Fire from the Gods: Why Control Doesn't Solve Worry

Prometheus is a hero to many. He was a gigantic Titan god who challenged Zeus. Prometheus’ crime? Stealing fire from the gods. He thought Zeus’ rule over humanity was oppressive. Until Prometheus’ history splitting action, mankind lived a mundane existence, knowing the day of their death, ignorant of the Arts and Sciences. Zeus kept mortals in the dark. Prometheus thought this was unfair, so he sought to bring men and women out into the light. How? By stealing “fire from the gods” and giving it to humanity. This treasonous act was met with unflinching punishment. With Prometheus subdued, several gods escort him through a mountain gorge, carrying his massive stature to a mountain, where they fasten him to a rock. Hephaestus, the Vulcan blacksmith, reluctantly bolts the Prometheus to the mountain face.

Fire from the Gods

What did Prometheus accomplish in this seditious act? He gave humanity three things: a sense of immortality, ambition, and technology. As the story goes, the fire empowered the ambition of man to master many arts and ignite technological change. You might say Prometheus’ bondage freed humanity. What has been the benefit? Well, we’ve come a long way since hunting and gathering by moving into the progress of the Industrial Age, and now live in a globalized knowledge-based economy. We push the boundaries of science and technology century after century. Using the fire of the gods, we’ve healed diseases, extended life, sought to eradicate poverty, end human suffering, and even clone life.

Many would assert the fire of the gods is the way into a higher quality of life. Just look at human progress. When I come home, I kiss my wife, hug and greet each of my kids, talk to them about their day, and then check my phone. I may or may not put it away in my office. I feel the pull to check Twitter and email. The wireless signal draws me in, undetected, like a siren call. It makes me feel good, even in control. But am I in control? Is life better? While technology isn’t the devil, we must also remember that we aren’t the gods. In the words of Eugene Peterson, “we have the technology of the gods without the wisdom of the gods.”[1] Not knowing the day of our death (and knowing the Arts & Sciences) has given us, in the words of Prometheus, “blind hope.” We stumble forward and backward, fumbling our hope to change the world. Despite technological advance and educational leaps, we still haven’t eradicated poverty, stabilized the economy, or eliminated war. Is it possible the fire has blinded us?

Illusions of Sovereignty

Blinded by ambition, unaware of our mortality, we proceed under the illusion of control, under the spell of human progress, unaware that we are human because we can act like gods. Using Google maps we can pinpoint any location on earth. Using wireless technology we can contact anyone on earth. Using our laptop we can work from anywhere on earth! Many would argue this creates a better quality of life, we can do more for the world and more for the family, but that isn’t always true. Very often, we are controlled more than we control. We have an illusion of sovereignty. Possessing technological strength, we assume a sense of sovereignty that transmits the lie that we can minimize anxiety, insecurity, even suffering. We believe the more we control, the less we will worry.

My illusion of control protrudes into my family. After ten minutes of genuine niceties with my kids, disputes and complaints inevitably break out (They are 7, 6, and 2!). Summoning my sovereignty, I try to wield godlike control over the chaos. Commanding obedience and issuing reprimands, I try to secure the peace…but it doesn’t work. More control doesn’t lead to less worry. Why? Because my sovereignty is an illusion. We are not in control of our environment, circumstances, or children’s hearts. The only thing we can control is ourselves, and we are in desperate need for help with that.

Why doesn’t control work? Control doesn’t work because someone else is in control. There is a true sovereign who is willing something greater than temporary silence and false peace at home. There is a sovereign who has appointed the chaos of raising kids. God is willing weaker parents, gentler parents, more patient parents, parents who ask more questions than orders given. He could intervene at any moment, but he wants us to trust. Where is he exposing your illusion of control?

Worry Creep

The deceptive thing about the illusion of control, is that it works sometimes. Sometimes my kids quiet down when I threaten them. Sometimes employees do exactly what you want. Sometimes technology fixes things. But sometimes it doesn’t. What happens then? When kids act out, employees blow it, and computers go down, anxiety takes us by storm. We don’t expect it. We scramble, problem-solve, and worry begins to creep in. Our spell, now broken, brings our dreams crashing down around us. Plans, deadlines, and goals are thwarted. Anxiety begins to raise its ugly head.

What does Jesus have to say when worry hits? “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matt 11:25). Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious.” That doesn’t relieve much for me. It actually makes me anxious about not being anxious. Jesus offers some relief when he tells us to compare ourselves to the birds, well fed, and to the flowers, well clothed. If God feeds and clothes them, will he not take care of us? He tells us to consider the lilies. The word “consider” means to ponder and learn. What’s the relief Jesus is offering here? He says, in the moment of anxiety, rely on your head not your emotions. Remember what God does. He cares for the lesser. Will he not care for the greater? After all flowers and birds were not fashioned in his image. Honestly, this doesn’t help me much either. Why? Because reason isn’t the root of the problem. Faith is: “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (11:30).

