A few years back, in an editorial for the Kokomo Tribune, in a series about “social connectedness,” I mentioned what I call the “anonymous lifestyle.” Now I would like to use that concept as a jumping board for another issue: the “control obsession.”
People often gravitate to an anonymous lifestyle, one in which they can melt into the crowd, one in which the worker bees work, the Queen sits on the eggs, and everything is regimented and orderly. Behind this quest for specialty, organization, and planning is the fear of revealing too much about our humanity, a discomfort with being an imperfect, sinful and sometimes incompetent human. Concealing ourselves means we focus only on our function.
Militaries have exploited this concept for decades. A soldier is no longer a human being from a family with ma and pa; he is a G.I., Government Issue, a son of the republic. Communism capitalized on this idea as well, even removing children from their homes at age 2 for training, returning them to parents for weekends only (as Cuba did during Castro’s heyday). If we can become a cog in the machinery, a gear in the transmission, or a washer holding on a bolt, we somehow sense that humanity—ours included—is either under control or at least hidden from view. We feel secure.
But camouflaging ourselves in the crowd is only one of many “control” techniques.
Outside of the day I accepted Christ and the day I said “I do” to my wife, the two most significant and precious days of my life have been the births of my two kids. Watching those helpless babies emerge and holding them in your arms is a truly incredible feeling. I got to watch my wife, who had just endured intense pain in labor, break out in a beautiful and exhausted smile as she got to hold our child. On those days, my joy in the Lord and gratefulness for His love and blessings came easily. I could rejoice in Him as my guide and stay.
But there are other days. Sitting with my wife, both of us weeping while going through two miscarriages. Trying to explain to our five year old why people who profess to be Christians can be mean and nasty. Watching young people walk away from the faith. Having a dear friend see cancer progress steadily. All of these, and many others put us in a place where Satan begins to whisper, “Can you really trust God? Maybe you need to take matters into your own hands—surely you can do better than this!”
Here’s a thought I want to flesh out from Genesis chapter 15, as Abram deals with this very tough question. Your level of trust in the promises of God will largely determine the depth of your walk with Him. Abram gets to learn some very valuable lessons in God’s classroom.
There are basically two ways to ride a roller coaster. The first is to resist the ride. You can press your feet against the floorboard and arch your back. You can grip the handle bar so hard your knuckles turn white. You can tense your jaw, tighten your abdominal muscles, and scream bloody murder as you descend the precipitous drops and are flung around the death-defying turns.
Somewhere in my rather limited experience of roller coasters, I discovered a second approach. You can actually relax on a roller coaster. Really! You can loosen your grip on the bar, relax your jaw, legs and abdominal muscles. In fact, you can take a roller coaster ride in the same physical condition and mental state of a couch potato.
Obviously, your physical state will have no influence on the roller coaster. No matter how tense or relaxed you may be, the roller coaster will not alter its route one inch or adjust its speed one iota. Either way, you will be delivered to the platform on time and in one piece. You cannot control the ride, you can only control the rider.
These are busy days for our little family—days filled with scout meetings, schoolwork, doctor’s appointments, and ministry. I’m also in the final months of a book project; so on top of it all, I find myself experiencing a curious strain of nesting syndrome. My mind is a whirl of spreadsheets and marketing concepts, of deadlines and trying to merge multiple callings into one. I’m learning and relearning how to be mother and wife and lover and writer and daughter and teacher and friend.
And most of the time, I feel like I’m failing on all counts.
Every morning, I wake up with more on my “to do” list than is humanly possible, and every night I go bed having proven it. But instead of simply acknowledging my limitations, I regularly feel discouraged and overwhelmed. In fact, I have been feeling this way so often that I finally had to face a harsh reality. I am a prime candidate to join that particular type of support group that meets in musty church basements. I need to draw my chair up into the circle and when it’s my turn, bravely stand and say, “Hello, my name is Hannah and I have a messiah complex.”
There is a popular notion now among some evangelical scholars that the Hebrews thought heaven was a huge, hard, fixed vault that no one could pierce through. After all, Genesis 1:6 describes the heavens as a “vault” (Heb. raqia). The Septuagint translators used the word stereoma, meaning “something fixed, firmament.”
But what kind of vault did the Hebrews mean? Every Hebrew shepherd watched that fixed vault (or at least everything in it) move every night. They also watched some of its lights move left, but later rightward in the heaven. They likewise noticed that the moon appeared at different spots among the stars as the weeks went by. What else was there to do outside in the dark?
No, of course they did not know that there are nine planets circling our sun, or that the sun is nine light minutes from the earth, or that we reside in the Milky Way galaxy. My guess is that they concluded by observation that the sun moves around the earth. But we should never be taken with the idea that the Hebrews were completely primitive about the sky. 1000 years after Moses, Aristotle explained the heavens as being a spherical vault, inside of which sun, moon and stars moved. The space in between was filled with ether. 2000 years after Aristotle, Einstein described the universe as bounded and filled with ether. Essentially, though refined, the concept of the universe has not changed much from Moses’ day to ours.
The Hebrew word raqia can also take the meaning “expanse” (the primary meaning, according to BDB). And that is precisely how the rest of the Old Testament describes the heavens. In 16 places the Bible says that God “stretched out” the heavens (Heb. natah), now measured at 13-14 billion light years across. To make the point more clear, the OT says that God stretched out the heavens “like a curtain” (Is. 40:22), or “like a tent” (Ps. 104:2). So much for the cast iron dome of the theologians.