I think most would agree that this calendar year has been a fitting example of particularly turbulent times in American society. We have been confronted with the coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest in the streets, and a contested election that, for at least half of America, appears not to have gone the way they had hoped. And that is not even to mention the various a personal changes and tragedies that you may have encountered that are unrelated to the "big three" listed above. In short, things seemed manifestly out of control.
On a personal note, as the chaos progressed I began to notice the effects: a growing frustration in my own heart. The emotions were a surprise to me since I do not at all consider myself a "control freak." Yet here I was, plainly upset in response to things not having gone the way that I believed was best.
As Christians well know, a sure-fire sign of idol possession is if a negative response is triggered when that idol is taken away. With that in mind, despite all of my supposed "righteous frustration" over the evil winning and the good losing, I was forced to acknowledge the obvious: I was a symptomatic carrier of a sickness — the loss of my idol of control.
Thankfully, a well-timed message from Psalm 46 taught by a pastor at my church reminded me that though I am not in control, God assuredly is, and he even uses chaos to make this especially clear. My lack of control is meant to serve as a foil to the One who exercises ultimate control over the course of history, from the smallest events to the most momentous occasions.
God is in control
Here's what the psalmist declares:
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!"
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
The passage clearly illustrates that God's sovereignty is not diminished by surrounding chaos, but is magnified. And this truth, according to the psalmist, is meant to be an encouragement to believers, not a reason to be frustrated or fearful.
What does this mean for us?
The apparently disturbing reality stated above — that we are not in control — is actually what we are meant to embrace.
In times of chaos, we are given a heightened awareness of what has always been ultimately true; that we are not in control, but God is. In times of chaos, the reality of our true situation hits home. It's no longer out there in the abstract; it's right here. This is where the rubber meets the road as far as our beliefs go.
Yet, if I'm honest, my knee-jerk reaction to the reality of the situation is often exactly the opposite of what it should be. I don't just narrowly miss the mark, I turn the whole thing on its head.
Here are a couple examples: in times of chaos, my knee-jerk reaction is frustration, but God says "be still." In times of chaos, my knee-jerk reaction is to think God is smaller, but God says he is "exalted."
I'm still learning the lesson and working hard to trust in Psalm 46. Part of that is resisting the temptation to believe that I know what is best for the long-term. For the short-term, sure, I may know what is best to produce a certain outcome and I will fight for that outcome wholeheartedly. But as far as God's cosmic plan for the universe, yeah, I'll leave that to him.
So this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that I'm not in control, because I know who is and I can rest in that.