How to Know if You’re a Control Freak

By Eugene C. Scott

Several thousand years ago dung beetles enjoyed god-like status. They earned this high honor by toiling day-long collecting balls of dung between their tiny horns and rolling them across the hot desert floor. Some observant Egyptian noticed this little rolling ball of dung resembled the sun’s movement. Soon the belief was born that the sun was moved across the desert sky by a huge, invisible dung beetle.

The Egyptians–and most other ancient peoples–considered the powerful, life-giving forces, such as the sun, water, fire, fertility, in nature gods–or, at least, directly controlled by a god such as a dung beetle. Thus they developed religious and sacrificial systems that they hoped would please these capricious gods. In Egypt essential crops flourished or failed based on the Nile River.  If the gods were angry it might flood and wash all their food away. Or dry up. If the gods were pleased, the Nile might over-flow its banks just enough to water even the most distant fields.

These ancient religious systems became what people turned to when life got difficult.

But it did little good. Unfortunately, still children died, crops still failed, life–like the Nile–still ebbed and flowed seemingly without respect to religious sacrifices.

Today scientists laugh at such superstitious beliefs. We know the sun is not the god Re but a star, not pushed across the sky, but a point earth orbits. Science replaced superstition. We watch the weather patterns explained and pin-pointed on the nightly news. Science has given us cloud seeding, en-vitro fertilization, the cure for polio, and brilliant inventions and technologies by the thousands. When life gets hard we have doctors, pharmaceuticals, technologies, and governments we can turn to.

A phrase from my childhood embodies this faith in science most of our world holds. “If they can put a man on the moon, they ought to be able to __________(fill in the blank).”

Unfortunately, children still die, crops still fail, tornadoes devastate, new diseases spring to life and confound and kill us while paying little homage to our scientific advancements and prowess.

Christians call such total dependence on science foolish. Christians believe there is one God who created all these things science has discovered and mastered. In line with this belief we have designed sophisticated worship liturgies that give people access to deeper meaning and connection with God. Theologians have developed systematic theologies that attempt to answer the big questions about life and God. Gifted preachers lay out the five keys to life with purpose. The promise is that when life gets hard these liturgies, systems and practices including prayer and other spiritual disciplines bring Christians healing and wholeness.

Unfortunately children still die, crops fail . . . .

Depending on your perspective and belief system you may read the three world views above and sing that sweet song from the children’s show “Sesame Street,” “One of These Things is Not Like the Other?” And each–superstitious, scientific, or spiritual–is a very different way to understand and live in the world.

But they also each have a foundational similarity. Control. Or more accurately a desire to control. The ancient Egyptians lived in a dangerous, unpredictable world. Any thing that promised even a modicum of control over that world was welcome. And their superstitious practices fit the rhythm of the seasons of life just often enough to hold out the promise of control over the mighty Nile like a carrot on a stick.

Science too, especially in its naive early days, flat-out promised to wrest control from nature and lay it in our hands. And the promise has often been fulfilled. At least tentatively. Antibiotics, heat and air-conditioning, cell-phones, air travel all put us above and beyond nature. But just as often, or more so, science has not fulfilled its promise of control. We did put a man on the moon but we often cannot fill in the blank that would give us the cure to this or that disease or the answer to so many questions. Never-the-less, most of us believed and still may.

Christian spirituality also often degenerates into attempts to control God and his world. Systematic theology unwittingly promises that if we understand God we may know how to get him to do our bidding, purpose driven lives are lives we can likewise understand and control, prayers of Jabez seem to bind God to expand our borders, and five keys to a happy life, word of faith theology, pocketbooks of God’s promises, frenzied scripture memory programs all–even, like science, though they contain some truth–appeal to our deep desire to live in a world we can keep under control.

The truth is from ancient Egypt to modern science to today’s  Christian spirituality we are control freaks.

But superstitious behavior nor mighty dams nor words of faith will tame the Nile much less God.

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” wrote King Solomon. By this the great king did not mean that the pursuit of knowledge scientific or spiritual is vanity. But trying to use that information to gain control over things, people, and especially God is foolish.

Fear grows in neat garden rows fertilized with the promise of control. What if I lose control? is the weedy question that grows here. And it strangles faith. Because faith flourishes in the open fields littered with rocks and pot holes and dung. In this field faith is not the thing we use to control God and life but the thing we use to believe God is good and loves us in a life that sometimes is not under control and is not going the way we expected.

How do you know if you’re a control freak. Pinch yourself. Are you human?


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12 responses to “How to Know if You’re a Control Freak

  1. Georgie-ann

    If God loves us (which He does), He will help us. Which I’m sure He tries to do, but as often as not, don’t we “get in the way?” We have our own plans and ideas “on tap.” We’re trying to be that part of God for ourselves, the “director,” and then we want Him to help us get our plans accomplished, just the way have it arranged.

    But God is the ultimate designer/Creator. Perhaps we need to learn to listen to Him more closely.

