It occurred to me as I finished my last post, that I still have some things to say about this business of seeing God’s engagement with the world in terms of control. As I wrote, God’s power in the world is expressed as love. Not love as a sentiment or feeling, but love as a stance toward the other–a commitment to the well-being of the other. It intends to do something, though what is produced is not predictable and can’t always be seen through a cause and effect logic. But God’s power as love has a huge advantage over God’s power as control in terms of being a fit for the way we actually experience the world.
Seeing God in terms of control, however, has other, associated problems. Our understandings of the church are seldom too far from our understandings of God. If we think of God in terms of control, we are likely to think of the church in those same terms. William Placher, in his excellent book, Narratives of a Vulnerable God, observes that most people come, in a sense, with a category or inclination about what is meant by the word God, and for many that word is associated with power expressed as control.
This picture of God works well enough when people sense control of their lives or the sources of cultural production. But what happens to people who understand God as control, when they feel like they’re losing control? To put it more to the point, what happens to the church when they feel like they’re losing control of their once dominant role in American culture?
They fight to regain control. Losing control is more than just a political reality. It becomes tied to understandings of God, making the response, in my opinion, all the more desperate and intemperate. God is implicated in our sense of powerlessness, and necessarily a character or sponsor of our attempts to regain control. I think this ties God to a myth of violence, where the gains we feel we have made have to be protected from intruders or taken back from interlopers. This kind of boundary patrolling is inherently violent, whether that violence appears in the form of social scapegoating, overheated or hate-filled rhetoric, or actual physical violence. We fight to maintain or regain our sense of control. (Can you think of any group interested in control that is not implicated in some sort of violence? It is an inherently violent way of viewing the world).
I frankly wonder what story we believe about God when we are hell-bent on regaining control. It’s not the story of the cross. It’s not the story Paul tells in Philippians 2. I say, let the Romans use the power of control, the reign of God comes through the power of enduring love which always expresses itself in giving up privilege. And the irony in this for me is that I think we will end up having more influence and authority with our neighbors than if we or they think of God as our muscle who is interested in our regaining control.
And I think that if we are not desperate about out loss of control, we’ll say fewer troubling things about how God is involved in shootings, hurricanes, and elections.