Gotta be honest here. And honestly, I want a God that I can control. Not that I have to be able to tell Him exactly how to run everything. I just want one who will always answer my prayers for relief from suffering if I behave and believe the way He wants me to. (Within reasonable limits, of course—nobody’s perfect.)
Sounds like a fair exchange to me. He can deny my request if I’m living in rebellion or seriously doubting Him. As God, He has the right to lay down some ground rules like that. Doesn’t the Bible promise me this kind of relationship with God? Doesn’t it say that if I behave properly (Old Testament) and believe properly (New Testament), He’ll remove all the suffering in my life when I ask Him to?
Moses in the Old Testament: “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock. . . Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. . . The enemies who rise up against you will be defeated. . . The Lord will send a blessing . . . on everything you put your hand to. . . The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity. . . You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. . . You will always be at the top, never at the bottom” (Deuteronomy 28:2-13). Sounds like a good and easy life to me. And it’s all based on obedience.
Jesus in the New Testament: “According to your faith will it be done to you” (Matthew 9:29). “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20-21). “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34). Believe. Be healed.
How can this same God, who obviously grants prayers based on obedience and faith, say no to my requests for relief, not just for me, but for others who are suffering? What about all those promises?
To be honest, it’s not the sense that He’s gone back on His word that bothers me the most. It’s my inability to get what I want, to exercise control.
I know these passages don’t represent the entire story. Looking at the Bible as a whole, God has the final say in which petitions He grants and which ones He denies. He’s the only one with the wisdom and the compassion and the perspective to always make the right choice. If He was required to grant every request to everyone who was behaving and believing as He desired, that would put us in control, not Him. And some really bad things would happen, since we don’t know it all (as He does) and can’t foresee all the effects of a given action (as He can).
But I still have this drive for control. Sometimes when I’m praying, I feel like I’m trying to force my will on God. I know it’s right and best for You to heal that suffering child, God. You have to do it. Nothing else makes sense. Can’t You see that? My mind is so filled with the pain and grief of the situation that I can mechanically repeat the words, “Your will be done,” but my heart longs for my will. For God to open His eyes and see the joy that would spill over into many lives if He would just do it my way.
My favorite line from the movie Puzzle, describing the feeling after finishing a jigsaw puzzle: “In the end, you know you made all the right decisions.” I might have made an occasional mistake, but once the picture is completed, there’s this satisfaction of knowing that I controlled the process every step along the way and reached the desired outcome.
When I do logic puzzles online, I frequently hit the “check” button. I want to know, right now, that I’m on the right track. No waiting until I’ve filled in all the blanks. Tell me where I stand immediately. Then I can fix the little mistakes before they mushroom into big mistakes. I can control or eliminate that mushrooming process.
I want a check button for my life. Just before I make the next decision, no matter how trivial, I want to be able to confirm that I’ll be satisfied with the results. Will the wording in that email or text get the response that I’m hoping for? Check! Will that item that I’m about to order online live up to all my expectations? Check! Am I choosing the social event that I’ll enjoy the most when there’s a conflict between two or more of them? Check!
Where’s my real-life check button? If I could just click on it every time I’m in doubt, it would give me the control to make my world exactly what I want it to be.
But I don’t have that check button and I won’t make all the right decisions and God doesn’t do everything I want Him to do to relieve suffering. How do I live with this reality? Especially in a culture that gives us an illusion of control. Want to manage your finances, increase your physical fitness, keep tabs on your children 24/7, prevent criminals from breaking into your home or accessing your personal information? There’s an app for that. There’s an app for everything. I can control whatever I want to if I just find the right app.
I need to step back from this cultural mindset. To remember that technology doesn’t have all the answers, and neither do I. Deep down inside, I believe in a good and loving God. What I really need isn’t more control, but more faith in God and less faith in my ability to run my own life.