In the midst of this pandemic, I’ve noticed a response from some Christian leaders that strikes me as unhelpful (and unhealthy). I admit it is something in me as well, so I’m not just pointing fingers but seeking a more excellent way.
I call this unhealthy response “Confident Control.”
You’ve probably already heard this approach from someone (maybe even used it to yourself). Confident Control sounds like strong reassurance that everything is going to be fine. “God is in control and we only need to strengthen our faith in this.”
It’s the voice that says, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And while these words may be well-intended, they usually sound more like a motivational speech calling us to hope in our faith rather than meeting our pain at the moment or vulnerably admitting that we just don’t know what is going to happen next.
While its speaker may not intend this, the words of Confident Control tend to leave the already concerned feeling more concerned and perhaps guilty too. Guilty because any fear or anxiety they may have about this current pandemic is now being pinned as a lack of faith or even specifically, a lack of faith in God’s control.
While it is worth discussing more what it means for God to be “in control,” Confident Control is ultimately insensitive to the reality many of us are currently experiencing. This pandemic is concerning. These days things are uncertain. Being anxious is certainly understandable. It isn’t reassuring to be told you shouldn’t be afraid when you are already afraid.
Love drives out fear
In an attempt to try and over-match others’ anxiety, the voice of Confident Control calls you to deny your fear, pick up my mantra and repeat after me: “God is in control.”
But I find Confident Control misses the mark. While its intention may be to help the fearful and anxious move into confidence and hope, certainty and control aren’t what casts out fear. Only love does that (1 John 4:18).
Confident Control lacks love. Love is costly. Loving others doesn’t necessarily assure you will get your desired outcome. It often opens you to even more pain. So rather than be exposed to the vulnerability of saying something like: “I don’t know what is going to happen in this situation but I do believe that God is love and meets us right here in our reality.”
The voice of Confident Control attempts to avoid uncertainty and vulnerability altogether. And the cost of this avoidance is love.
So instead of saying, “God is in control and you have nothing to fear” what if we said, “God is love and he is present and at work right where you are”? How might that change things? (Ben and Matt also recorded a podcast episode about this.)
I’d suggest that one way it changes things is we would no longer be attempting to convince people that they are OK, but rather we would be allowed to co-suffer with them in the suffering they are experiencing.
Co-suffering love, not fixing
I am learning that when people share their fears and anxieties with me, especially right now with the coronavirus, they usually aren’t giving me situations to fix but possibly opportunities to join them in their reality.
Maybe people are less like broken cars in need of a mechanic and more like a painter without a canvas. Their need isn’t for me to tell them they are OK or to repair their brokenness but to just give them something to paint and express themselves on and sit with them while they do it.
Being with people as they work out their concerns can be slow work. We become co-suffers along with them as we live in love together. Co-suffering may unearth our anxieties along the way. Love is like that. It moves in the slow, almost imperceptible moments and reveals the hidden desires of all who are caught up in its work. And that is a beautiful thing. A treasure worth investing in.
Through this pandemic, I’m learning that it’s not OK to try and make everyone OK. It’s better to meet people in reality with vulnerable love and seek to embody the co-suffering love of Jesus.