I recently heard someone recount a significant aspect of their healing journey in regard to a distorted image of God. The person had suffered under the delusion for many years that God was controlling. As I listened, I quickly began to realize how often I had believed the same distortion and how it had affected my ability to be intimate with God.
A distorted image of God is simply a belief in a lie that can keep us from trusting, from being vulnerable, or from stepping out in faith on God’s promises. Most often the root of any distorted image of God is the thought that God is not good.
We develop distorted images of God in many ways. One common way is for our distorted images of God to be formed in our childhood through our relationships with our parents. A parent is a child’s first theology teacher, and later in life, it is common for adults to view God in a similar way to their parent. Dependent upon the parent, the consequence of this natural process can lead to a very healthy image of God or a very distorted one.
As I thought about the distorted image of God as a controller, I recognized my own struggle with that distortion and even the ways it still continues. Because I have a true desire to be obedient to God’s will and call on my life, I catch myself believing the lie that I don’t get to choose the course of my life. As I listened carefully to another’s heartfelt confession of the struggle to heal from an image of God as a controller, I could hear so many of my own false beliefs and began to better understand the differences between leading and controlling.
Jesus leads. We follow. It is tempting to want simplify the complex truth of an intimate, living relationship with God to one of command and obedience. In many ways, approaching God as a controller might seem easier than the deep unknowns of an unfolding relationship. But we are created for deep friendship with Jesus, maturing into children of God who live by a spirit of adoption grounded in love.
As I journey along in faith, though, I hope I am beginning to see the distinctions between leading and controlling more clearly in myself as a minister, mother, or friend. In others, I see some who lead well and some who exert control.I am also beginning to see distinctions in the ways God leads.
I am seeing the following distinctions: Leading invites. Control demands. Leading is full of grace for choice. Control promises punishment for disobedience. Leading brings freedom. Control brings fear. Leading exercises authority for the benefit of the one being led. Control exercises authority for its own benefit. Leading honors. Control shames. Leading lifts up and pushes the other forward. Control puts down and shoves the other behind. Leading influences through love. Control influences through fear.
I invite you to consider this: Have you falsely viewed God as a controller? Have you been a victim of another’s control instead of God’s loving leadership? Have you attempted to control others? I can honestly confess that as I reflect, I could answer yes to each question at various times in my life. And, like you, I can also see areas where I have led well and have seen the fruit of true leadership which is always love. My prayer is that Jesus would lead me deeper in the way of true leadership that I so desire to lovingly follow.