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THE TONY CROSS COLUMN

Article No. 74

Control freak?

We don’t like losing control of our lives in any way! The worst punishment we can give someone in this country is to sentence them to life imprisonment – when they lose their freedom and, correspondingly, control of their lives. When people are imprisoned by sickness or by other circumstance – at an airport, a motorway hold-up, a road accident or whatever – we see frustration generated and often we see real anger erupting.

We like to be in control of our lives – the more control the better, generally. It is important to us all, except the dropouts, and even they exercise a kind of control in their rejection of normality. Managing our lives just the way we want is so much a natural part of our being that we hardly think about.

Sometimes, however, it becomes obsessive. One aspect or another grips us and we become control freaks – the man who cannot be late by even one minute, the woman who must have the house just so. We recognize over-control when we see it; we rarely realize how much control is part of our everyday approach to life.

Our desire to be in control makes us wary of people who are dominated by an ideology – the 9.11 group, for example, or suicide bombers – and this distrust extends to religion. We find ourselves drawing back from people who we think are obsessively religious. Don’t we all have reservations about people who run the various cults in our country? We sometimes say that people in these cults are brainwashed – that they have lost their objectivity. They are controlled, at least to some extent, by their odd beliefs. They have ceased to exercise the sort of control we expect of others and ourselves.

This fear of losing control over our own lives and destiny can make us unwilling to venture into the religious world. We are so afraid that it might entail us in doing something that otherwise we would not want to do, that we draw back from participating. ‘I don’t want to become a religious freak’ might be our thought. Or maybe just ‘I don’t want religion to disturb my life’. If we are comfortable with the way our life is going and if we feel we have got things pretty much under control, then why upset it by going the religious route?

The Christian believes that God is in control. Completely in control. It is perfectly simple: God created everything that is, he sustains every thing that continues to exist, and he is in control of everything.

If God is in control then how can I be in control of my own life? Fatalists think that we are not in control. They think that all that happens is pre-ordained and that we can do nothing to change our destiny. In a lesser way people who read their horoscope are thinking in the same way. But this is not what Christians believe. They believe that God is in control but that he has accorded to us all a measure of freewill. We can choose to follow the Way shown us by Jesus or we can choose to go our own way.

But if God is in control of everything, how can we as Christians be exercising our own freewill? Is our freewill an illusion? Or is God not in overall control? It seems difficult to reconcile the two.

The answer that I accept is that we are finite and that God is infinite and therefore we cannot even begin to understand, while we are on this earth. It is beyond finite minds to understand the infinite. That answer I find totally satisfying, because I accept that God is infinite and that he stands outside our space-time system, as well as in it.

Rather than trying to control every aspect of my life, as a Christian I step back and accept that God is in control. That means that everything that happens is within his overall purpose. If it were not so then it wouldn’t happen. My job is not only to avoid trying to always control what happens to me (using my reason and my effort), but also to accept that whatever happens is part of God’s overall purpose. This means that I seek to react to whatever happens to me in a faith-filled way. What is a faith-filled way? It is a trust that a loving God is in everything that happens and that my task therefore is to be confident that there is an appropriate response for me to make as a Christian.

What most of us do most of the time is try to control what happens to us. We consider it our obvious duty to try to manage our lives by directing our every step. We favour good things and try to avoid bad things. That is entirely natural and understandable, but such an approach is amoral - it does not require, nor is it based upon, any element of faith in God. In reality, of course, it is also ineffective because we can only ever have very limited control over our lives. Circumstances and sickness, wars, floods and plagues are illustrations of where our ‘control’ is overtaken by events.

If my faith is genuine then I can rest in the knowledge that whatever happens to me (and everyone else) is God-ordained, God-purposed. Within God’s plan. And there is a best response that can be made by me that will accord with God’s purposes.

This applies to gay people in the fact of their sexuality. It takes years for some gay people to accept that their sexuality is part of their makeup. They do everything to avoid having to accept that they are gay. This is perfectly understandable given all the drawbacks of being gay. Only people with character need apply! You have a steep learning curve about people and about life once you accept that you are gay.

But when a gay person comes to terms with their gayness and realizes that that is how God has made them, then a new realization dawns – God intended me to be like this! He created me like this! It is not a mistake, nor an illness! It is how God intended! That is a truly transforming moment.

Suddenly a new world of opportunity opens out. If God has made me like this then he must intend me to live to his glory as a gay person. If God created me like this then I have a part in his eternal purposes. I need not live forever apologising or feeling inadequate because I am not like the majority. I am me. And I will exult in my being me. I offer all of me to God and I accept from him all he purposes to give me in this state of gayness.

St Paul, referring to the fact that previously he persecuted the church, said (1 Cor 15.10) ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’ – gay people especially need to say to themselves and to the world ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’. I can be no other.

More than that. We need to be proud and thankful for being gay. Proud? Yes, because it is obvious from history that the gay section of the population carries a high proportion of creative and artistic talent. I won’t extend this by starting to recite the long list of distinguished people who, down history, have been gay. Examine your life to see how God has gifted you. Maybe you are artistic? Or maybe you are musical or are talented in some other way. Which are the latent talents you possess? Maybe they will only become apparent when you launch out into the next phase.

And thankful? Yes! Because, above all, you have been given life. In addition you have been given sensitivity and all the challenges of living as a creative minority in society. As a gay Christian you also have the privilege of helping your homophobic Christian brothers and sisters come to a better understanding of God’s world. At present they are blinded by they way they have been brought up and indoctrinated against gay people. But you can show them the love and patience of Christ. What a privilege! Think of it – by the grace of Christ operating through you many people can come into a better understanding of the love and grace of God.

Whoever you are, whatever your age or circumstances, God has created work for you specifically (Ephesians 2.10). There is every reason to be excited, exultant, proud and thankful – the Almighty God has blessed you and chosen you for work that only you can do.

I can happily live without being in full control of everything that happens – because I believe that all that happens does so only because God has caused or permitted it to happen. That means that he will not let anything happen to me that he and I cannot cope with together. Does the car of a teenage tearaway knock me down in the street? I can survive that with God’s help. Am I struck down with a fatal illness? I can cope with that with God’s help. Does a bomb shatter my family? I can deal with that with God’s help.

Nothing, but nothing can come between us and the love of God (Rom 8. 38-9). In this world I know that I can totally trust in his caring love. I know that I am looked after by a loving Father, no matter what happens to me. Let the world throw the worst it can at me – his love is still greater and it covers me and will guide me all my life through. That is the faith which sustained the faithful as they faced the lions in the Coliseum and died singing their Christian Hymns.

So now I seek to live life in a faith-filled way. I am not in control and I don’t need to be. He is in control and I believe it and trust in Him.

Tony Cross

August 2004


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