Updated: Nov 8, 2020
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28
Recently, a woman said to me, “I am glad I know that God is in control,” which is not an uncommon sentiment among Christians during times of crisis. Comments to the same effect are often heard. Please, grant me personal privilege and allow me to say that the woman who said this to me has been my friend for as long as I can remember, and I know her to be a devout and good woman, generous, loyal, and loving. She has great faith in Jesus Christ, and I enjoy her pragmatic and joyful approach to life and living. She is truly one of my favorite people. But I want us to think about this idea that God is in control. Do you think so? I do not. Could He be in control? Absolutely. He could arrange affairs however He wishes, for He is omnipotent. But I do not think He exercises that power.
I hate to point out the obvious, but if God is in control, He’s not doing a very good job of it. I checked the numbers this morning, a morbid habit into which I’ve fallen. As of today, there are 877,422 people in the world diagnosed with COVID-19, and of that number, 44,156 have died. (Some of the numbers reflect increased testing, not necessarily new cases, but the same logic does not apply to deaths.) But plagues are nothing new. I read yesterday about the 1918 influenza pandemic during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. He essentially ignored it because people died of the flu every year and he had the Great War (WW1) distracting him. Estimated deaths worldwide run to 50 million with about 675,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. For perspective, world population was only about 1.5 billion at the time.
Besides pandemics and plagues, if God is in control, there are some other fronts on which He doesn’t seem to be meeting basic standards of morality or goodness. War is a good example, and it seems as if somebody in the world is at war all the time. Is God in control of that? What about children who die? Of any disease? Or worse, what of children who are stolen and sold into sexual slavery? What’s the deal with that? I mean, if you or I were in control, would we allow such things to happen? I think not. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and forest fires get old, as well. I’m against those. Terrorism has nothing to commend it, yet, it occurs with appalling regularity. Vulgarity as artistic license is common and abundant today, as are ignorance and delusion. I don’t like any of that because our human dignity is diminished by them. If I were in control, I’d stop all of that. Wouldn’t you? The reason I seldom watch television is because my mind is perfectly capable of wandering into sin without any input or suggestions from Hollywood.
And that’s the point, friends. Our world is full of sin, sorrows, trials, disease, death, and the malignant and lethal whims of evil. When we say that God is in control, we are saying not only that He allows all of this, we are implying that He ordains trials, troubles, and misery. Do we really want to make God the Author of suffering and heartache? To do so is to make God into a monstrous ogre, unworthy of trust and devotion. If anyone of us were that awful, no one would want to hang with us. Are we better than God?
When God made us in His image, He gave us freedom with which we can choose something other than Him to worship. Sadly, we choose idols all the time, including the idol of God’s control, and I think that is an idol. The rebellion against God described in Genesis 3 is all about control, whether we will worship ourselves by taking control of our own lives, or whether we will humble ourselves, allow God to be God, and worship Him. Just as happened to Adam and Eve, when we think we know better for ourselves than God does and strive to take control of our lives, God lets us, and we then leave the paradise of His heart.
The providence of God deserves greater attention. We do not talk about it enough. St. Paul wrote, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” God doesn’t cause all things, but He causes all things to work together for good. That means, whatever our circumstances, whatever evil befalls us, whatever darkness descends into our lives, God will bring forth good. It is a promise of incredible magnitude, a promise with the power to sustain us through the worst of times and greatest of human suffering. Providence is the promise of good to come, no matter how bad things are.
We want God to be in control when things are beyond our control, and we want to believe that somewhere, far beyond our understanding, in the nether regions of the mind of God, all of this makes sense. It does not. Human suffering and misery are indiscriminate, and we never had control in the first place. One day, Christ Jesus will return, and there will be no more sorrow or grief or death. Our suffering will be redeemed and sanctified. Until that day, God allows us to do as we please, even as He relentlessly pursues us and calls us to Him.
Our God is faithful, and He is good. He watches over us like a mother hen watches over her chicks. He holds us in His heart, finds us when we’re lost, and ministers to our deepest needs, but He doesn’t control us. He woos us with love and blessing, meets us with mercy and tenderness, but He does not take away our freedom to choose. Human arrogance uses freedom to bring all sorts of horrors into our world, for that is what sin does in us and through us. The only way that will change is through our faithfulness and humility, and that is our other choice. Until Christ returns, He is our refuge and our strength, our hope and our safety, but the only control He takes is what we give to Him.
My friend chooses Christ, and He is in control of her heart through her choice to be obedient to Him. There is more at work in reality than we see, and it is enough for us to know that God wins in the end. While God does not take control, we can and should release control of our lives to Him – for His glory and for our blessing.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau – © 2020