The Illusion of Control

Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)

For some reason, though everything tells us otherwise, we all seem to have this illusion that we are in control of our lives and our surroundings.

I may be speaking a good deal from my American perspective, but I do feel like it’s more of a human thing than a cultural thing. (We Americans just have more resources to fool us into the illusion that we have control.)

Think about it. We can basically do anything we want, any time we want. We can eat any food we’d like, no matter what the season. We can wear any clothes we like (for the most part) because we have our climate perfectly controlled. We can operate on any schedule, since we have lights to replace the sun.

Our current technology takes it a step further. We can access practically any information we want from any place at any time. That’s astounding. To those of you too young to remember a time when with “the internets” that might sound less amazing, but it is truly remarkable. Then add all the other ubiquitous means of communication (cell phones, email, you name it) and we can even be somewhat omnipresent: doing our job or living our lives through a virtual presence.

We can get anywhere we need to in a very short amount of time. Medicine can prolong our lives far beyond what was possible in centuries past. We can have as many or as few children as we want for our family to have. (And there is even the potential to change the life growing inside the womb before it is born through our knowledge of genetics, no?)

All of this stuff (and so much more) makes us think that we are in control… until something happens.

It can be minor, like a kink in your schedule for the day. Maybe an accident sidetracks your plans for the day and the immediate future. Maybe an appointment goes long. Maybe illness causes a long-planned event to be rescheduled or missed entirely. Maybe something as simple as the weather changes your plans (or worse).

Or, it can be a much more rude awakening.

Not one of us is immune to death. We are all mortal. That is the one truth that I’d say even trumps “taxes”. We don’t know when it is coming, but we do know it’s coming. For us, and the ones we love. Our parents, our spouse, our kids. Everyone.

But we go through life assuming that we have tomorrow. It’s because we think we have some amount of control over what happens around us. (And I’d say we do have some, but much less than we think.) It’s just an illusion. A mind game that we have played on ourselves, really.

Do not take for granted the time that you have with the people you love. There is nothing more important than them. We have a friend who lost her Dad not too long ago, and I know she wishes she could have more time with him, even the smallest amount. And I think that’s probably a universally true sentiment.

“You don’t know what you have till it’s gone.”

But it’s not just about the ultimate, guaranteed loss that we will all experience. Most of us multiple times over. There are other ways we live the illusion.

We are sometimes fooled into thinking our money guarantees us some amount of control. We have all sorts of (wise) plans to save and invest and manage our money… but the reality is that could all be gone in an instant. Whether a technological catastrophe that could deny us access to whatever funds we have, or a rapid and complete crash of the value of whatever currency you use, or (more likely) something less global, but equally personally devastating. You just never know. Whatever our current amount of wealth, it is definitely not a constant or a given.

Beyond these things, we even have this notion that we are in control of other people.

Perhaps we parents exhibit this the most. We tell our kids what to do, give them specific instructions, and witness the power of our words and influence in their obedient actions much of the time. Our kids are, for the most part, the compliant sort. We know we can trust them. But they’re normal kids. They’re people. All of us have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.


We can’t even control ourselves.

We—you and me—are not in control. Bad things will happen. Accidents will happen. Mistakes will happen. Evil and malice will happen.

The other constant—the other thing we can be sure of—is that God is good. He is love. And he loves us. That is so foundational to a life fully lived. If we know that he is good, and we live knowing that despite all of our flaws, quirks, idiosyncrasies, he is fully committed to us—loves us, is for us—then as the verse says, “nothing can be against us”.

That’s how we are able to break free from the illusion.

When we can admit that we do not have control—that all this stuff we think we can count on (including fellow Image Bearers) is at some point guaranteed to fail us—then we are free to really live. Our freedom comes from the trust we have in the One who is in control. Because we know he’s on our side, he’s for us.

It still hurts. Life can really beat you up sometimes. Often, even. But we know that we’ll make it to the other side. (Eventually to the other side, if not before.) And we know that God’s not just waiting for us on the other side, we know that he’s with us every painful, broken, seemingly-chaotic step of the way.

While everything else may be an illusion, our Father is most certainly not.


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