The master of the twists and turns
Like many, I was immersed in the Tokyo Olympics. I loved watching the athletes compete and the Aussies do well. It’s been fun seeing new phrases emerge like “doing a Dubler” and the memes created from the wild celebrations of Dean Boxall (apologies if sport is not your thing!). But the people who really impressed me throughout the Olympics were the divers and the gymnasts. Twisting and turning, piking and tumbling, they made it seem so easy and effortless. Completely in control of complex routines that I’m sure if I ever tried would leave me in a world of pain on a stretcher with two torn hammies and a dislocated shoulder! And soon it will be the Paralympics, where more incredible athleticism will put me to shame.
You might be rolling your eyes thinking, “What’s the point of yet another Olympic illustration?” Well, we live our lives trying to channel them like those amazing gymnasts. We desperately hope to navigate our lives effortlessly and gracefully, in full control, despite all the twists, turns, flips and tumbles that life throws at us. And yet over the past three months or so—even the past two years—we’ve realized that we aren’t really in control of much at all.
I have a good friend who is currently in lockdown, who has lost his job and is really struggling. He posted on Facebook about his frustration about the lack of control he had over his life, how the government had taken away his livelihood and his relationships. He even went as far as to say he understands why someone might take their own life in that situation (If you are struggling mentally, please reach out to a pastor or friend at church. Alternatively, Lifeline 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 are only a phone call away.)
And yet, most people I talk to about Jesus don’t present as helpless or out of control. Most people at the university I serve at swim in the culture of expressive individualism, which sells them the message that they are the master of their life and the author of their destiny. But university students, along with much of our Western society, buy into that gospel at an enormous and devastating cost.
On the theological level, they purchase this gospel at the cost of their very souls. Jesus says that it is folly to gain the world but forfeit your soul (Matt 16:25-26). This present world is under the control of the evil one and subject to God’s judgement (Eph 2:1-3; Rom 1:18-32). That is why it is vital that we keep sharing the news about Jesus, who by his death and resurrection is Lord of the world and saves rebellious sinners like you and me, those who are hell-bent on maintaining control of their lives (Acts 2:29-41). And yet, in another real, material sense, people buy this gospel at the cost of peace and contentment, opening themselves to the disappointment, disillusionment and despair that comes when plans don’t work out or their control is taken away.
The COVID-19 pandemic has, for the moment, put a crack in people’s confidence that they are in control. It has always been there, lying under the surface of our perfect social media accounts, freshly cut lawns and middle-class lifestyles. Yet, in God’s mercy and providence, these latest rounds of lockdowns give us an opportunity to again talk to people about the reality that, in many ways, our lives often feel out of control.
And yet we know that Jesus is the one who has ultimate control (Col 1:15-23). We know that he exercises this control for God’s glory and for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28-39). His control was exercised to the point of willing submission to death by crucifixion, under the judgement of God (Phil 2:5-11)! His is a control that passes through the grave and offers a certainty of life eternal. His control is driven by care, love and compassion for those who are weary and heavy-laden, sheep without a shepherd. Prodigal daughters and prodigal sons.
If there are people who aren’t yet disciples of Jesus in your life, who are grappling with a sense that life is out of control for them, then perhaps you could pass the gospel tract Is anyone in control here? on to them. In it, I try and show how our desire for control meets the inevitable barrier of disappointment and ultimately death; how Jesus’ control answers this problem and is good for us; and how living under God’s control is the best way to live.
My prayer is that it would be a helpful resource for your evangelistic efforts in a strange and unsettling time.