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Quarantine Letters: Illusion of Control

So much of our growth happens through pain, and that pain comes in two forms. Pain we choose is called a discipline, while pain we do not choose is called a trial. Neither kind should be wasted.

Dear Church in quarantine,

I’m sharing a series of pastoral letters as we hunker down in our homes, facing the spread of the coronavirus. These letters are just one reminder that that you can’t chain or quarantine the Good News we get to share with a fearful world (cf. 2 Tim 2:9).

Today, let me share insightful words from Skye Jethani who asks, “What can we learn from this current health crisis?” He writes:

So much of our growth happens through pain, and that pain comes in two forms. Pain we choose is called a discipline, while pain we do not choose is called a trial. Neither kind should be wasted. Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic is a trial of global proportions, and wisdom calls us to not waste this moment.

But what are we to learn from it?

Ask enough people about their life with God and you will begin to notice a common theme. Many of us come to faith in a season of crisis; when our illusion of control is shattered. Most people—and especially those with education, resources, and living in functional societies—assume they can determine the outcomes of their lives. This myth is only revealed when unexpected forces interfere with, or completely destroy our plan.

In Luke 12, Jesus told a parable about the illusion of control. He said the land of a very wealthy man had produced abundant crops. The man built huge barns to store his grain. Believing he had security well into the future, the man told himself to “relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” But God called the man a “Fool!” because he did not know that very night death was coming for him and his illusion of control would be shattered.

The story illustrates a powerful truth from the Old Testament quoted by Jesus himself, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). We do not possess the power to sustain our lives, and trusting in our own strength and resources is foolish. Instead, we ought to surrender control to God who has both the ability (strength) and desire (love) to sustain us.

Recognizing the illusion of control and surrendering ourselves to God is the beginning of faith. Being endlessly self-delusional, however, we often need a crisis to see and admit our attempts at control are foolish. Many addicts begin recovery precisely this way. They admit they need help (they don’t have control), and they submit to a higher power (surrender to God). The process of getting to the point, however, is often full of pain.

We are a society of addicts. We aren’t merely addicted to substances, but to power, wealth, comfort, and above all to the arrogant belief that we—both individually and collectively, both inside the church and outside—can control the world. We have trusted in our strength rather than the Lord’s. We need to be awakened from this foolishness.

Some may view this pandemic as God’s judgment, but I think we ought to see it as God’s grace. It may be our Lord’s way of opening our eyes, revealing our pride, and discovering the truth that we do not have control. We never did and we never will. It may be God’s way of softening our hardened hearts so that we will turn to him and act with kindness toward one another. Discovering God’s grace this way may be painful, but love powerful enough to transform us always is.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeremy

Jeremy Berg is the founding pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, Minnesota, and Professor of Theology at Solid Rock Discipleship School. Jeremy is completing his doctorate in New Testament Context under Dr. Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary in Chicago. He holds a M.A. in Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary (2005) and B.A. from Bethel University (2002). He and his wife, Kjerstin, keep busy chasing around three kids, Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

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