It’s a Friday early-morning prayer meeting and one of the regulars is recounting to God the many problems in our troubled world.
The prayer moves from the terrorist attacks in Nigeria, to the endemic problem of abortion on demand, and then concludes with prayer for the two teenage girls who were burnt alive as part of a satanic ritual. At the end of this sorry litany the dear person ends with, “But you are in control of everything O Lord, so all is well. Amen.” What, I wonder did he mean when he claimed that God was in control? Did he mean that God had wilfully decided to blow up a whole bunch of innocent Nigerians, slaughter a couple of million unborn babies, and kill one girl after days of agony while simply maiming the other for life?! Or did he mean that God had specifically decided to allow these particular things to happen, which in my view is tantamount to the same thing?
So, what do we mean then when we say ‘God is in control’?
Usually we sanitise questions like this by immersing them in complex theological argument. We call it predeterminism, or sovereignty of God, or something like that and then plunge the troublesome issue into a huge pool of theological dogma. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that theology is important. However, we are created to live in relationship with God, not merely to study Him and his ways. Theology is meant to affect the way we live out our lives in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. So I am asking the question about divine control from a practical and pastoral perspective.
Over the years I have been with several grieving parents after their child has died, often suddenly and brutally. I don’t say to them “Well God must have had a very good reason for this. Just trust him and I am sure that in time you will see the good that comes from this.” Why should they trust a God who has just caused their beautiful daughter to crash her car into a tree and die?” She had just turned 18 and had only obtained her driver’s license that very week. Where is the good that is so immense and pressing that God would bring about such a tragedy?
At times like this I would rather assure the parents of God’s love and concern and the promise that He is with them, holding their hands and weeping with them, through this terrible time.
Yes I know the theology around all this – the so called immutability of God, His sovereign predetermination of all things, and so on. Frankly, I don’t think that this is good theology at all but I am not going to argue this in this article. Rather, I want to ask the question of how we understand statements like ‘God is in control’ from the perspective of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Is the triune God as revealed in and through the Lord Jesus Christ the author of evil? Is it perhaps that we just don’t understand the nature of true goodness and that what appears to us as evil is really divine goodness that we cannot comprehend? This is essentially what we express when we ask ourselves and others to trust that God is in control of situations that result in international or personal tragedy. Whether it’s the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War, the more recent Twin Tower disaster, or the rape, murder and dismemberment of a ten year old child, the issue is the same – if God caused it then it must be good… or else God is a monster!
I have never understood the argument that what we all clearly perceive as evil is in fact goodness in disguise. God has revealed to us in the scriptures what constitutes good and evil. He expects us to be able to discern the difference between the two and embrace good while shunning evil. Is God a two-faced trickster then? Does He practice the opposite of what He preaches? My answer is a resounding “No!”
I believe that our theology must influence what we say and how we live, and that what we say and do reflects what we truly believe.
The ultimate theological reflection should be on what Jesus Christ reveals to us of the nature and character of God. I believe that a theology that flows from this will be sound both in theory and in practice. And in the light of this it is easier to see that the competing theological systems of our day ultimately stand or fall on how they present the nature and character of God. The God revealed in Christ Jesus is good and truthful and He is not the author of specific evil, no matter what philosophical sleight of hand we attempt to employ to call evil good or to claim that God is directly in control of all things while absolving him from evil acts.