Why Do We Think We Can Control Outcomes?

Photo credit: zoologybe.blogspot.com As said by others before, the one thing certain in life is change. It is beyond our control, no matter how much try. So it is with a life of faith. It is by nature an open-ended journey.

So, why do we, especially we American believers, think we can control outcomes? I've heard well-intentioned people say, "You determine your own destiny" and other such sayings, but at best I see that as wishful thinking.

Certainly, we can choose to change our self-talk, that constant flow of inner thoughts. We can set reasonable and achievable goals, which is often helpful and productive. But, to control the outcome of things in our life, or even our very life, is futile. Why? I can think of a couple of things, maybe more.

A Smattering of articles

The past couple weeks I've read a bunch of articles on a variety of topics. One theme that struck me was the propensity we all seem to have to determine certain outcomes in life.

The articles I read included the back and forth opinions of a nationally well-known pastor stepping down from ministry, the problem of courtship for those homeschooled, and an article about helping leaders become disciples. [you can click on the links to read the articles]

This theme of control, both in the short-term and beyond, was highlighted for me in these and other things I read.

The pastor is accused of an abuse of power, which involves control through coercion. The issue with those homeschooled and courting points to an attempt to create a biblically proper way for young people to avoid worldly ways of relating to the opposite sex, and to develop sound marriages.

The third article I replied to on Twitter and got a response back from the author. My initial thought was, "you've got it backwards," but his reply clarified the point—"not all leaders are disciples." Sadly, what he said is accurate. It goes to a core issue, not just of controlling outcomes, but why we try to do so. It also speaks to a deeper issue—a lack of character and misunderstanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, that is, a disciple.

So... why do we try to control outcomes?

A number of reasons can be given for why we all try to control outcomes, but the simplest is selfishness. I don't mean selfishness in a kindergarten-sense, although it can go there, but in a self-absorbed sense. When we are self-absorbed, we get tunnel vision and can't see past our own view of things. So, we're convinced we know what's best and how things ought to be.

Many have a romantic view of the early church—"ah, if only we could go back to how it was then." The early sense of community is a great thing to strive for, but keep in mind it didn't last. We read wonderful things about the church in Acts chapters 2 through 4, but in Acts 5 and 6 things begin to change. Why? People began to mess with what seemed to be going so well!

Remember, those people are just like you and me. If it was us back then... we would have been messing things up too.

Looking a little deeper

There is more to why we try to control outcomes. It reaches back to the original human beings, Adam and Eve. They were deceived into believing they could become like God, "knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:5) The root problem isn't disobedience, it's an issue of trust. They stopped trusting in God and His goodness.

We try to control outcomes, destinies, people, or whatever else, for one simple reason—we don't trust God.

I'm sure some, perhaps many, would argue this point, but it's true. Faith is about trust, and it is imbedded in relationship with God (Heb 11:6). When we strive to control anything or anyone, we are in essence saying, "God, I don't trust you with... (fill in the blank)."

Why we can't control outcomes, let alone destiny

I see two primary reasons we can't control outcomes or our own destiny.

First, there are a bazillion things we have no control over, including people. Nice, positive thoughts won't change this. These thoughts may help us cope and deal with what we can't change, but we still can't control them. I'm reminded of the Serenity Prayer popular in Alcoholics Anonymous—

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Secondly, as human beings we are not sovereign over all things, including people. This is reserved for God alone. We have a small sphere of sovereignty called free will, but even that is limited too. By what? See the paragraph above for starters!

Trying to play God is a dangerous role to step into with possible eternal consequences.

The real question

There are other reasons why we can't and won't control outcomes in life, but I don't see the need to keep hammering on the obvious.

The question is, why do we want to control outcomes in life in the first place? For those who claim to walk by faith, it shouldn't be an issue. Of course, it is an issue because we still struggle with self-will and the selfish nature. But, a life of faith, is a life of trust in God, one where outcomes are often unknown and unexpected.

A couple other questions to ask ourselves—

Why do I want to control this situation? What am I afraid will happen if I don't try to control it?

Why do I feel the need to tell this person what they should do?

How about you, do you have any questions about control to add to these? Let me know!