In Control?

When do mountain goats
and deer give birth?
Have you been there
when their young are born?
How long are they pregnant
before they deliver?
Soon their young grow strong
and then leave
to be on their own.
Who set wild donkeys free?
I alone help them survive
in salty desert sand.
They stay far from crowded cities
and refuse to be tamed.
Instead, they roam the hills,
searching for pastureland.
Would a wild ox agree
to live in your barn
and labor for you?
Could you force him to plow
or to drag a heavy log
to smooth out the soil?
Can you depend on him
to use his great strength
and do your heavy work?
Can you trust him
to harvest your grain
or take it to your barn
from the threshing place? (Job 39:1-12)

We don’t have as much control over our own lives as we think. We cannot control the day of our birth, or the day of our death. We have no power over the forces of nature: rain or drought, storm or earthquake, illness or health. But we’d like to be in control.

God confronted Job with how little he controlled about his life. He couldn’t make wild animals domesticated. He couldn’t breed them or take their offspring for food or sacrifice. He couldn’t rely on them to help him with his harvests.

Job’s friends believed that good things came to the good and bad to the bad. How people behaved determined the outcome of their lives. It was all up to them. That’s why they insisted that Job had to be bad. If instead, the circumstances of life were not dependent upon their choices of behavior, that meant that they couldn’t prevent bad things from happening to them. It was in God’s hands, not theirs. They didn’t like that. And really, Job didn’t like it either. He—and his friends—trusted his life in his own hands more than in God’s. Which God pointed out to him was both silly and foolish. Whose hands were better? Job, who knew and understood little, or God, who knew and understood everything? So what if Job didn’t understand why the bad stuff had happened to him? Job didn’t understand a lot of things. So what else was new?

Our desire to control and manipulate our environment leads us to absurdities. We become superstitious, imagining that certain rituals, certain objects, can somehow allow us to control those things that we otherwise cannot.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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