The Illusion of Control


“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Happy are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:10-12).

On Monday, October 6th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down almost 370 points.  It closed below 10,000 for the first time in four years—and all this following two weeks of economic panic in the world financial markets.  The talking heads are throwing around phrases like ‘global recession” and “the great depression redux.”  Tonight, John McCain and Barack Obama will gather to debate.  They will (one hopes) lay out plans for how to negotiate the troubled times ahead.  What bothers me, though, is that while both are laying claim to exceptional financial vision, they will try to situate themselves as having been right all along, while both will say that his opponent was hopelessly “inexperienced” or “erratic,” and therefore incapable of managing the ship of state.  Inherent in such a political argument is that somebody, or some party of somebodies is ultimately in control—that all that stands between us and happiness and prosperity is the right candidate and the silencing of his opponent.  Billions of dollars vanish into thin air as the Presidential candidates speak about their ability to exert dominion over the economy.  I hope the irony doesn’t escape us.

I love to feel in control.  I imagine, therefore, that other people feel this way.  Further, I imagine that people who have power are prone to feeling this way (which is probably why they got into the power business in the first place).  The illusion that we can order our world in such a way as to preclude inconveniences like poverty, crime, racism, and danger is presumptuous at best, and idolatrous at worst.  We live and move and have our being in ways that suggest we have conjured up life, movement, and existence by our own initiative — by having such things as a sound domestic policy and strong military.  We have repeatedly failed to see that life itself is a gift.  We have no more real control over our world than we have over God.

And maybe that is the point: We think perhaps that by our tireless organizing and speculating and legislating that we can finally impose order on God — and in the process become (of sorts) gods ourselves.  The problem with that, of course, is that God is even more stubborn about maintaining control than we are.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.

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