How does faith help worry? How does faith secure peace? Sounds like a sham. Are we supposed to close our eyes, cross our fingers, and wish our worries away to God? That’s not faith. That’s wishful thinking. Jesus’ counsel isn’t a sham because we all have faith. Regardless of what we look to for help (technology, God, ambition, personality), we look to something. We are creatures of trust. You might trust a spouse, but then you get hurt or burned, so you trust yourself. You think to yourself: I can secure happiness by leaving this marriage. Even though you don’t trust others, you’re still trusting. You might trust a great business idea or career move, but what if we hit a recession again and the business goes under? The capital dries up? We all trust, every day. The question is: “Is what you’re trusting able to hold you up, no matter what?” Are you in control or is it in control? Jesus explains: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Seeking First the Kingdom

Jesus said don’t worry by having faith, but now he tells us how: “seek first the kingdom of God.” Three critical elements have to come together to get us away from worry: seek, first, kingdom.

Desiring the Kingdom

Seek first the kingdom. Pursue. The word can actually be translated desiredesire the kingdom. Yearn the kingdom. Crave the kingdom. This is an emotive command, a strong, persistent way out of worry. Do you crave the kingdom? Do you pulse with desire for the things of God? If you don’t, you’ll be dominated by worry.

How do you know if you desire the kingdom of God? Anxiety will go down and prayer will go up. I’ve desired my kingdom at home, trying to enforce peace instead of entreat peace. Worry goes up, prayer goes down. So how do we desire the kingdom? First we have to know what it is. The kingdom of God is the reign of Christ over all things, in his way, and in his time. So to desire the kingdom is to long for Christ’s way over everything, especially the thing we worry about. The way out of worry is the way into the kingdom.

Desiring the kingdom is desiring God’s will more than our will. George Mueller said: “The will of God is to have no will of your own.” That will rub an American wrong. No will of my own? That’s mindless faith! Close your eyes and will it away? Do you really expect me to be indifferent about screaming kids, crashing economies, and vocational changes? No, remember, consider the lilies. Reason it out. Does God create? Does God provide? Does God care? If so, he’s the one that’s really in control, not you or them. He made it all—your kids, your spouses, your world. Trust who’s in charge. When something goes wrong with your Macbook, do you call Microsoft? No, you call the one who made it. You trust the one who has the power to fix it, who can control your technology. You trust the one in charge. Desiring the kingdom means calling upon the King. It means trusting his way and his timing, especially when things seem broken. The way out of worry is desiring the way into the kingdom.

Making the Kingdom First

Seek first the kingdom of God. By first Jesus means first, supreme, uppermost, on top of all things. If the kingdom of God is the reign of Christ over all things, in his way and in his time, then we would be foolish to not make it first. This is the kingdom of God, who dwells in unapproachable light, Lover-Beloved-Love, Restorer of shalom, the very Wind and Word of God, the Holy, holy, holy. His kingdom is first, not our kingdom. For the Christian, the kingdom of God is ultimate, supreme, of chief importance. We must long for it, for him, more than any other thing—more than family, security, technology, and even democracy. It must to be first because it is first.

The British preacher Martin Lloyd Jones remarked: “If [the kingdom] isn’t the first thing in your life, then you haven’t got it. Rather, it should have you.” How do you know the kingdom has you? You desire it. You pray for it: “Your kingdom come your will be done.” No caveats. The more we pray for it the more we will desire it. Pray it: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” I’ve been praying this prayer regarding my attitude towards my kids. It’s changing me, which is changing them. Their mother was gone all weekend. But instead of trying to get an iron grip on the weekend, I asked God for his kingdom to grip me. I asked that I would desire his control first, especially in the disputes, trusting his agenda to change me. I asked that I wouldn’t be seduced by the lie that: “The more I control, the less I will worry.” It’s actually quite the opposite. The less I try to control, and the more I trust his control, the less I worry. My control is an illusion and grabs at fleeting peace. His control is true, and leads me into true peace.

We’ve forgotten that Prometheus Bound is a tragedy, not a triumph. Bolted to the rock by the Vulcan, Prometheus was scorched by the sun and frozen by the moon. By day an eagle pecked out his innards. By night they grew back. Riddled with anxiety, his suffering repeated itself day after day. The Greeks want us to see that it is folly to trust in ambition and put faith our control. Instead, we need to desire first the kingdom of God, the kingdom where the king is bolted to the tree for our transgressions, for our worries, and liberated for our triumph and our peace. Seek first the kingdom of God and worry will be a far second.


[1] This reflection on Prometheus is inspired by Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 28-31.

Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship andUnbelievable Gospel. He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.

Related articles by Jonathan: Questioning the Gospel and How to Avoid Brain Meltdown and Increase Theological Vision