How Control Hurts our Faith, and Story Can Help It

This is part eight of The Story Book.

A re you in control? Do you want to be? If so, maybe that’s not necessarily a good thing. Here’s how control hurts our experience of faith, and story can help it:


Much of what passes for church today is a child of the age of the Scientific Method.

The scientific method is rooted in the idea of control–isolating variables, testing hypotheses, verifying data. We like to make a weekly case for Christ through our homiletic propositions and principles, which we alliterate for added assimilation. Stories, images, metaphors, art only serve as ornaments to illustrate our points.


The funny thing is that equating empiricism to faith, in some sense, defies logic.

If we can verify it, why do we need faith? Faith lies outside the realm of the verifiable. When the angel visited Mary, she didn’t understand. When Abram left for Ur, he didn’t understand. But we don’t have to understand to have faith. Each of the characters in the core stories of our faith put stock in a spiritual knowing that was apart from understanding. It is hard for us, as philosophical children of DeCartes, to comprehend a level of knowing that is apart from a set of factual data. We want to codify the God experience. How arrogant!

As Christians, our very faith is formulated by revelation. It is not our clever skills of deduction that lead us to God, but God’s revealing glimpse. The knowing comes from God’s revelation, not our own effort.

Some people go through jobs and friendships and marriages without ever realizing the fundamental issue of grasping onto control.


But life isn’t controllable. Life is a big mystery.

Control is a devilish construct, a straw man of the Enlightenment that somehow convinced Christians – Christians, of all people, the ones whose very life is based on a story – that stories are somehow not “real”, that myths and fairy tales are good for little people but inadequate for serious faith inquiry. Consider the very irony of the term, Age of Enlightenment, which begat the Age of Information. We are no more enlightened now than before–just more knowledgeable. As a former boss told me when I was fresh out of seminary, knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. I have come to realize that wisdom is the root of the towering tree, the invisible strength in the darkness underneath, from which grows all manner of coverage. Wisdom is understanding that we are but one tree in a story about a forest of trees.

The relinquishment of control is the acorn of wisdom.


Stories give us a different way to think about faith.

Stories are realer than real. There are facts, and then there is story, like that trick with a mosaic of photos which on zoom out reveal a single composite image. Art enlarges our realm of the real. And yet this is not something that we can control. Like political power that is present until it is used, or a star that only twinkles in our peripheral vision and not in our direct view, the greater reality of art is strongest when it exists just outside of our intellectual grasp. When we attempt to name it, we somehow lose it.

Control is the antithesis of creativity. What is an area of your life in which you need to lose control?


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).