The “God Is In Control” Thing
The following sentiments were mostly written about 8 months ago, but in light of many recent conversations and online postings I’ve seen, my words have been modified to reflect the enormity of understanding the what, why, where, how and who of control. It really is a much bigger discussion/sermon than I can provide in the range of my limited expository (or, my little blog). I’ll try not to overachieve too much as I explain how I now look at control – mine and God’s. I could probably express long winded ramblings about how I truly feel about this word! Let’s start with a song:
God Is In Control – Twila Paris
This is no time for fear / This is a time for faith and determination / Don’t lose the vision here / Carried away by the motion / Hold on to all that you hide in your heart / There is one thing that has always been true / It holds the world together / God is in control / We believe that His children will not be forsaken / God is in control / We will choose to remember and never be shaken / There is no power above or beside Him, we know / God is in control / History marches on / There is a bottom line drawn across the ages / Culture can make its plan / Oh, but the line never changes / No matter how the deception may fly / There is one thing that has always been true / It will be true forever / He has never let you down / Why start to worry now? / He is still the Lord of all we see / And He is still the loving Father / Watching over you and me
What is not to love about those words? I remember sharing that song with my Bible college community, 25 years ago. I selected it, found musician-friends to accompany me and worshipfully performed it at chapel. Afterwards, no one had a negative response or questioned the validity of the words – why would they? We all believed the same thing. It was in our vocabulary to say “God Is In Control”. Indisputable truth, because we couldn’t imagine otherwise. Yet, I think some hermeneutical work of the phrase would have been very helpful for the young adults that we were; so a few decades later, we would have had a better understanding of God’s nature (sadly, some of us turned into middle-aged, burned out pastors and disillusioned post-evangelicals).
About 6 years ago, I nervously did a web search on the phrase and added “not”, so “God is not in control” was put in the search bar. At the top of the results were ads and “recommended” sites, trying to redirect me back to “God is in control”. I did find a few other voices, however. I clicked on those articles and web pages, as I began my quest to determine whether or not there really is an Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnipotent God, calling the shots. My mind was wrestling with this, fearing God may not be pleased with me for exploring such a notion. Yet, I proceeded.
I recall browsing articles on progressive Christianity websites, where there was acceptance and permission to ask those sort of “out of the bubble” questions. It felt like a forbidden well of resources; an underground haven of articles, books, sermons and conversations – looking at all facets and traditional norms of Christianity, applicable to today’s world. It was like leaving the familiar, yet fear-driven road and detouring into a lit-up ditch, leading to who-knows-where. I discovered voices that were far from the evangelical teachings I had heard for decades, yet we spoke the same language. After that initial visit to the ‘dark side’ I was intrigued and kept returning. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was deconstructing. That’s a troubling word for some, from my similar background. Anything that was labelled “progressive” in Christianity couldn’t be suitable to explore, since Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Why would a Christian want to debate such a rich truth? What else is there to discuss? Nothing, since our beliefs are not supposed to shift! Everything one would ever need to know about the God we serve is found in the person of Jesus – He never changes.
That was not the point of the beginning of my deconstruction, however. I wasn’t doubting the life, ministry, words or emotions that Jesus Christ stirred inside me. As someone who revered the Word so much that I went to Bible college for 4 years, I wasn’t in the market for another religion. There were some headache-producing, complicated aspects of my faith tradition, however, and I needed to rectify my naturally evolving views while making peace with scriptural references. I needed to find a way towards theological, psychological, scientific and philosophical coalescence. (I’m still working on it.)
This subject is too big for this blog entry, today. As I have occasionally mentioned, I have a few books in the works (a novel, a “bad theology” project) and one about why and how my theological beliefs shifted. (If I have enough courage and empowerment, hopefully I’ll complete and publish them!) This morning, I read a Facebook post by a pastor who was distressed that since “God is in control”, he couldn’t find peace in things being so debilitating for him. Why would God be doing and allowing such torment? God’s faithfulness should nullify suffering amongst the “chosen, not forsaken” ones – especially those dedicated to full time ministry. Isn’t that what the praise reports and “God is so good” testimonies are about? Yet, this minister’s lament still includes “God is in control”.
Perhaps God is not in control. What does that mean? How is that conceivable or theologically acceptable? It seems like a very irreverent suggestion to many people of faith, yet it is certainly worth deeply considering. As esteemed scholar Thomas Jay Oord said in his highly recommended book God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils, “If God’s nature is love and love never controls, God would have to deny his love to control others. But God can’t do that.”
The suffering we experience in this life isn’t God’s fault. There is no divine plan that whips up trouble for humans to contend with. God isn’t forsaking anyone, nor is there spiritual warfare to battle on every corner in society. There is always a possibility that tragedy can strike (from randomness, natural/environmental and machinery accidents) and no one is immune from the consequences of toxicity in the form of disease. If you believe that God is in control and bad things keep happening in your life, you are likely going to end up spiritually exhausted and emotionally distraught. Why, God? What is your plan, in all this suffering? How are you demonstrating faithfulness to me, while my life is spiralling into a dark hole of despair? These heart wrenching questions remind me of the most crushing words I have ever read by the very human, crucified, sacrificial man of sorrows, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46b)
Perhaps WE are the ones in control here on this earth. Perhaps we (humanity, in general) has been given everything we need through kenosis, to sustain life in the here and now. Perhaps God delights when we effectively use our intellectual capabilities, while also humbly bowing to the Creator. Perhaps God longs to “co-create” our lives, if we will allow our minds to be renewed (Romans 12:2). God’s will can be found in that life-giving context as we let the Holy Spirit gently lead us (in full surrender and humility).
For the discouraged ones who feel they can’t let go of their belief that “God is in control”, I pray for divine wisdom, strength, courage, hope and love (that comes from the Source). Having a new perspective on control, is essential in reconstructing one’s belief system. If it seems too hard or sacrilegious to adapt to this new concept that God simply does not control our lives, we can always seek wisdom. A much better way of thinking of letting go of “God’s controlling nature” (a misnomer) is to gradually shift towards asking God questions like:
What should I do in this situation?
How can I be of service?
Where is the best path?
Who is the most suitable partner?
Why am I feeling this way?
For all these reasons and more, I trust in God’s ability to help me as I move forward in my life from devastating situations (many self-inflicted). I no longer believe that God is in control and I feel relief in that truth. I am not forsaken – and neither are you.