July 1, 2010

In Complete Control and Not Controlling

My regular followers know I post on lean/agile IT topics as well as bicycling and faith-based views. You agile IT guys – hang with me and I’ll tie a little agile into this before the end.

One of my favorite bloggers is Joe Gibson, co-author of the Ant Developer’s handbook. I like his opinionated writing on topics of interest to me: Java, Scala, Groovy, Ruby, Lisp, Koine Greek and religion. His own translation of old Greek manuscripts and commentary on other translations are quite interesting.

Joey posted a few days ago on how those who use the Bible too often "selectively edit scripture to fit a particular message, or to fit nicely with a pithy saying." This is essentially eisegesis (to draw in) rather than proper exegesis (to draw out). That is, reading stuff into the text rather than more appropriately getting out of it what the author intended. I was passionately into his post, in complete agreement.

Now Joey and I don’t see eye to eye on a number of matters of faith. Yet even when we strongly disagree there is usually some point in his writing that I strongly support. So I was with him right up until he said this:

...the minister was going on about how we need to "stop worrying" and just know that "God is in complete control" and blah blah blah… I’ve always hated that way of thinking. I despise the Sandy Patty song, "God Is In Control," because I do not believe that is true. (Bold emphasis added.)

So I crafted a nice and timely, intelligent, thorough and sound response. Joey’s blog seems to have a multi-step click-post, preview, click-post-again are-you-sure, captcha phrase kind of process that I obviously flubbed because my response never made it to the blog. Time has passed and now I’m here rambling on, many times over what I so eloquently put in my initial response.

So back to Joey. Joey’s next statement shows a misunderstanding of "complete control" and he has made quite a leap.

...if you believe that he is in "complete control" then you have to take that to its logical conclusion. If you believe that every good thing that happens to you is because God wanted it to be that way, then you must also accept that every bad thing that happens to you is because God wanted it that way.

The error here is the assumption that to believe that God is in complete control is to believe that everything that happens to you is because God wanted it to be that way. Let me explain. My kids run wild at times. This is not what I want. "Hey kids! Run around the house, fight some, and drive your mother and I crazy." It’s not what I want, but that’s what happens. I give them some room to exercise their free will. Notice I said some room. I have boundaries and my kids test them. I’m not controlling my kids, at least not most of the time. At least I try to not be controlling. Anyway, I assure you I’m in complete control of the situation at home and am quick hand out corporal punishment when boundaries are reached. In control, but not controlling.

A good agile manager or agile architect does likewise. They aren’t controlling. Rather, they set some boundaries, and otherwise let the team self-organize. They give the team much latitude to decide how to get the work done within some boundaries. Rather than hand out tasks, they encourage the team to select their own work tasks. Yet they remain in complete control.

[Sorry – I have no analogy for you bicyclists. I control my bicycle, but am never fully in control, much to the disappointment of my Dunwoody Cycling buddies.]

Notice that God told Adam that he is free. Free to eat of any tree in the garden but one. God gave man free will. But God also set some boundaries. So Adam was hanging out in this cool garden in complete fellowship with God Himself. But Adam poked God’s boundary so Adam and all of us now suffer the consequences. God’s will is for man to love God and obey his boundaries. God sends no one to hell. God’s will is that no one perishes, but that everyone accepts his free gift of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone. But for love and obedience to be real, there has to be a choice. A choice to disobey. Therefore, God is not controlling our every action and decision. And we will all suffer the consequences of my sin and your sin and Adam’s sin and the sin of others. God does not wish this on any of us.

Witness Job. God allowed Satan to bring disaster on Job and his family. But God set boundaries for Satan. "Go this far and no further" in effect. So God certainly allows bad things to happen, within boundaries. I wouldn’t wish Job’s trials on anyone, but I’m sure glad it happened. There are a lot of lessons for us to learn at Job’s expense, in particular, that God is in control.

Boundaries – God is not going to allow us to interfere with his plans. We can’t blow up the earth, for example, and kill everyone. We can’t wreck the environment such that we all die. Unless, of course, that is God’s plan for how the "first earth" will pass away (Revelation 21). But in that case, there is nothing we can do to stop it from happening either. But in any case, we’ve got boundaries and God is in control. We can certainly kill many and do big-time damage. But we can’t mess up his plans. God will intervene.

God does directly intervene at times. See 1 Kings 22:23 -- "You see, the LORD has put a lying spirit into the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the LORD has pronounced disaster against you." The Bible says that what Joseph’s brothers meant for harm, God used for good. And there are the New Testament miracles.

This is getting long and a bit rambling, and my argument is beginning (or perhaps continuing) to trail off, so rather than wrap it up and put a nice bow on it like Joey does, I’m just going to quit here.


  1. I've read Joey's great post and I find your post cleared some things for me.
    God is indeed in control, even if it's not always the kind of control we'd like.

    God bless.

    1. Glad you found it helpful! And thanks for the comment.

  2. 2 Corinthians 1: 8 We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.

    What if the pandemic was intended by God to bring some people to God, or back to God? What if more people ended up saved, due to that last disastrous 12 months, than would have otherwise been saved? In light of eternity, shouldn't all Christians willingly accept some pain if even 1 more person might be saved? Non-Christians won't get this and will find this thought very offensive. My message isn't to them. My message is to those who have a understanding of heaven, a hope for the future, and who are already living in their eternity.

    Consider Matthew 18 and Luke 15:
    4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

  3. Here's a great article on this topic: https://www.denisonforum.org/resources/who-was-st-patrick-what-does-the-bible-say-about-luck-and-divine-providence/