Is God in control?

In February, YWAM experienced its biggest tragedy in our 60 year history, with 11 leaders dying in a bus crash in Tanzania. The following weeks have involved caring for survivors and repatriating them, organising funerals and memorials, debriefing those who lost loved ones and friends and those on the ground as it happened. It has been a very sad and lamenting time for the YWAM world. The big question is how do we pray and how do we process this tragedy?

Our prayers have been, ‘Lord surround all these people who have been connected in any way with this tragedy with your precious presence and comfort. We know you didn’t orchestrate these events, but you promise to be with us in every circumstance and would you be there to collect every tear, provide a sense of your love through the community they are a part of and uphold these dear ones with the strength of holy spirit.

Something that troubles me often is when I hear statements of a theology or worldview that puts blame on God for these tragedies. I often hear phrases like, ‘God is in control’ and to be honest it makes me shudder when it is in the context of experiences like this. If you google the phrase, ‘God is in control’, this is what you read:

Scripture makes it clear that God is in control all the time, even when it doesn’t look that way. Proverbs 20:24 says, “Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord.”

Theologian and pastor John Piper shares: ‘When a well-meaning Christian says “God is in control,” what they usually mean is God makes things happen – or stops them from happening – as he pleases. God “designs, ordains, and governs,” That means nothing happens outside what God knows will happen and wants to happen.

The word control has a positive and negative connotation. We can talk of the importance of parents ‘taking control’ of their children when they are being unruly. This is more of a corrective control. On the other hand, we can use control over our children to get them to do what we want, and bring heavy consequences if they don’t. This is obviously a negative use of control.  We talk about the big C word in leadership. Jesus shares with the disciples in Mark 10:42, ‘“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.…’ This is where followers are treated as puppets to do the bidding of their leader. This is not the way of Jesus.

Often when we talk of God in control, we understand it to mean that he is manipulating everything that takes place in the world and nothing goes on outside of his will, as stated above.

I grew up under this kind of theology where I was taught from Deuteronomy, that God will protect, provide and bless me if I obey him completely, but if I disobey and move out of his perfect will, then God will be displeased and to use the bible word – I will be cursed.

So, when tragedies happen, is that the will of God?  Does he do everything so we can learn lessons? If he has the power, why doesn’t he intervene to stop the innocent suffering? When does he intervene and if he doesn’t, why doesn’t he?  Many ask these and a thousand other questions. So, what is our response to God in these situations?  Many walk away from God and say if God has all power and doesn’t use it to save those in tragedies like this then it’s not the kind of God I want to serve. To be honest, I don’t want to serve this kind of God either.

Jesus was faced with these questions when he walked the earth too. In John 9, Jesus sees a man who has been blind from birth.  The disciples ask, ‘Teacher, whose sin caused this guy’s blindness, his own or the sin of his parents?’  This worldview says everything is cause and effect. If someone is sick, then there is sin in their lives or their family.

In Luke 13 Jesus refers to a tragedy where the tower of Siloam fell and eighteen were killed. Jesus asks, do you think they were more guilty than all the others in Jerusalem?  No they weren’t.  But obviously in the disciples and pharisees minds there had to be a reason and so the people concerned must be blamed.

There are many scriptures on how God is desiring to bless us. So, if you aren’t enjoying wealth, health and fruitfulness, (and it depends on what you consider God is blessing you with) does that mean you are out of his will?

God has given us a freewill to be able to enter into a relationship with him and love him and serve him – or not. If he forced us to make the right decisions all the time it would be impossible for us to grow and reach our divine potential as we would just be puppets. And it’s obvious that many people are choosing to live in the way they choose which is not in line with what God would desire. However, he doesn’t strike them down or cause negative circumstances to surround them. He woos us, he gives dreams, he inspires us to be like Jesus to all those in our spheres. We are the living curriculum to those around us. We are his ambassadors.

So tragedies, sicknesses, difficult circumstances, conflicts, traumas of many kinds happen. But they are not a punishment for a sin or failure that we have made. Matthew 5 states that ‘the rain falls on the just and the unjust.’  There’s no special treatment in that sense, except that He is with us always through every experience of every day.

I have come to believe that the scriptures lead us to the realization that Jesus is the only exact representation of the divine and that God has always looked like Jesus even when we didn’t see that clearly. So, if a scripture seems to tell a different story from the one that Jesus told, then there is a different interpretation that we are missing. Part of the difficulty of interpretation is the worldview that we have already spoken about. It seems we blame ourselves, others or God for everything that takes place in the world.

So, let’s get back to looking at the life of Jesus and reading scripture through the lens of Jesus. We could ask that question that was popularised years ago – What would Jesus do in this situation?  How does he respond? What answer would he give?

Until next month


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