Christian Internal Versus External Locus of Control

Isn’t it bizarre how differently people deal with adversity? Some people seem to get crushed very easily with the slightest thing against them, and in addition others’ defences seem almost impenetrable — they accept the worst, deal with it, and appropriate the truth about themselves into their very beings. And there are a multitude of responses in between those two great extremes.

T find this is a meaningful difference between those who choose the genuine Christian life and the rest — though Christians don’t have a mortgage on this sort of resilience. For Christians however, faith and surrender method placing our trust thoroughly in God’s hands for him to dictate to us our moves, by prayer and his information. Why do so many go the wrong way, and so often?

This can be explained many ways, but one theory that’s worthy of exploration is locus of control. In short, an external locus of control indicates ‘stuff happens to me,’ ‘don’t blame me, it’s not my fault,’ and ‘how could I succeed in these circumstances?’ An internal locus of control however, is the opposite: ‘I failed the exam because I didn’t prepare adequately enough,’ ‘I create the stuff that happens to me,’ and ‘I know there must be a way of succeeding in these circumstances.’

Without getting into the psychological theory of Julian B. Rotter (1954) and others, I think we’d all agree that having more of an internal locus of control i.e. being more responsible about our own role regarding the impact of things on our lives, is preferable to having a predominantly external locus of control that sees other things and people credited for our success or failure.

The interesting thing for Christians is this: we need to have a semblance of external locus of control. God creates things via his will and so circumstances generally occur because of his will. We attribute things and goings on to him, or to the devil, pure and simple. There’s at the minimum a uncompletely spiritual vicinity character.

Where we come in however is our response to the things that occur in our lives, despite this character of God’s activity in the world. At one point we accept it, but if we have a predominantly internal locus of control we don’t rest on a spiritual vicinity character alone.

Now, it seems to me to be a plain thing that most people want to blame others for their misfortune. It’s a rank folly and a deceit for people to believe this. If we fail, more often than not it is our fault and no one else’s, at the minimum slightly, and we should be able to see that. We should then learn from the mistake if at all possible. That’s a demonstration of internal locus of control — for the person to ‘take on board’ ownership, problem-solve, and then search for solutions to negative life situations. additionally, if things happen to us and they are unfortunate, and they genuinely had nothing to do with us, we need to have the resilience to cope; live to fight another day.

Christian people of all people should be past-masters of this trade. They should’ve been discipled and mentored to such an extent that the true gospel message of repentance is firmly entrenched — in addition how few reach this ‘halcyon’ level? It is disturbing that many claim to be followers of Christ, and for many years, and in addition nevertheless struggle with this elementary factor of faith.

“consider it pure joy brothers and sisters,” James says, “whenever you confront trials, tests, and temptations of many various kinds.” (My paraphrase of James 1:2) We must expect them and not be surprised by them. This will assist us in taking these ‘on,’ ensuring that we, as much as possible, can continue in glee with the thing nevertheless bearing down on us — because we know that the LORD is with us and for us. It is for him that we can assume ownership of all things that come our way. This is not just theory; we must be put into practice. We must resist the pity party.

The prize granted a predominant and healthy internal locus of control is maturity; of faith and of personality. It’s what others see, and the Spirit of God in us, that is the meaningful. As the writer to the Hebrews suggested, “consequently let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that rule to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” (Hebrews 6:1-3 NIV) This maturity is hard work, but nonetheless necessary. Let’s not shirk our responsibility for the things that occur to us.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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