Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Illusion of Control

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. "Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life." The LORD said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?" Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, "Death is better to me than life." Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be angry, even to death." Then the LORD said, "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 3:10 – 4:11, NASB)
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It was one of those moments where something dawns on you in a way that never happened before about that particular idea. I wasn’t directly thinking about it, but I did have thoughts of a friend in mind. The friend had expressed some frustration about a family situation (the particulars don’t really matter) and had made a statement about how difficult it was to give control over to God and just let Him have His way. Several days later, while driving and listening to an entirely different passage, these thoughts came pressing down on my mind.

Laying aside the standard lessons about rebellion and repentance and even turning the focus from the obvious imagery about the three days Jonah spent inside the great fish, I have come to believe that, for the modern Christian, the book of Jonah is presented to us to help demolish our illusion of control. And while I will continue to believe that God in His sovereignty has given us complete free will of choice, control is never part of that bargain. Jonah made that mistake multiple times and God consistently showed who was ultimately in control.

A quick reading of the book of Jonah finds at least six comparative references to Jonah making a choice and God intervening in the situation, showing that He is in control of all events and outcomes. Jonah chooses to flee … God hurls a great wind at the ship. Jonah convinces the sailors to throw him overboard … God appoints a fish to scoop him up. Jonah chooses to pray and repent … God causes the fish to vomit him up on the beach. Are you seeing the same pattern here as I see?

In the midst of our making choices and decisions, we all too often act like Jonah and think we can somehow manipulate God and wrest control from Him. We plot and plan and scheme to “make things happen” all the while causing God to either laugh or weep as He continues being Who He is and deftly controlling every outcome. His purpose will be done regardless of our participation, yet we seem to think we can overcome that by our own force of will.

How much less pain and how much more joy would we experience if we would actively seek God regarding our choices and give over our illusion of control? Jonah held on to his right to the bitter end and even wished to die based on his anger over a plant (one that God “appointed” to grow in the first place). While we see the choice of repentance from the people of Nineveh, we only see bitter remorse and regret from Jonah because he didn’t get his own way. And the truly sad thing is, if I will be honest enough to admit it, I am more often like Jonah … I like my illusion of control.
If you have seen the VeggieTales take on Jonah, you may resonate with the remark of the worm/caterpillar Khalil who, while he is leaving Jonah’s side, states, “You are pathetic!” Our illusion of control is definitely one that should be demolished so we don’t end up like Jonah. May God rescue us from our own choices and guide us to be comfortable with His control.
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  1. Are you struggling with your own illusion of control? What is it in your life that causes that struggle to continue?
  2. Do you truly believe you can make better choices without considering God’s plan and involving Him? As Dr. Phil would say “How’s that working for you?”
  3. How much of yourself do you see in Jonah? Are you struggling with an angry response to what God has done or is doing in your life and in the world around you? What will it take to shatter your illusion of control?

NASB - Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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