Noah avoids what makes him feel uncomfortable. Like many men, Noah has found one area in which he excels, and he spends the vast majority of his waking thought and energy there. Consequently, he avoids his family and relationships in general. And when he is not at war in his work, he loves to sleep. In sleep nothing is required of him and life works, at least to a degree. Even Noah’s sleeping is a way for him to control his world.

Is Control Bad?

It’s not just Noah. Most of us live with the myth that we ought to be able to control our lives. So we work harder and plan more efficiently. Is that a bad thing?

No. Control is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, the Bible encourages us to exert control in several areas.

The book of Proverbs, for example, encourages us to plan for the future. Planning involves using our mental power in order to control what will happen to us. Planning is never precise and is always full of risks, according to Proverbs, but failing to plan is simply irresponsible: “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success” (Proverbs 15:22). And when we submit those plans to the Lord, he will bless them: “Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3).

God wants us to plan. He wants us to think of the consequences of our actions. Generally speaking, no one can have a significant measure of success without foresight and the ability to affect the shape of the future.

The Bible tells us to discipline and control not only our own lives but also the lives of the people under our care. Proverbs reminds us, “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind and will make your heart glad” (Proverbs 29:17).

Even more important, the Bible urges wisdom as a way to bring order out of chaos. We know from Genesis that as a result of the Fall, our world is wired for chaos. To bring an element of control to that chaos, we need wisdom. Helping us navigate through chaos is the whole purpose of the Old Testament wisdom literature.

Biblical wisdom is built on the premise that there is an underlying order to creation. God created the world; it is not the product of chance. Certain causes produce certain effects. If I go up to my wife and hug her, my actions will produce one desirable effect. Speaking harshly to her will produce a different and negative one. Different words and different actions will produce different effects.

To some extent, then, the Bible suggests, we can control how people respond to us. For example, when we encounter a fool, we need to know what kind of fool he is. Is he one who will act more foolishly if we take his arguments seriously and respond to his points? Or will he be one who thinks he is right if we do not answer him (Proverbs 26:4-5)? Once we determine these things, then we can give the most apt reply. “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket” (Proverb 25:11).

The way of wisdom presented in the Bible, therefore, seems to support our desire for control. If that is the case, then the next logical step is to master wisdom, to learn the principles embedded in books like Proverbs, and then simply to apply them to the right situations. The book of Proverbs, after all, appears to be a list of insightful statements about how we ought to live life, a kind of divine self-help book that will take us through the turmoil of relationships and all the struggles of life. It offers a good, healthy kind of control.

The trouble is, not all our attempts to control our lives are healthy. And we can see that clearly in the Bible as well.

Abraham: Grasping for Control

In Genesis 12, God gave Abraham a series of promises that would shape his future (vv. 1-3). These promises include the fact that he would be the progenitor of a huge nation, a special people who would bless the whole world. For that promise to come true, however, Abraham needed a son. He and his wife, Sarah, were childless and growing old.