Order versus control

Order and control are not the same thing – not even close. Yet I think there are many that confuse the two and assume they are the same. Before you think that this is some abstract theological or philosophical argument, let me ask you something – would you rather be in a situation that is orderly or controlled? This has implications in real life, in our relationships, in our economics, in our politics, in governance, in church, and more.

Order can be defined as an arrangement. The Oxford Dictionary has a definition that I think captures the idea of order – a state in which everything is in correct or appropriate place.

Control can be defined using such terms as manage, influence, and restrict. Control has to do with someone doing something to someone or something else.

Do you see the difference in these two things? Order does not involve the use of force or incorporate imposing one’s wishes on another or on something else. Order exists outside of any particular person’s preference. Control relies on what someone wants or desires.

In the story of creation, God brings order out of chaos. God doesn’t need to control creation though in order for there to be order. In our English translations, we hear God say, “Let there be…” This is in a passive voice. It is not forced. God isn’t the puppet master who has to force creation into a certain way. It just happens. God has spoken and God has always been in the business of creating Shalom. Shalom is the Hebrew term meaning wholeness and completeness. It’s the state in which things are in their perfect place. There is no need for anything else. In this sense, you could say water running down a hill is going where it would naturally go without it being forced into a certain position.

As I listen to many arguments over a variety of topics, I’m looking at them through the lens of order and control. What is the natural order of things and what is being controlled and forced into a certain position?

So many of our problems throughout human history has been because we have discarded order for control. Scripture deals with this. In Genesis 3 we read about the fall of humanity. There was an order – nature has its own order. The serpent tempted Eve with the apple, which represented more than the order that was created. The apple represented control – a misunderstanding of who God is and what God is about. The serpent said that we would be like God. But that is assuming that God is just like a human, but more. More power, more might, more, more, more. More of the things that humans strive after. As in not enough. It is the belief that more is better. But if God is interested in Shalom, then what role is there for more? Why is enough not good enough? Why is wholeness and completeness not good enough? What more is there? Anything outside of wholeness and completeness means that it wasn’t whole or complete to begin with.

Violence is a form of control – forcing someone through threat or actual force into doing something. It is missing seeing the wholeness and completeness that exists and being unsatisfied with it. It starts from scarcity and demands more – the more being that we can be like God – or rather a god who used force to get compliance. This is a skewed view of the nature of God. God isn’t about control because God doesn’t need to control anything.

We use control because we are not in control and so we are lacking. The lack comes from the notion that our ways and our thoughts are higher than others and on par with God. We ate the apple after all, so we think we are like gods.

The whole debate around the vaccines and mask wearing is really about a few things – who’s in charge of my life? Am I a god who dictates what happens to me – do I get to have control over my own life? Over what I do? Over what others can do to me? Over what I can have others do? Over what my actions and beliefs have an influence over other people? The reality is we don’t have control – we don’t control the virus at least. It doesn’t care about our sense of control.

So much of our partisan political debate is centered around the idea of control. And it isn’t healthy. We make arguments about who’s in and who’s out, who has rights and what those rights are, how people are treated, etc. Most of the arguments are about how much control we have over other people.

Our history is full of the story of control. We had slavery, which was all about controlling people. When that ended we had sharecropping, which was a different form of abuse. Then Jim Crow laws which was another form of control, then segregation, redlining and other economic practices that enforced racial differences and then a broken criminal justice system, and now fights over who gets to vote. All of these are efforts to control a population.

Religion is often big on control. There are fights about liturgy and how worship happens. And there are fights over social justice and social statements. There are fights over who’s in and who’s out of the kingdom of God – who do we officially condemn and why. All efforts to control people.

The list can go on. After considering all of this, I’m left with this question – why? And when will we learn that our efforts to control others is really nothing more than covering up our own insecurities over the lack of control over our own lives? I really wish humanity would learn to stop trying to control people. It’s not working. It never has.

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