When bad things happen to us, one of the most common responses I hear from Christians is some form of the idea that we do not have to worry because “God is in control.” Now I agree that God is going to work all things for good and that we win in the end (wow!) and that God is directing history to a glorious conclusion. But over the years I have heard hundreds of stories from people who have had terrible things happen in their lives. Furthermore, I am aware that much of the misery around the world would make most of us shudder if we saw it up close, and make us run for “home” no matter how bad home is at the time. So when I hear someone extend this idea of God’s control to mean He is micro-managing every event and that all things are directly due to His will, I get more than a little uncomfortable.
I know there are many who teach that God is the absolute monarch of every molecule and every synapse in the universe. To them this seems non-negotiable because any pebble not subject to God’s will is somehow an affront to His sovereignty and a threat to His ability to bring this era to the end He has in mind. But I think this is not only a mistaken idea of sovereignty, it actually threatens the very character of God. Moreover, this is not what we find in Scripture.
First, what does it mean to be sovereign? When a king ruled over a land in the first century, was he in absolute control of everything and everybody? Did everything in his kingdom work according to what he wanted? Hardly. That is why he needed a military — to deal with those elements in his realm that were operating outside of what he wanted. Did these renegade elements then mean that he was not really king over the realm? Not at all. They were simply parts of his realm that were not yet subject to his authority. Interestingly, this is exactly what we see in Scripture regarding God’s authority.
“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1Cor.15:25).
“You have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet. Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” (Heb.2:7-8).
We live in an “already / not-yet” condition in which God is the supreme ruler of the universe, and yet there are people and spirit beings and perhaps parts of nature that are not in subjection to his rightful authority. At the same time we have full assurance that God is big enough to finish the job. Nothing will be left outside His control. I think it is safe to say then, that whatever is evil, whatever is unjust, whatever is destructive to human life — these things are the result of whatever is not subject to his authority, at least in those moments when the evil is being done. This does not in any way impinge on God’s sovereignty. Nor does it threaten Him or His plans in the least. It just means that subjecting this world to His will is an on-going process. That is why we pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done, in the same way in which it is currently being done in the heavenly realm where He is absolutely on control.
This is in fact our hope. That God will subdue all things. Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil.” And in one sense, He has already done that by demolishing the enemy’s ultimate plan for humanity. But there is a lot of cleanup yet to do, and God has ordained that we would be part of that ministry of reconciliation. It’s just not done yet.
All of this should really be a relief to us and a cause for rejoicing. Because if all the evil that remains is truly due to God’s direct control over every atom and neuron, then we have no will of our own, and God is actually the author of evil (despite efforts of such theologians to prove otherwise), and we are but puppets in a grand charade put on by a God who in no way resembles the Jesus of Love who came to reveal the Father to us. On the other hand, to understand that evil is actually in opposition to God, and that God’s will is to either redeem that source or, should it prove to be too resistant, to crush it — such an understanding ought to bring us great hope and create in us a desire to join Him in defeating the enemy of our souls.
Yes, God is in control of the grand scheme of all of life. And we can be confident that He will finish what He has begun. But we must also be careful not to attribute to Him any responsibility for those things which He has not yet put under His feet. God does not create evil or cause evil. He is big enough to destroy evil or bring good out of an evil thing, or even use evil to further His own purposes. But He does not cause it. He is not that kind of God. (That would be more like Zeus than Jesus). And that is Good News to anyone who wonders how bad things happen to us.