Do we have to? Is it necessary that we will go towards what seems inevitable? How do we know that something is inevitable after all? Couldn’t a small interruption change the direction?
Do we have to lurch towards authoritarianism? Or maybe a better way of phrasing it is do we have to follow some kind of inevitable path?
In times of chaos, humanity leans heavily on control and those who give the projection of strength. I always wonder why humanity doesn’t examine what that leads to though – the consequences. It’s not like we don’t know and don’t have a long history of how horrible that turns out for everyone and everything. But hey, maybe we’ve just not done it the right way! Sure.
This isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination. Scripture talks very plainly about this. 1 Samuel 8 records the people’s pleading with Samuel for a king to rule over them, just like the other nations. Samuel goes to God and God says, give them what they want because they are rejecting me. In other words, let them suffer the inevitable consequences of their request – maybe they will learn. And so Samuel goes back to them and tells them exactly what they will experience with a king:
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:11-18, NRSV)
And guess what? That’s what happened. Why would we be shocked? Should we be shocked? I don’t think so.
Here’s the truth that we don’t like to deal with. Humanity has an unquenchable addiction to the sense of control. It’s a powerful drug for us and like all junkies, we’ll do anything at all to get our hit of control. And what we have found through human history is that the easiest and most effective way to get our hit of control is by the use of force. We will either force others into compliance and submission of our ways that we think are correct or even divinely inspired, or we will eliminate those who oppose or even question our beliefs and ways. So powerful is this addiction to the sense of control that no matter what we claim to live by, history has shown that humanity more often than not will live by the ends justify the means, that might makes right, and that the strong survive. So strongly are these ways of living ingrained in humanity that we will see nothing wrong or inconsistent with claiming something different (like Jesus’ way of the means being as important as the ends, seeking shalom peace and completeness, and loving God, neighbor and one’s enemies), all while intentionally rejecting these claims and doing the exact opposite. In fact, we will rationalize away any discrepancies so we can tell ourselves we are being consistent. Control is a strong and powerful and destructive drug – maybe the most destructive drug humanity has ever been addicted to. Not only because it is self-destructive, but it destroys everything else around it.
But control isn’t what we are called to. No, that’s something we claim because we think that’s what God is about. We want to claim godliness and confuse what that means. We think being God-like means being in control, doing what we want, and winning. That’s not God at all. That’s humanity dehumanizing itself and slapping on the face of God over it.
God isn’t about control – certainly not in the way that humans think about it or practice it. Because the way humans practice control, it usually becomes oppressive and destructive. So what is God about?
It can be claimed that God is about order. Order and control are not the same thing. In the first creation story in Genesis we hear about God creating order out of chaos. And yet even in this order, there is diversity, freedom, creativity, love, and more. There is community in order. Expectations are clear. There is respect and boundaries. It is easier to see the image of God and the handprint of God in all of creation.
God is about Shalom. Shalom is more than just a greeting. It means peace, completeness, wholeness. There is no control in that. Peace isn’t just the cease-fire of war. It means being in relationship with others and all of creation. Completeness means we don’t have to strive for more – there doesn’t need to be more. If there needed to be more, then it isn’t complete.
God is about unity. But unity is not the same as uniformity. Uniformity is about control. Unity is about order. Unity has an underlying core to it that brings people together, that allows us to see more of the image of God because of diversity and the diversity of life, thought, and being. Uniformity is about everything being the same – the same thoughts, the same beliefs, the same look. The only way to have uniformity is through control, force, and violence.
God is about justice. One way to define it is that justice is about right relationship between people. That doesn’t come through control. There is nothing just with control. Justice liberates those oppressed by others who use control over them. Justice orients people towards authenticity – being who they truly are more fully. Justice opens our eyes to seeing the vastness of God in creation and in others.
So I ask again, do we have to? Do we have to hurtle towards control and all its consequences? We know where it leads and it isn’t good. It never is. Can we just skip it this time and instead turn ourselves towards God and others? That always works out better. It’s not easy of course.
And we aren’t in control. Not that we ever actually are – even when we try to fool ourselves into believe that we are. We aren’t.
Maybe humanity needs a 12 step program for its addiction to control. That would be a start.