Redemption Through Dependency

Our usual strategy for dealing with the mess of life is to seek control over it. We try to gain power in the world in order to have an effective platform to manage our existence.

Power makes us think of politicians and bankers, and most of us don’t have that kind of clout. But power comes in gradations. We may experience the struggle for power in the family as we try to keep our kids in line or our parents from interfering. We may seek power in our community by doing volunteer work at the hospital or by running for a local office. We may seek power in our work by climbing up the corporate ladder, trying to become the boss so we can tell others what to do rather than have others
tell us what to do.

Power—whether it is the power of status, abilities, career, position—ought to make us feel more in control. But we have seen that it doesn’t. We can never tame life. As the Teacher woefully observes, “What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted” (1:15 NIV).

The enigma is that it is God who has done the twisting and produced the lack: “Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked? Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.” (7:13-14).

So power does not bring control, and when we realize that, we are disappointed. We begin to feel that life has no meaning. We lose our vitality. The result is that we often give up any healthy attempts at control. We live halfhearted, passionless lives, letting events rule us, rather than the reverse.

Are these the only two options? Do we have to choose between a lifestyle of desperate grasping for control or a listless surrender to the mess?

Abraham: Receiving the Blessing

Let’s return to Abraham for a moment. We have already seen him struggle with doubt in his relationship with God. We have seen him grasp at the promises that were at the center of his life and try inappropriately to take matters into his own hands.

But something happened to Abraham along the way, something that moved him from the struggle of earthly existence (under the sun) to a fear of God (above the sun). The change didn’t happen overnight. Isaac’s long-awaited birth was surely an influence, as was God’s grace in overcoming many obstacles throughout Abraham’s life. But by Genesis 22, which tells the story of the “sacrifice” of Isaac, the change in Abraham was clear.

After the promised heir was born, God asked Abraham to do the unthinkable, take this son and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah. We don’t know what Abraham thought of these orders; he might have been angry, confused and afraid, but we do see his actions: obedience. He took Isaac to the mountain and surely would have followed through on God’s instructions if God had not intervened and provided a substitute sacrifice.

Abraham had moved from an attitude of anxious chasing to one of divine dependence. He no longer tried to live life according to his own strength. Instead, recognizing his weakness, Abraham grew dependent on God. He found meaning and peace not by chasing after power, but by surrendering and trusting God.

Notice that the book of Ecclesiastes has the same message. The Teacher frets about the lack of control over his life. He cannot learn from the past; he does not know how to act in the present; he is frightfully ignorant of the future and paralyzed with fear.

The second unnamed wise man at the end, though, suggests the proper antidote. Don’t fear your ignorance and lack of control, he tells his son; rather, “fear God.” Submit your weakness and worries to the One who is truly in control, your heavenly Father.

Christ: Power Through Submission

We often lose sight of Christ’s agony as he faced the cross. We often assume he faced his death with courage from the very start. But just before his arrest, he described the state of his soul as “crushed with grief to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). The Gospel of Luke describes Christ’s mental state as “in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).