Had she the ability at the time to articulate with words, she would have said I was acting like a controlling sovereign. Instead she screamed, arched her back, kicked her legs and started crying. She acted just like a three year old. My three-year-old girl, Maddy, had determined we weren’t close enough to the river. She was furious. So was the river. It rushed past with a singleness of purpose, to plunge the depth and reunite with the rock-strewn riverbed 176 feet below.
Niagara Falls is awe-inspiring! And Maddy was not content to stand behind the railing mere feet from the edge. She wanted to taste and touch.
As I again literally wrestled her from the edge, she made it piercingly clear to everyone, including the senior citizen bus tour - I was unkind, withholding, a controlling brute of a man.
Control. That’s the word she would have used. And from her perspective, it was true. I controlled her. But if she were to grow up believing control was my motivation or even my intent it would not only be untrue, it would ultimately undermine our relationship and hold her hostage to a future without full freedom.
Lets be clear, everything I did was with her in mind, to give her a new experience, to enlarge her world, to expand her thoughts and dreams, to give her a future and a hope. Her mom and I had dressed her so she would be warm, and dry, and protected, and ready for the awe-inspiring wonder of the world. I was the excited dad who had shown her the water. I was the loving dad who held her secure while she looked on in amazement. Every thing I did was for my daughters best.
The fact is, her mom and I are the two people on the planet who most love and adore her. We have planned and cared for our beautiful little girl since before she was born. We dream of a future where she has access to everything she needs in order to succeed in life, to experience grace and joy and peace and love. Our desire as her parents is not to be in control of her, just the opposite; our passion is to empower her into great freedom.
That’s why on that brisk Niagara Falls day I forcefully carried Maddy from the surety of a cold, swift, terrifyingly painful death.
Not counting the busload of senior citizen’s, there are two perspectives in this story - my daughters and mine.
My daughters perspective – I controlled her, I restricted her from something she wanted.
My perspective – my actions had nothing to do with control and everything to do with the authority of my love. I might even go so far as to describe it as the sovereignty of my love...
Is my daughter’s perspective wrong? No, just immature. Is there truth in her perspective? If she is solely describing how she felt then yes, but it’s certainly not the truth that sets her free. Was control a part of her story? I suppose, but only because she was too immature at the time to understand the whole story. And lets be honest, the whole story is the true story.
Control would be an immature way for her to view her experience. And it’s the same for us when in our own experiences we attribute a controlling nature to God.
To describe God as in control is an earthbound perspective, its’ human reasoning at best, while it may be an accurate assessment from where we are standing, it not the truth, at least, not the truth that sets us free. Control is an immature and powerless way to describe God, it is an absolute misrepresentation of the perfection of His love. I might even go so far as to say that control is an absolute misrepresentation of the sovereignty of His love...
Control is not in Gods nature; it’s in mans perception. It only works outside the revelation of perfect love and the context of eternity. Describing God as controlling is like seeing an anthill from the perspective of an ant and mistaking it for Everest.
Describing God as controlling is like being rescued from a violent arctic drowning and then throwing yourself to the grass while emitting blood curdling screams at the top of your lungs as snot runs down your nose and tears blur your vision while nearby senior citizens shake their heads in distress.
Control is the narrowest lens through which to describe God. It takes the least amount of faith and doesn’t take into account Gods eternal and always good love. Control is not His perspective, it’s ours. Control is not the whole story and therefor not the true story.
Control is an immature way to describe Gods nature. Immaturity isn’t wrong but neither is it to be prized – it’s not the goal. Immaturity is simply life in our formative years. But if in our formative years we commit to the idea that a controlling God is the whole story, we will actually undermine the maturing process.
Believing God is controlling holds us hostage to perpetual immaturity. The narrative of a controlling God undermines our faith, trust and obedience to a God who is always good, loves perfectly and is always passionately seeking to empower greater freedom. The controlling narrative stunts our spiritual growth.
It was for freedom Jesus set us free. We are created and designed to live free in an ever expanding and empowering revelation of Gods love. But the idea that God is in control leads us in the opposite direction, rebellion. If we live willfully immature in our perspective, we will eventually throw off His restraint. Then, when we find ourselves battered, bloodied, a freezing mess at the bottom of the Niagara; nearly dead in our choice, we will blame Him for it. After all, He is in control. This further undermines our faith and the cycle continues - we grow further distrustful and feel even more controlled.
If we wont leave the thought of a controlling God behind, if we won’t chose to trust in a God whose love is always good, at best we will live a fractured and powerless faith, at worst we will die a painful freezing death at the bottom of the Niagara.
When God says "no," the immature way to perceive it is that God is controlling us. But the whole story is that our loving Father is giving us boundaries to protect and empower us into a mature faith - a life of freedom discovered in self-control. Every “no” is an invitation to mature and discover His heart - the authority and power of His love.
Gods sovereignty has nothing to do with control and everything to do with the authority and power of His love.
From the moment of conception to our last earthbound breath, we are invited to mature, to grow sure in love, in trust, confident in faith, transformed by grace. We live and move and have our being to discover our Fathers always-good love and to become love. That’s the whole story, the true story; the one Jesus lived and invited us into.
May we continue to discover the whole story!
Jason Clark is an author, singer/songwriter, speaker and director of A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children. Jason’s new book Prone To Love is available now.