Is God in control? People use that phrase a lot, but is there anywhere in the Bible that teaches that God is in control? In the previous post we looked at an article that said it was going to list verses that confirmed God’s control, but ended not doing so. So are there other places in the Bible that teach God’s control?
It depends who you talk to. There are biblical scholars who say without a doubt that the Bible clearly teaches that God is in control of all things. There are also biblical scholars who say that the Bible does not teach that God controls all things.
First let’s look at an example of the people who say that God controls all things. A classic verse they point to is Ephesians 1:11, “In him [Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
Sounds pretty convincing, right? The question, though, is whether that means God is essentially the universal puppet master, controlling the strings of every single thing that happens. We would call this meticulous control. Perhaps that is how Paul is describing God in this passage.
Maybe, except that there are Christians who have a very different interpretation of Ephesians 1:11 and the other verses like, and I am one of them. In fact, the denomination Faith Church is a part of, the Evangelical Congregational Church, is part of a Christian heritage that also understands these verses differently. We do not believe the Bibles teaches God as controlling all the trillions upon trillions of minute details of human existence throughout the ages. Instead we believe that what Paul is saying in a verse like Ephesians 1:11 is that God has a larger plan, in Christ, and he will accomplish that plan.
The presence of sin in the world is perhaps the clearest example of what I am talking about, that God does not meticulously control all things. God does not want sin. Sin is by definition that which goes against God’s will. If we believed that God was meticulously controlling all human behavior, then we would have to believe that includes sin. Notice how illogical and against God’s nature our beliefs would have to be if this were true: we would be saying that God decrees that sin is wrong, but because he is in control, he also causes sin to happen.
I disagree with that line of thinking, and thus I understand Paul’s teaching in Ephesians not as saying that God is in control of every detail, but that he has a master plan in Christ which he will bring to consummation.
What that leaves us with is the hope of God’s larger plan, while we live in the reality of sin, difficulty, disease, struggle, and pain as a real part of our daily existence in the world. But we know that when our world is difficult, God is good. And he loves us.
Just knowing that God is good is often not enough, though, when we are in pain. When we are living with difficult realities, we can struggle to explain God’s role in them, or his relationship to us.
That’s why I think so many of us say, “God is in control!” Not because we believe that God is controlling every single detail of our lives, but because he is faithful and we can trust him in the midst of our pain. But even in the pain, it is important to think and talk rightly about God.
When we struggle with pain, such as the coronavirus pandemic, what is the right way to think and talk about God?
Let’s start by remembering what the Bible says about the world we live in. While it is so beautiful in so many ways, and we should strive to care for creation, we also need to recognize that it is a fallen world. There are at least three ways Christians talk about the fallenness of the world.
First, something scientists call the second law of thermodynamics – this is a principle of heat transfer that says things, generally, move from order to disorder. The technical word for this is entropy. Things rot, they rust, they wear out, they break. It is the super-rare exception that a car, for example, would improve its working order. Cars break down and need tune ups. Our bodies heal, yes, but the normal tendency is that they age and break down. This is what Paul is likely referring to in Romans 8:21 when he says that creation is in bondage to decay.
Second, Satan is real and he is in the world, tempting, lying, and as we read in Scripture, devouring. And he is no joke. We should be cautious in our view of Satan’s influence. I so often hear that a person is going through a difficult situation because of Satan. But we really don’t know that Satan is responsible, do we? If your car is broken down, it’s almost certainly not because of Satan; it is because cars follow the second law of thermodynamics, and they break down. It seems to me that we are generally too quick to blame Satan, and maybe we blame Satan when it was actually our own fault. He is real, though, and powerful, and he does tempt and devour.
The third way to describe our world is talk about the broken and fallen nature of people. People are in the world using their free will in ways that are selfish and harmful. Sometimes we are dealing with pain of our own making. Sometimes the pain is brought on us by others. Sometimes it is both. Because we have free will, and we don’t always use it in a way that is in keeping with God’s Kingdom, it leads to pain. But does that mean God is hands off? Deism is a view of God that says that God created the universe, he set things in motion, but is now hand’s off. Like a bowler releasing his bowing ball. Is God like that?
In our next post, we’ll try to answer that question.