moments of “control freak outs” for God to humble me so that I trust (trust is the opposite of control) the Spirit has healed what’s broken inside me and allow instead God to use me to love and fill others. After all, it’s far better for God to use us than for us to use God. Until I got a better handle on projecting my fear/lack of control, one of the things that was suggested to me was listening to podcasts.
The habit has stuck and I’m now thankful for months of soulful 3AM sermons that have humbled my heart and gently reminded me I’m not in control. One of these was a Breakaway sermon I listened to tonight titled “When A Man Loves a Woman” over 1 Corinthians 13:11-13.
1 Corinthians 13: 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
After I listened to the podcast (linked here — it’s amazing insight on dating and how to love well) I read the passage and all my pre-described thoughts on Rollins, Lewis, control, free-will, love and the majesty of God seemed to run together in these three verses:
I now saw that my projection of myself as God was acting “like a child” in my Faith and that “becoming a man” and maturing in Faith meant humbling myself before God instead of asking Him to exalt me over Him. And in the line “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I felt a poetic bit of kinship to Rollin’s description of how the enigmatic might of God might humble us, this is (I think) coupled plainly at the same time with Paul’s intent of pointing towards the value of living with an eternal perspective. And finally, all of that is summarized plainly in the tools that can make all of this useful: faith, hope, and love.
I wondered, at first, why I had read over this so many times. I wondered why so many people missed verses 11-13 and focused exclusively on the “patient and kind” bullcrap from 4-9 when this part of the text was so much richer with philosophical theology.
Duh, Ben. “But the greatest is love.” See, before leading us through a deeply personal and theological metaphor of adulthood and a road map of sanctification that could help us save our lives with love, Paul makes sure he defines this complex word (love) by telling us very specifically what it is and what it is not. It’s not fluffy, sentimental bullcrap for weddings and t-shirts at Mardel, it’s a thoughtful and intentional teaching that the founder of the church desperately wants us to implement in our lives.
And through this rigorously deep instruction of love, you know what it’s never defined as?
I guess my point is: if the God of the universe, so great that we can’t comprehend Him but yet because of His greatness can’t help but talk about Him, if THAT God can love us to the point of allowing us control… then… shouldn’t we be able to do that?
Shouldn’t we be able to deny ourselves the control we seek over other people in our lives and instead love them by trusting them—knowing that God made them well and gave THEM free will just as he did us—out of HIS love?
And even more importantly, shouldn’t we be able to seed control of our lives for the God that allowed us the gift to seek that control?
I think so, I think we can, but I think it’ll take love.
(FOR FUN, HERE'S A PHOTO OF ME LITERALLY TRYING TO CONTROL ANOTHER HUMAN BEING FOR MY JOB:)