The Illusion of Control

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And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

(Luke 12:18–20)

When I was a kid, I frequently developed night pains in my legs. My parents told me that they were growing pains. I don’t think there is any evidence that physical growth is painful, but I know that spiritual growth often is.

Some growth comes through pain we choose. We call that discipline. Other growth comes through pain we do not choose. We call that a trial. Neither discipline nor trials should be wasted. The COVID-19 pandemic is a trial of global proportions, and biblical wisdom calls for us to use, and not waste, it.

Humans tend to live with the illusion of control. Christians are not exempt from this, even if we pay lip service to a profession that God is in control. Yet Christians know, perhaps better than anyone, that our greatest seasons of growth come in times when that illusion of control is shattered by unexpected forces.

Luke 12:16–21 records a parable about the illusion of control. In it, a wealthy landowner constructed enormous barns to store his abundant crops. When the abundance kept flowing, the landowner decided that he would tear down his existing barns to build even larger ones. He boasted, “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” God responded, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

The landowner did not know that his illusion of control was about to be shattered. He was about to learn a hard lesson.

In times of trial, like the one before us, we do well to remember that we do not possess the power to sustain our own lives (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). Trusting in our own strength and resources is foolish. Instead, we ought to surrender control to God, who has both the power and the will to sustain us. In this regard, Skye Jethani writes,

Recognizing the illusion of control and surrendering ourselves to God is the beginning of faith. Being endlessly self-delusional, however, we often need a crisis to see and admit our attempts at control are foolish.

Have we, instead of being deeply grateful for God’s abundant supply, trusted in our own strength rather than the Lord’s? How we need to be awakened from this folly!

The coronavirus is undoubtedly evidence of God’s wrath against sin. It is another way in which the creation groans under the weight of sin, awaiting the day of redemption (Romans 8:18–23). At the same time, this trial is an opportunity for growth. It is an opportunity to be reminded that we are not in control. We never were. The sooner we recognise that, the sooner we will cast ourselves on the Lord and trust his control of all things.