If you haven’t listened to the message from Sunday, this might be a good time to check it out. The Question this week was Is God In Control?
I said this in the message on Sunday and it bears repeating. If you are looking for a quick, simple answers then you’re going to have to search elsewhere. The world we live in is much too complicated and too deeply broken for simple, pithy answers. Besides that, we should want more out of our faith than just sweet, unexamined sentiment. We should also want more out of our faith than neat theological boxes that have no tension in them.
That’s precisely the dilemma with this question. One of those neat theological boxes is the answer that God is in control of everything. It’s more than just everything goes through His hands. It’s saying everything comes FROM his hands.
This is a significant step to take. I understand why some people take it. To some it is disconcerting to think that God doesn’t control every aspect of life, or perhaps more specifically “my life”. In their minds the concept of God allowing things to happen that are evil or bad or even things that he doesn’t want or like compromises the sovereignty of God. Somehow in this construction, God is less than God if he doesn’t have total and complete control.
The problem with this concept is that God doesn’t present himself to us this way. He doesn’t define his own sovereignty by control. From the beginning of the story, God limits himself. He exercises restraint. The Infinite chooses to limit himself to thoughts, words, and worlds. He creates time and space then chooses to put a free will creature in that space to relate to in that space and time. He chooses to create a world in which CONTROL is secondary to RELATIONSHIP.
Here’s the lynchpin in this – He chooses this. It wasn’t forced on him. It didn’t surprise him. It was self-imposed. He chooses relationship over control from the beginning to the end of the story.
Does this call into question his power or sovereignty?
I don’t think so. He consistently shows us that his definition of power is different than ours. He doesn’t grab control, he manifests love. This is who God is at his core: LOVE. He IS love. He HAS power.
So is God in control? He’s in as much control as he has chosen to be. He’s in control he wants to be. Is that a cop out of an answer? Perhaps. But I’d also argue that he will exercise ‘control’ as much as it doesn’t compromise love and relationship. For him, power is measured by sacrifice, not manipulation or control.
This was Jesus’ point to his disciples – don’t lead like the Gentiles lead. Don’t lord authority over others but instead serve all. Where we would grab power, Jesus grabs the towel. Where we would want control, Jesus takes the cross.
Therein lies the tension. God does not seem to have the need for control that we so desperately want him to have. We want him to stop the fires, heal the sick, prevent the disaster. From our perspective, his interventions are haphazard at best. Part of this is because we look through a lens darkly. We are finite trying to understand the infinite.
But part of it is also that God doesn’t play by our rules or expectations. I could put flowery words to this – God’s ways are not our ways, He works in mysterious ways – but these explanations often miss the grander point. As in, God has consistently shown in Scripture that he is perfectly pleased with working with the free will of man.
He wrestles with Isaac. He argues with Moses. He speaks with Noah. He chastises the kings. He encourages the prophets. His son cries in the garden.
Does this make life more complicated, nuanced, difficult? Absolutely. It also makes it more meaningful. It means that God will never compromise himself. He will never compromise love. It means “control” has never been the most important value to him.
His mission was not to control the world. His mission was to love the world. Can’t have it both ways. He has made it his mission to make a people that will freely worship Him. A people that would freely stand and say “You are my God and we are your people.” A people with a changed heart, not a programmed response.
Neither am I saying that God sits in heaven wringing his hands waiting on the response of humanity. God is not hostage to the decisions of man. That would be the other extreme, neat box that I’m trying to avoid as well.
What I really wish is there was some neat way to end this conversation but alas – that is not to be found. I believe in the goodness of God, that he is working all things out for good. Not that all things ARE good. He didn’t cocoon himself to that kind of life, why would we think we would be exempt from hardship? I see the cross as the worse the world, humanity, and the devil could throw at God. The empty tomb as Christ victorious over all. His promise that one day he will return and have control.
And for now, we live in that tension. By faith. So help me, God.