Is God in Control?

I often hear well-meaning Christians attempt to reassure themselves and others when a disaster strikes (e.g. the Covid-19 pandemic) by saying words such as, “Don’t worry, God is in control.” I believe that they are confusing the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God with their belief that God is, ultimately, in control of everything.

I have previously been misled by this confusion when applying it to setbacks in my life. The thought has come to my mind, “How could God have let this happen to me? Is His Word not filled with promises that He will protect me because He loves me?”

When something went wrong in my life, I thus attributed it partly to God which caused me to either lose confidence in God or myself. Did this setback happen because I had sinned? Was God trying to teach me a lesson?

This was the explanation of Job’s so-called friends for the setbacks he suffered in his life. After God had used Nature to give Job a lesson in humility he made it clear to his friends that they were wrong in their understanding of how God works, “ … you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

In addition, the careless description of certain events being “God’s will” is linked to the fallacious thinking that “God is in control of everything”.

This issue is dealt with by Tony Campolo in his blog, “Why God is Not in Control” in Red Letter Christians. To support this, he gives the example of the funeral of a young man who died in a mountain climbing accident where the pastor said in his homily, “We must see what has happened as God’s will!” The father of the young man stood up and shouted, “The hell it was God’s will! When my son died, God was the first one who cried.”

Campolo goes on to state that God can bring something good out of tragedy (Romans 8:28) but God does not cause the tragedy.

He states that the “fatalistic thinking” shown by the abovementioned pastor is more consistent with some of the beliefs emanating from Islam than with Biblical faith.

I recall watching the movie Lawrence of Arabia as a teenager and the scene that had a huge impact on me was when Lieutenant Lawrence, of the British Army, was trekking across a vast desert along with certain Arab soldiers. When one of the soldiers collapses from exhaustion Lawrence hesitates to indicate that they should go to his aid, but another soldier indicates that they should leave him behind to die as it is the will of Allah. Lawrence, however, sees it differently and endangers his own life to go back and carry the soldier in peril to safety. Lawrence, fortunately, proved himself not to be a fatalist.

Campolo deals with what he regards as a battle of wills – the battle between good and evil which explains some of the heartache and strife we observe in our World. He states:

“The story I get straight from scripture is that there are evil non-rational principalities and powers that are let loose in the world, sometimes working through evil people (Ephesians 2:2) and that God is not the author of the confusion and disorder that came from these destructive powers. “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

He states that what God created was good, but because of humankind’s rebellion against Him things are not as God willed them to be. The Apostle John wrote that, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one”. (1 John 5:19). Jesus described this person as being, “the Prince of this world.” (John 14:30). God is thus not the author of evil but has sent His Son to initiate a movement to overcome these things.

He states further:

“I am not questioning the extent of God’s power. I believe that God has chosen not to be in control of everything going on in this world. In Christ we find a God who deliberately gave up power to control everything to save the world through sacrificial love ((Philippians 2). If God exercised total control over everything we do, we could not love God because love always requires the lover to freely choose to love. God relinquished power to give us the freedom to love.”

It follows logically that God also gave us the freedom not to love Him and others. He did not leave it there. To reconcile us to God, Jesus humbled himself by choosing the Cross, thereby atoning for our acts of rebellion.

Campolo, as a professor as Eastern University in the USA, challenges his students to define themselves as agents of God, called to participate with God in delivering those sectors of the world, where they are called to serve, from any evil and suffering.      

Philip Drysdale comes out even stronger in his rejection of the belief that “God is in control”. In his blog, entitled, “Irrefutable Proof That God Is Not In Control Of Everything” he states:

“You see if God was in control of everything then His will would always be done. This seems pretty obvious; the problem is that there are plenty of people out there who argue that it is always done. This view of ‘if it doesn’t happen then it’s not God’s will’ or ‘if it does happen it is God’s will’ is really scary though. This is because it creates a ‘will of God’ that is tethered to our experiences and not the Bible.”

He points out that it is clear from the Bible that God desires to see people living free from sin and that Jesus came to take away the sin of the World. It is God’s will that people do not sin, but that is not the reality. It follows that God is not in control of everything.

He states:

“I am not in any way saying anything to diminish God’s supremacy or position as the ultimate power in the universe. I’m simply saying that He doesn’t need to be in control. God is sovereign, yes, but that doesn’t mean He’s in control.”

He points out that the Hebrew word which is translated in the NIV Bible as “sovereign” actually means “Lord God”. It is not used to mean “in control” but “in charge”.

“Sovereign in the dictionary means to ‘possess supreme or ultimate power’. It does not necessarily mean that it’s being used in every situation in the world to control everything. The queen of England is sovereign, but she has yet to interfere in my day-to-day life by telling me what to eat for lunch.”

“Sovereignty means He is over everything, answers to no one and has responsibility for everything.”

From the beginning, however, God chose to delegate us to be stewards of His creation. He thus gave humankind control over the resources of the earth which could be used for good or bad. “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man.” (Psalm 115:16). The problem is that we relinquished this control to Satan when we rebelled against God.

He states that the Bible depicts God as being so comfortable in His position of power that, “He gave us control knowing we’d screw up. He could do this because He is so good at working things out for good and seeing His overall purposes come to pass. This to me describes a God who is infinitely more powerful, not less-so.”

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, because His will is done in Heaven but not always on earth.

He concludes that while God could control everything, he has no desire to do so – “He wants a partner, not a puppet.”

To seriously believe that God controls everything also would be to implicate Him in being party to evil acts including the Holocaust. This is obviously absurd.

In On the Threshold of Transformation Richard Rohr states:

“If God were in control, the world would not be in the shape it’s in. I’m afraid that God’s love patiently allows us to control a lot of what’s happening in the world. He waits for us to reach a point of willingness to participate freely in whatever He is doing.”

Not believing that “God is in control” does not rule out the concept of divine providence which Rohr believes in. He states:

“When we willingly give our lives to God and ask for guidance, life begins to fill with all kinds of synchronicities, ‘coincidences’, surprises to everyone but you; this is what the saints call divine providence. God is in control only when we give God control, and then really good things begin to happen. In the meantime, it appears that God does everything God can to influence and heal our misguided events.”

I believe this is part of the mystery of what makes prayer work. I had no luck with girls until I gave this to the Lord in prayer and then the Manager of the Christian Rock Band, I was in invited Felicity to join the group. The rest, so they say, is history. Thereafter, it was easier for me to believe in miracles.

During this lockdown Felicity and I have had very little paid work to do which has caused me great anxiety. In answer to our prayers and the prayers of our extended church family, however, God has provided for our needs.           

This article is not an exercise in splitting theological hairs, but an attempt to better understand the nature of God who describes Himself as “abounding in love” (Exodus 34:7) and has proved this to be the case in Jesus.

What gives me confidence in the future is not the thought that “God is control,” but that He has delivered me from my fears and provided for my needs on so many occasions in the past.

This is a recurring theme in the Bible, e.g. Psalm 77:

“I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days, the years of long ago.
I remembered my songs in the night…
Then I thought, to this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all your works and consider your mighty deeds…
Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

There is also the prophecy of John in Revelation 11:15 that gives me hope:

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.”

We long for His return because He is the:

“KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS!” (Revelation 19:16)

That is the Sovereignty of God – HALLELUJAH!

Eric Myhill
26 May 2020