How Much Control Does God Really Have? (6/4/17)
How many times have you or someone you know asked God a “why” question? Why did this illness have to strike me? Why did I lose my job? Why did you allow this person to hurt me? Why do you allow 20,000 people a day to starve to death around the world? God, why did you take this person away from me?
The difficult problem with these questions is we simply can’t answer them in ways which brings complete understanding and healing to our hurting hearts. This causes many people to doubt God and possibly even walk away from their faith altogether.
Some Christians, with the best of intentions, try to bring comfort by taking this concept and turning it from a negative question into a positive statement. “Well, God is in charge of who gets elected president.” “God gave me this chronic illness so I’m going to trust him.” And, to quote Job 1:21, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Here’s a question we need to wrestle with: Is God really responsible for the difficulties and suffering that are in the world?
We’ve been taught that he is in charge of everything that happens – both good and evil. The great church theologian, Augustine, even said that since God used evil to carry out his will, then even evil itself was good. Of course, he was influenced by Greek thinking and Greek gods had absolute power. Naturally, Augustine applied this mindset to YHWH, our God’s name in the Old Testament. Since the time of Augustine, the church has embraced the concept that God is in control of everything because there are many Bible verses which tell of God’s mighty power.
Are these verses being used out of context?
If God is in control of everything, why did:
*He allow Adam and Eve to choose whether or not to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3)? The Bible says they made this choice on their own after God had warned them not to eat it.
*God say, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8)? If God is responsible for everything, including evil, why would it matter to God if people had evil thoughts or committed evil acts? Wouldn’t that make God hypocritical?
*The angel who was bringing a message to Daniel get delayed for 21 days by the prince of the kingdom of Persia (Daniel 10:13)? If God had absolute control, wouldn’t he give his angel the ability to immediately overpower this evil being? Someone once said God used this to delay his answer to Daniel. If this is true, then why not just delay the angel for 3 weeks instead of having a demon obstruct his path?
*Jesus pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)?” Doesn’t this statement from Jesus indicate God isn’t controlling everything on earth? Things in heaven are good but the earth still needs some work. This verse also indicates prayer is much more critical than most Christians realize.
Many Christians who have a poor prayer life believe that since God is already controlling everything according to his will, their prayers aren’t needed. Jesus seems to be saying this isn’t true. Since this passage is part of a teaching about how to pray, he’s teaching our prayers are critical for God’s will to be done on earth.
*God send his son to die on the cross to overcome evil if God already controls it (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John)? Wouldn’t God be saying “My son’s death will allow me to destroy the evil that I’ve created and can already control?” God could simply destroy evil if he controls it. Sending Jesus to die for something he already controls is similar to me controlling a car by driving it but then telling my wife, Stephanie, who’s sitting in the passenger seat, that she needs to do something to stop it at the next red light.
The Bible teaches God is powerful and sovereign. He created us and the world we live in. Still, a close reading of the Bible also teaches that God doesn’t exercise sovereign power over the problems that plague our lives.
So, if God isn’t responsible for the evil that surrounds and attacks us, then who or what is?
*The first thing is creation itself. Romans 8:18-21 says, “18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
Because the world was created by God, it is full of wonderful things for us to enjoy. However, because of sin, it is also full of sickness, death, difficulties, tragedies and uncertainties which can strike us at any time. The book of Revelation tells us these obstacles and problems will be destroyed in the last days. The problem is we don’t live in that time period yet.
Another thing that brings evil into our lives is human beings. God created us with a purpose. Deuteronomy 11:1 states, “You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.” Our greatest purpose is to love God and obey him. This theme is clearly stated in the New Testament as well. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
There’s on important point we need to realize about our purpose. We must freely give our love and obedience to God in order for it to be sincere. It wouldn’t be true love and obedience if God created us to automatically give it to him.
If humans can choose to love God, we can also choose to reject him. Choosing to reject God results in evil. Bad things happen when we act in ways that are contrary to God’s wishes. Innocent victims get killed when people choose to drink and drive. Gluttony creates health issues. Loving money causes us to put possessions ahead of God. Basically, other people’s sin and rebellion toward God affects me and my sin and rebellion toward God affects other people.
Humans aren’t the only beings responsible for evil in the world around us. Demonic forces create havoc in our lives. The Bible is very clear there is a spiritual realm all around us. We don’t understand much of it because the Bible is vague about what happens there and we can’t see it with our eyes. We do know demons are angels who chose to reject God instead of loving and obeying him. God has to deal with them. 2 Peter 2:4 says, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.” These demons also desire to cause problems for us. They want to destroy us so they are always looking for ways to attack us and make our lives miserable.
To sum it up, the evil we face is caused by the fallen world we live in as well as human and angelic rejection of God.
Someone could argue that since God allows this to happen, isn’t he ultimately responsible for the results of evil? Let’s look at this question from another angle. Do you have children? If you do, you created them. Do you control everything they do? Obviously not. You give them the ability to make choices. Do they always do everything that you want them to do? Obviously not. Many times, they don’t listen to you and they do “evil”. When they don’t do the right thing, do you want others to blame you? No, you don’t. But, as parents, you created them. Aren’t you responsible?
This same principle applies to God. While the Bible is clear that God has ultimate power, it’s also clear he chooses not to micromanage everything that happens around us.
This still leaves us with a question: Why do gut-wrenching things happen to some people and not to others? Why did one person walk away from the car wreck and one person get killed? Why does a mother who struggled for years to get pregnant lose her baby during childbirth while the drug addict who doesn’t want children delivers a healthy baby? Why are some people sick their whole lives while other people never even have a cold?
The truth is we simply don’t know. The Bible doesn’t give us that information.
But we do know this. God understands evil is present in the world. That is why God the Father sent God the Son to die on the cross so we could be redeemed from the evil that is present in creation. John 3:16-17 tells us, “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Perhaps Augustine and the church has been wrong. God isn’t responsible for the evil that happens to us. The effects of sin are. So, with whatever difficulties or evil you are facing right now, please don’t blame God. God knows evil has been unleashed in creation and he sent his Son to be the solution.
Don’t give up on God because of your problems. He hasn’t given up on you.