    John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease. [He must grow more prominent; I must grow less so.]”

    We’re looking forward to a sunny day here today, after several chilly and damp ones. (Thank you, Lord!) I’m hoping His warm sun will help drive a nasty cold that I’ve acquired, into the land of forgotten afflictions sooner rather than later!

    God Bless & Thanks for your thoughtful thoughts!


  2. Mike

    Oh my, Eugene! Aren’t you afraid of the lightening?
    Holy systematic theology, Batman. Oral Roberts is flippin’ in his grave!
    Eugene, are you saying that if we get everything right we still can’t control God?
    This is quite a blow to most everyone I know.
    Thank you for your brave, insightful and truthful words. Jesus in the garden did not lose control. He gave it over to the Father. That’s faith.
    Frankly some of the most hurtful to the cause of faith are those who brag about their special protection status. We all know some, Let us pray not to be one.


    • Mike:

      You have the best sense of humor. Thank you.

      A couple of years ago a friend and I were finishing a late afternoon hike along the Front Range. While still about a mile from the trailhead, a vicious storm rolled in. Thunder and lightning rolled and crashed all around us, low and deadly. We quickened our pace but there is no outrunning a storm like that. Finally we broke out into the open and the last downhill stretch. We could see a park shelter and the car. Just then a bolt of lightning struck the ground about 20 yards to our right. The ground shook and our ears rang. My friend looked at me and asked, “Shouldn’t we run?” I just shrugged. I’m not much of a runner, certainly not fast enough to outrun the speed of light. So, I jogged along behind him as he motored for the truck.

      He could not believe my nonchalance. Maybe I’m foolish. But I was not afraid. There was nothing I could do about the situation. It was out of my control.

      We made it to a shelter with the air still filled with electricity just as the rain burst on us. We looked out from our perceived safety at a fire burning next to the trail we had just come down. We looked at each other and thanked God because it could have been us up there smoldering in the rain.

      And so, yes, I am saying even getting everything “right” does not give us control of God. Look at Elna’s comment about Job.

      Thanks for reading and for your fun, insightful response. Eugene

    • I hate to break the news to you, Mike, but Oral is alive and still kicking! Nevertheless, I agree with both of you on the control thing.

      A Recovering Control Freak

  3. elna

    a thought: isn’t that what Job tried to do…all those special offerings he made on every child’s birthday in case one of them sinned and that way he could cover all the bases?
    God took away all the ‘control’ Job had…no money, no position, no children to be proud of and who could take care of him in his old age…no health so he couldn’t control life by his own abilities….

    • Elna:

      Great insight. Yes, it seems he did. And therefore, God’s answer to him in the end of the story: Are you the Creator? And Job’s answer becomes one of deeper faith than control offers.

      Thanks, Eugene

  4. Mike


    While I agree that Oral Robert lives, his earthly portion ended Dec. 15, 2009

  5. Georgie-ann

    It was observed by someone a long time ago, that when people “make assumptions” — (“I assume/presume that…,” or are acting on an assumption that “such and such” would, or should, be so …) — that MOST of the time, the assuming has been done in their own favor. Armed with that insight, I went on to notice the remarkable blindness that many such people had with regard to the “other” person’s real situation, needs, and actual personal profile.

    Using ourselves as our default “frame of reference” for our decision making processes, and assumptions, is a “blind” way to navigate. It happens a lot in the NYC area! I’ve learned to try to encourage asking questions before proceeding at a gallop in a direction that may end up leaving a lot of collateral damage in its wake.

    Not sure if this is quite on topic, but it just occurred to me as possibly related.

    • Georgie:

      It does connect, at least in the sense that most of us assume life is controllable. Assume otherwise may be a bit disconcerting. Eugene

      • Georgie-ann

        I like the comment that said that Jesus didn’t lose control in the garden,…He gave control to God,…that is done by faith.

        We’re to be good stewards of all things pertaining to our lives and godliness. God gives us plenty of responsibility to take seriously, but we need to be “checking in” with Him on a regular basis, and be prayerful and “teachable” as well.

        One time I asked God about all the complaints people make about how their lives turn out — how they blame God for not getting a better deal, job, marriage, house, children, blah blah blah,…

        Well, He answered me. He said the first thing that I will ask them, in that case, is: “Did I tell you to do/choose abc and xyz, or did you just run around making you own choices and decisions without asking for my help or being willing to follow my guidance?,…and now you want to blame me for how everything turned out?”

        It’s not that God won’t continue to try to help us in a situation when we do turn to Him, but many times our own self-will has brought a certain amount of self-undoing along with it into the picture.

        I’m not usually inclined to “blame God.” And I DO take comfort in:

        Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

        I’ve been laughing at your-all’s jokes in between my sneezes, but I’m finally gettin’ better — Praise God!


  6. Georgie-ann

    a good discussion about law(s) and morality,…at least, I agree with it,…

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