Command versus Control (or, scary versus safe)


“Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly. ‘My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?’”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

I have always been uncomfortable with the phrase “God is in control.” When terrible events occur in my life the least comforting thing to me to hear is the phrase “God is in control.” All I feel inside is “Really? God caused that?” (though I do know for others, that the concept of God ‘being in control’ is comforting and reassuring, and I’m not criticising that). I have never really been able to articulate my discomfort until my mind started to resonate, while reading these two chapters, with the distinction drawn between commanding authority and mechanistic control.

In our churches the idea of ‘control’ has seeped into our language from the language of secular modernity – where invention and machines and progress became man’s ‘god’ and we started to understand the world mechanistically, rather than relationally. Man began to believe that he was the centre of the world and that it would only be a matter of time before all things could be controlled – disease, natural forces, everything. For Christians, the right response is to believe that in fact it is God who is in charge of these things; but maybe not in same way as the modern understanding of control. Instead, Christians think of God as a King who issues decrees and makes commands, and think of ourselves as his subjects living within the boundaries of those commands. He doesn’t do our jobs for us, and he doesn’t make decisions for us – but we certainly know from our King’s decrees and commands how he wants us to live as his subjects, what we are to stand for, to care about, and to work towards. Within these boundaries, we have freedom.  

I loved these two chapters because they empower us to live out bold and creative lives, knowing that our Commander is at the helm, taking His world in the direction that He desires and plans for. This is an incredibly freeing idea, and not only causes us less anxiety but empowers us to really live without being weighed down by fear that we might make a mistake and accidentally sin, or make a wrong turn somewhere. We have been given His Word to follow, and mistakes are not something we need to fear anymore but instead are something to learn from.

Let me put it this way: have you ever felt, sung or thought that you are immensely undesirable and have nothing to offer your church? Or do you ever, as Cary puts it, feel as though you have worked at being nothing so that God can be everything?

The good news is that God has graciously chosen us to be his stewards while he is away. And like Faramir, the Steward of Gondor, this means doing all within our power to protect the interests of Gondor until the rightful king returns to claim his kingdom once more. As we read in Ecclesiastes,

Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. … Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?”

Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm,
and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure…
Since no one knows the future,
who can tell someone else what is to come?
As no one has power over the wind to contain it,
so no one has power over the time of their death.

We don’t have to be rid of ourselves, but in fact use the good things that God has given each of us in unique measure, to do the work of the King is his Kingdom until he returns: freely, creatively, and learning how to do it better from our mistakes along the way. In this way, we become more of who we are meant to be: better subjects, better stewards, following the King’s commands more closely everyday.