The Illusion of Control
by Jacob Hudgins
“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes”(James 4:14).
Our society thrives on the feeling of control. We want to be able to customize our lives to our exact specifications—preferably with an app. The fact that I can monitor my house temperature, financial situation, physical health, and social interactions from one device makes me feel more powerful than I really am. James warns us that control is an illusion that can lead to spiritual dangers.
The illusion of control leads to arrogance. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring”(James 4:13-14). James reminds us that we can make plans, but we have no control over whether they will come to pass. In fact, we cannot even control whether we will be able to do what we plan. Our phone can tell us when there’s an 80% chance of rain, but there is no forecast of whether we will be alive to do what we have planned. Yet when we assume that the only thing holding us back from achieving all we desire is our own planning, we grow arrogant. “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil”(James 4:16). The reality of things outside our control makes us humble; thinking we are in complete control makes us arrogant and boastful.
The illusion of control leads to forgetting how short life is. James zooms out from this thought to consider all of life. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes”(James 4:14). When I feel in control, death seems far away. I know that is a reality intellectually, but it is awfully hard for me to think it will happen to me. I have so much I have planned! Thinking rightly of life helps me remember the urgency of doing what is right and what is important; the illusion of control leads me to forget this.
The illusion of control leads to leaving God out of life. “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’”(James 4:15). James’ answer to arrogance is to acknowledge the will of God in what we are planning. Even our continuing to live is subject to him. When I feel I am in control, I feel little need for God; my lack of control connects me to him.
God has blessed us with the ability and free will to choose how we live. He has given us technologies that bless our lives. Let’s be sure we don’t use these blessings to push him out of our lives.