Is God Always In Control?
By John Miller
This is, in large part, an excerpt from a sermon by a Pastor A.J. Thomas of the United Methodist Church. He has a fresh way of making good points that I hope most of us will agree with regarding God's day to day control in our lives.
"God is in control!" I've said it. You've probably said it. Christians often use that declarative phrase for explaining or hopefully positioning the outcome of both positive and negative circumstances. This invariably leads to the frustration of confused Christians and to upward rolling of the eyes by non-believers who hold world views on life's happenings. God takes the bad rap for our misstatements. Fortunately, God is big enough to handle the rap. At least His Name has been spoken into a hardened world. Still, maybe we should think about this and fall back to a more God-honoring phrase like, "Praise God" or "Please God."
Certainly, in Scripture, we read that God intervened in the lives of Old and New Testament people. I personally believe that He was in control in many of those circumstances where he desired and directed the outcome. Flood, war, victories, losses, fallen kings and yes, even martyred Prophets was part of His plan. Why do I believe that? Because, God chose to record His intervention into ancient human history to us. Isaiah 55:11 declares that God's Word is holy, powerful and purposeful. John 17:17 teaches us that Jesus, in the hours before His crucifixion, declared His Father's Word to be Truth. If God said he would bring wrath on people, show mercy, Sacrifice The Lamb of God and raise the dead, He did it! He had a divine purpose.
We must remember that from the fall of Adam, God was setting the stage for Reconciling man to Him; cleansing land and peoples, preparing His chosen people and the Gentiles for the coming of the Messiah; demonstrating His power through Jesus to a nation of doubting people; pointing to the sacrificial and redeeming Cross of Jesus Christ at a time when there was no written Gospel. God is sovereign. He created us, so He has the absolute right to intervene in humanity when and where He sees fit. Scripture records for all eternity, His divine will and actions for each of those Biblical events. God is patient. God owns grace. God infinitely loved His Creation enough to carry out His divine plan of Reconciliation.
But what about God in our lives today? Is God controlling every dynamic of our busy day to day life? Is He always in control? Does He deserve the blame for all of our troubles? Let's see what Pastor Thomas says:
Does God Control Everything?
The key to understanding this question lies in understanding the character and nature of God, so let's open ourselves up to what God reveals to us about God's self.
When bad things happen, we find ourselves in a tension between two beliefs we hold to be true - that God is in control and that God is love. Something has to break down somewhere. However, what I've seen is that usually we believe one of those statements just a little bit more than the other. Usually, we seem more certain that God is in control than we are that God is love.
When love is taken out of the picture, the image of God that remains is one who inflicts illness, who kills people in accidents, who advocates war, who embraces genocide, who orchestrates violence and injustice and oppression and tragedy. When love is taken out of the picture, people make claims that since God controls everything, every bad thing is done for a reason as a display of God's judgment.
That's just not consistent with who God truly is, and I don't know about you, but I am not interested in following a God like that. Is it any wonder, when God is presented as always being in control of everything - including suffering, tragedy, and evil - that so many people have said, "No thanks."
So what should we do? Well, remember that we often find ourselves making a choice between God being in control of everything, and God being loving. Well, what if we believe what the Bible tells us, that the greatest is love (1 Corinthians 13:13)? What if love conquers all? What if John Wesley was right, and love really is God's reigning attribute? What if love wins every time? What if the Beatles were right, and all you need is love? And if that's true, then is it possible to even suggest that perhaps God is not in control of everything?
Let that sink in for a minute. That's my proposal this morning: that God is not in control of everything. Remember, our understanding of God and God's character comes down to a bit a boxing match between love and control. And here's a hint: love wins every time. When it comes to God, the answer is always love. If you remember nothing else from today's message, remember this: for something to be truly of God, it must be motivated primarily by love.
Friends, God isn't a control freak. Despite what you may think, God doesn't have some very detailed plan for everything that will ever happen. Everything that happens in the world is not, in fact, part of some divine plan working itself out and coming to fruition. God wants to relate to all humanity through love, and for love to be genuine, it must be reciprocal. Love is freely-chosen, it is never forced, and so if God is going to relate to us through love, God takes the risk that we may not love God in return.
