June 25, 2008

Control Freak

2008 1518 page17 caporces spin us at about 1,000 miles per hour (mph) around the axis of the earth, itself circling the sun at 30,000 mph, which is orbiting the center of our galaxy at 485,000 mph, and this galaxy is careening at a face-flattening 1,235,000 mph through a universe that, itself, could be moving as well.
Yet we have as much influence over these forces that move us as we do the social, political, and economic ones that move us as well. Bankers in China, oil magnates in the Middle East, bureaucrats inside the D.C. beltway—any one of these, or thousands of others, make decisions that can turn us inside out and upside down. And we have no more influence over them than we do over the sunshine. Indeed, we’re as helpless before the weather as we are about the past that has brought us to the present.
“Cleopatra’s nose,” wrote Blaise Pascal, “had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.” That is, who knows what quirks of fate, what trivial and arbitrary whims of history, have reshaped the world and, hence, our lives in it—lives that we’re stitched into without our own consent.
2008 1518 page17We didn’t choose our grandparents, our parents, our birth place, our IQ, our upbringing, or our genes. Any one of these factors can have great impact on us; together they pretty much have made us what we are—even if we’ve had no more say in them than characters in a novel do in how they are written, or a painting in how it is painted. You had no more choice here than you did in deciding among the hordes of spermatozoa which one would make you you, not someone else.
Every day, all around us, swirling and whizzing vortices of forces, factors, and powers, seen and unseen, natural and supernatural, inside and outside us, shape our lives without asking our input or opinion. A driver swerves into our path, a spouse’s heart turns toward another, a tumor silently forms in a pancreas, a child yearns after forbidden things, the economy kicks in your teeth. You chose none of these, nor the course of Betelgeuse across the cosmos, nor the moods that wash over you like a breeze out of nowhere.
I’m not talking hard-core materialist determinism, the idea that everything—from the abdication of Edward VIII from the British throne, to the price of gas next month, to your early morning depressions—was already prefigured and wired in at the Big Bang, and thus all that was had to have been, all that is is required, all that will come inevitably must be. I’m saying only that forces over which we have no control, that we often don’t understand or see, can toss us around like dust.
Ironically enough, perhaps the scariest force can be our own “free will.” Why? First, because sin can no more exist without free will than a smile can without a face. Second, think about all the stupid, foolish, and compulsive things you’ve “freely” done.
How grateful we need to be, then, for the sovereignty of God, because He has proven to us—through His Word, through sacred history, and perhaps through our own personal experiences with Him—that He not only knows these forces, but He transcends them and will somehow use them for “good”; at least as much “good” as can be in a world so spoiled and defiled by the evil that the abuse of our free will has brought.
Sometimes I can barely control my thoughts; What, then, can I do about the function of the neurotransmitters in my brain, or the fluctuations of the dollar against the euro and the yen? Nothing, except acknowledge my helplessness—surrender moment by moment to Jesus, who has “put all things under his feet” (Eph. 1:22, KJV), who has declared that “all power is given unto [Him] in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18, KJV), and who “has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:22).
With whatever tiny corner of our mind we can control, we need to choose Jesus and His promises—our only hope against all those forces, inside and outside us, beyond our control.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. He is also featured on the Hope TV program Cliff!