We are often admonished to let God have control of our lives. We are reminded so often to give God control of our lives that many seem to think that when you aren’t giving control to God is the most dangerous time in your spiritual life.
But what if it isn’t the most dangerous time?
Yes, it is a dangerous time. We want control over our lives, and we struggle with giving control to God. At root, we all are tempted to depend on ourselves and not God. And it’s dangerous to try to control things that God never asked us to control. Beyond the fact that we don’t have the powers to control very much in this world–which leads to much worry and stress–it also shows an arrogance that is spiritually deadly. To have the audacity to control something that God hasn’t left to you implies that you don’t trust God to handle it. It implies that you think you can deal with it better than God.
There’s another time, though, that is more dangerous. And I think we can most clearly see this in the story of Peter denying Jesus.
The Example of Peter
In the Gospel of John, Peter and Jesus are in the Garden when the soldiers come to arrest him. Scholars are unsure of how many soldiers actually came to arrest Jesus, but one thing is for certain: there were many more soldiers than disciples.
John gives us information that the others don’t, though. When the soldiers arrived to arrest Jesus, perhaps emboldened by his knowledge of Jesus’s power, his faith in Jesus’s God-given mission (which couldn’t include martyrdom), and perhaps by the uncertainty of the soldiers in the face of Jesus, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of a servant who had accompanied the soldiers.
Why did Peter do this?
I think tat Peter expected Jesus’s Messiahship to look a particular way. He was going to take control of the government. Kick out the Romans. Act as the Messiah was expected to act. Yes, Jesus had done and said some strange things, but Peter was a true believer.
Whatever was going to happen, arrest and martyrdom were not in the plans. Peter, based on how he expected God to use Jesus, acted based on that.
In other words, Peter seized the moment and act based on his own expectations, not on what God had asked him to do. He took control of the situation.
And this was personally risky. He could have been killed by the numerous and more experienced guards. And Jesus didn’t want him to do so, and so Peter was rebuked by Jesus. Most importantly, Peter tried to take God’s place by controlling something he wasn’t called to control.
This was a dangerous moment. But this was not the most dangerous moment.
The Most Dangerous Moment
Peter had taken control and been rebuked. Normally, though, we aren’t rebuked in these moments. We are tired. We are busy. We are, after all, trying to accomplish what we think God wants us to do, or at least should want us to do.
The danger results from that. The most dangerous moment isn’t when you try to control something that God hasn’t called you to control; the most dangerous moment is the moment after that.
Notice what happened to Peter. Jesus rebuked him. And Jesus was led off to trial and execution. Peter was still following him around, though, and he went to the courtyard of the building in which Jesus was being tried. Then he was somewhat recognized by those who were standing in the courtyard around a fire, warming their hands on a cold night.
If you know the story, then you know that Peter denies Jesus three times. The man who stayed with Jesus when the multitudes were deserting him because he had nowhere else to go (John 6:68), the man who was willing to go to Jerusalem to die with Jesus (John 11:16), and the man willing to draw his sword and launch an attack when he and the men were outnumbered by more experienced soldiers — that man folded under the pressure of a slave-girl asking him if he was a Galilean.
Because the most dangerous moment isn’t when you’ve tried to take control from God. The most dangerous moment is after that. It’s when your attempts at control — so often dictated by what you think should have taken place — have failed. You become disillusioned and discouraged. Events haven’t turned out like you expected. So this, in turn, makes God seem absent. You end up not just disillusioned with the situation, but disillusioned with God.
And I think that’s why we see Peter’s sudden change. Up until this point in the Gospel stories, you would not have expected Peter to disown Jesus. But he denies Jesus. I think the best explanation is his disillusionment. He had expected God to use Jesus a certain way. He momentarily took control based on those expectations. And when those expectations were dashed by what God had really planned, Peter lost his bearings. Being thrown off-balance, he disowned Jesus.
So, yes, we need to be aware of when we think too highly of ourselves, of those moments when we try to control something God hasn’t given us to control. But we also need to know that when we fail at that, we are doubly in danger: we’ve taken the place of God, and in doing so set ourselves up to feel God’s absence in a powerfully disillusioning way.
This is one of the most dangerous moments. We must take care.
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