But if God doesn't control everything, then how does God work God's purposes in the world? It's simple: God works with what is available. When we make a wrong turn, when we mess up, given the place where we find ourselves, God says, "All right, since you find yourself right here, right now - from this point forward, what would be the best thing for you?" We must understand that tragedy does not come from God.
God is love; the whole thing hinges on that very premise. And because love must be freely chosen and can't be compelled or forced, God has freely given up some aspect of controlling the world. In so doing, God takes a risk, God takes a gamble, and God even chooses to be vulnerable to what creation might do.
A mature faith recognizes that God is not the author of suffering and evil in the world, that God is not in control of everything, simply because there are so many things happen that do not happen out of love, and as such, they are not from God. Even so, God can still work in those situations. Good can come out of difficulty, and we must recognize that God did not send us a tragedy in order to bring a good out of it.
If God doesn't control everything, how else does God work God's purposes in the world? Friends, let's not forget the role that we are called to play. It matters that we are part of the church, it matters that we are God's hands and feet on earth, it matters that we called to be the body of Christ, it matters that we are instructed to clothe ourselves with love, and that everything we do should be motivated by our love for God and neighbor.
Friends, God is love, which means that God has freely given up some control, God has taken a risk, God has made a gamble, God has made God's self vulnerable that what God most desires in the world - love - may not happen. Can I let you in on a secret? The degree to which God's control and desire is exercised in the world rests not in some divine cosmic plan, but with each of us. You and I determine the extent to which God is in control, because when we don't act out of love, we thwart God's control. When we don't act out of love, we are working against God.
Does God control everything? No, because God is love. God relates to the world not by exercising control, but by exercising love. The deeper our relationship with God develops, the better we experience God's love, which enables us to better understand how we should live and better give ourselves in loving service to God.
In the end, it matters more, not that we have a God who controls everything, but that we have a God who faithfully responds to us out of love. May we be people who respond not out of our desire for control, but out of our desire to express love.
When asked in a blog if God is necessary for us when we are confronted with temptation and evil (if God is not always in control of everything) the Pastor Thomas offered this response:
"I do believe that we, as humans, are incapable of overcoming the evil we encounter. Though we were created in the image of God with the same capacity for love as God, our wills are also bent and broken away from God (We can call this sin - a moving away from God in our lives). Since our wills bend away from God, it is impossible for us to overcome temptation and evil on our own.
That, I believe, is where God becomes necessary. While it is true that love overcomes evil and love is stronger than evil, on our own, we don't know how to love enough to overcome evil. The presence of evil is very real; we don't have to look far to see it. So where do we find a love that is great enough and strong enough to overcome evil in our world? In God! Going back to the premise that "God is Love" that ran throughout the sermon - God is the source of all love. Perfect love, true love, sacrificial love, giving love - all love finds its source in God.
That's where God is necessary. On my own, I am too weak to overcome evil. I don't have enough love within me to overcome evil, and I am not strong enough to simple "decide" to love. I need to be plugged into a source of love that is greater than me and also strong enough to overcome evil. That source is God."
I agree with the Pastor. His sermon brings fresh clarity to me. Because God is love, I'm inclined to praise and thank Him for His many blessings and immeasurable, loving grace poured out on me. I know I mess up. I trust Him to teach me through my circumstances. I must deal with the consequences of my decisions, yet I know that He is merciful. I know He has given me His indwelling Holy Spirit to council and convict me. I just need to listen to the Spirit. If I do, my life circumstances will be less hectic. I trust God to love me because He promised He would. I acknowledge that, through Adam, illness, suffering and death are part of life. I just hope I will praise Him in all of that as it comes to me. The beautiful, mysterious Psalm 23 is for the faithful and I can trust that "The Lord is My Shepherd" who alone can bring this Psalm's promises to fullness when He eventually takes me home. And if He chooses to take control of any part of my life at any time, I'm grateful.