“God is in control.” I’ve heard this statement uttered by Christians in many situations – in regards to the election, a health crisis, relationship issues, a wayward child, and others. Often it is used as a way to comfort someone else who is going through a difficult time. And it sounds really good – that God is in charge, so we must trust that whatever happens is supposed to happen, and that it is our job not to question him (at least that, to me, is the implication).
So first, let’s see if this idea is even supported in scripture – where did it come from? It is amazing to me the things that Christians say that we are so used to hearing that we don’t even question them. I searched, and I truly didn’t find a verse that says “God is in control”. Now it seems to follow logic – God created this earth, and he can do whatever he desires with it. That, actually, is supported in scripture; Psalm 115:3 tells us “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” And David says in 1 Chronicles 29:11, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.” And Revelation 4:11 tells us, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created”. This is his earth, he made it, and it is through his power that we are here (and through his power that Christ was resurrected, thus giving us the promise of everlasting life – see 1 Corinthians 6:14). However, I don’t find anywhere where the Bible says “God is in control.” He has ultimate control, he can certainly do as he pleases – and at the end of the age Satan WILL be defeated, and we will all live in eternity with Christ: Revelation 20:9-10 describes John’s vision that Christ revealed to him of what will happen at the end of the age, how Satan will gather his army and prepare to attack the saints; “but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”. That is the end of the story – ultimately God WILL defeat Satan. And yes, God does have the power to exercise control over the earth. But I believe that scripture teaches that he doesn’t always exercise this control, and that his will isn’t always done here on earth.
First, let’s take a logical approach. If God is always in control, this implies that God’s will is always done, so we have to say that it is God’s will that children are sold into the sex trade. It must have been God’s will that those airplanes flew into the Twin Towers on September 11. It must even be God’s will that terrible hurricanes, floods, and fires come that destroy lives and property. “God is in control” sends the message that God is causing everything to happen. I know this is a deal breaker for many people – many times I’ve heard people say “I just can’t accept a God that would allow ________ to happen”. And yes, since he has ultimate control over the earth, and he chooses not to prevent some of the terrible things that happen, he does certainly allow it to happen. But I personally am not willing to accept that every terrible event, every death, every corrupt leader, is part of God’s perfect will. And here is why. . .
Take a look at the Lord’s prayer, when Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:
9 This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
Let’s take a look at the phrase in verse 10, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” There is so much revealed in that statement, and we just zip right past it. First, we MUST PRAY for his kingdom to come. I believe God’s kingdom coming is just talking about the work of Christ in this world; what Jesus is “up to”. (That is another great discussion for another post). So, we have a part in God’s kingdom coming to earth – which implies that it isn’t just automatically going to happen! He wants us to pray for it; to partner with him in doing his work on earth. Take a look at what Jesus says in John 15:15-16, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give it to you.” We are God’s friends, and he lets us in on what he’s up to, so that we may partner with him and do the work of his kingdom. So the more we pray for his kingdom to come, and the more we abide in him (see the first part of that passage, John 15:1-11), the more his work is done! The less we abide, pray, and partner with him, the less his work is done.
The second part of this phrase says, “your will be done” – OK, so if we are supposed to pray for his will to be done, and we believe that our prayers actually DO something, this must mean that his will won’t necessarily be done in every situation. God has allowed Satan to rule on this earth – take a look at Revelation 12 (Satan was actually cast down to earth when Christ was born, and has gone “to make war on. . . those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus”, Revelation 12:17). So if Satan is walking around making war on us, we can be pretty sure that his actions aren’t God’s will. But God also gives us the power to partner with him to defeat the enemy (Luke 10:18-19 says, “And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you”). We actually get to play a part in bringing about God’s will, and his kingdom work, here on earth (as we discussed from John 15).
Finally, notice the last part of that phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven”. His kingdom is present, and his will is done in heaven – we are to pray that it also happens on earth. Again, sometimes (often times!) what happens on earth is not God’s work, or his will, at all.
Here is the thing – God gives us free will. He wants us to choose to love him, choose to partner with him, be his friend, and do his kingdom work during our days on earth. If he was in control of everything, that would mean we don’t have the will to choose him; that he has forced us to love him – however forced love isn’t love at all. In Genesis we read about how he created the earth, and gave it all to Adam and Eve, with one condition. They didn’t trust him, believed that he was somehow holding out on them (were convinced as such by listening to the enemy’s lies), and made the choice to take matters into their own hands. We are all like Adam and Eve, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), however if we choose to follow him we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25). Not everyone will choose to receive this gift; many will choose their own way and will fall prey to the lies of the enemy (we all will at times), consequently taking action outside of God’s will. Satan is alive and at work, but so is Christ. And ultimately, God works all things out for our good, if we are his followers: “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). But we are crippling ourselves if we walk around saying “God is in control” and do nothing. God can take control, and in some cases he will, but he wants our participation – he wants us to pray for his will to be done (and I believe the more we pray for his will to be done, the more his will is done!). He wants us to abide in him and become his friend, so that he will reveal to us what his will is, and we can pray for it and bear much fruit. We are called to pray without ceasing: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:16-18). So go, abide in Jesus, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, and pray without ceasing for his kingdom to come, and his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven!