Is God in control?
The bible paints a very different picture of God’s sovereignty than some of our modern Christian culture does. Serious clarity needs to be brought to this topic. It can be termed sovereignty, selection, or God ‘allowing’. When it is said, people often are implying that every single thing that takes place on our planet and in our lives, is God’s administrative decision for us. That He is in perfect transcendent and total control over every detail of the cosmos, enacting and governing every event of our lives.
“If you are sick, it is God. If a city is destroyed, also God. If you lose your job, God. If you get a job, God. Everything is God.”
For reasons that we will explore, it is one of the most destructive teachings in the Church today. We are made to sing songs about His goodness, yet we are deeply confused about Him in our hearts when something terrible happened, like our loved one dying, and our theology dictates that God took them. Numbers of sick non-Christians who I have approached to pray for in public, have had a subtle idea in their minds that God caused their sickness in the first place. They have believed that everything is caused by God. I believe the enemy plants this belief in people to keep them from the Father.
As the Father’s representatives on the earth, we must not reinforce this lie.
It is in the Church
Too often I come across articles or testimonies from Christian people who have endured very tough things in life, and believing that God caused these events, they then try to find the good things God did in the midst of them to justify His initial creation of the circumstance. God always works things for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28), but this in no way means He is the administrator or the cause of these things to begin with. If we are not careful to rightly discern God’s involvement in the seasons and circumstances of our lives, gauging God’s purpose and input in the midst of them through Christ’s example alone, we will misrepresent God in drastic and dangerous ways. Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, the exact imprint of His nature, and the only one who ultimately reveals His will (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:1-3; 10:7-9). Here is a simple rule to live by:
If it does not look like the Son, don’t call it the Father.
Because of this misguided teaching, some have made God out to be like an emperor, giving a thumbs up or a thumbs down on every detail of our lives, good and bad. “Well God is sovereign, let’s pray and see what happens” some will say. Implying that we cannot truly know His will on any given day, but we can pray and see if we hit the ambiguous target of His cosmic plan and He spontaneously answers our prayer. The theological term for this understanding is often called ‘sovereignty’, but is more accurately called ‘absolute sovereignty’. We will see that God is certainly sovereign, but not ‘absolutely sovereign’ in the way I have described above.
The problems with a philosophy of absolute sovereignty are major. Firstly, it is completely un-scriptural, which should be enough to send alarm bells off in our hearts. Secondly, it makes God out to be an abusive, manipulative, unpredictable God. Happy one day, furious the next. Literally, as fickle as the weather, like a dictator. It allows us to determine who He is by what happens to us in our day to day life, instead of finding our authoritative reference for His attitude and actions in the life of Jesus alone. It makes us comfortable to think God the Father is really nothing like God the Son, contradicting everything about what Jesus really represents. Jesus came to make the Father known to us, but because of some flawed ideas like this, thousands of years later we can still be deeply confused about Him.
You cannot be a representative for someone whose heart you do not know
Picture a father who tells his young son not to put his hand on the oven hot plate. The father takes precautions and teaches the son why he should not do it. The son then disobeys the father, touches the hot plate and burns his hand. The father rushes to his aid, holds him, nurses him, and then takes opportunity to teach him that this pain is what he was trying to prevent by his previous instruction. This is healthy parenting. The ‘absolute sovereignty of God’ doctrine applied to this scenario makes the father out to be the careful planner of the accident, ultimately orchestrating the son’s hand touching the hot plate to burn his hand so that he can then teach the son something through the pain.
In the world, we would call this child abuse but many are comfortable to view God this way and label it absolute sovereignty.
God is Supreme
The word “sovereign” is not used in the King James Version of the Bible. Where it is used in other translations, it is always used in association with the word “Lord” and is the equivalent of the King James Version’s “Lord God.” Not a single time is the word “sovereign” used in the manner that it has come to be used in some circles today. Is God sovereign? Yes.
God is sovereign in the sense that He is supreme.
There is no one higher in authority or strength, He can also act apart from us, doing great works on the earth in His power, as we invite Him in prayer and co-labour with His will on the earth. But that does not mean He exercises His power by controlling everything in our lives, or functions apart from His good nature, revealed in the life of His son. The idea of ‘absolute sovereignty’ goes to such a devastating degree that God ultimately becomes the one to blame for the works of the devil, completely ignoring the involvement of the enemy (John 10:10; Acts 10:38), and the decisions of the human will that God has chosen to create us with. This makes Christians passive toward overcoming the enemy, leaving their God given authority and power lying dormant and their hands tied.
The truth of the matter
Here are several truths that bring serious question to this flawed way of thinking about God’s absolute sovereignty:
- The Kingdom of God is at hand and he has given us the keys. We must not blame everything on a wrong idea of God’s sovereignty when we should be using the authority given to us to establish His purpose on the earth (Luke 10:19; Matt. 16:19).
- God wills that none should perish but that all would come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4). This is a clear example of His desire and purpose. Are people dying and going to hell every day? Yes. Is it God’s will that they would be saved instead? Yes. If God’s will is absolutely sovereign then we have a serious problem here. It is not God’s will to send people to hell.
- If everything is God, then why do we have a sword/shield and power/authority? (Eph. 6:10-18; Luke 10:17; Matt. 28:18-20) What are we using these weapons to fight against? God’s sovereign plan?
- If everything is God, then why did he tell us to bind and loose according to heaven’s design on the earth? (Matt. 16:18-19)
- If everything is God, then why has he given the earth to the sons of men? (Ps. 115:16)
- If everything is God, why do we have the power of life and death in our tongues? (Prov. 18:21)
- If everything is God, why do you reap what you sow? (Gal. 6:8) Should we not just be reaping whatever He decides?
- If everything is God, then why are people destroyed for lack of knowledge? (Hos. 4:6) Some conclude that destruction is the sovereign will of God, but the bible calls it lack of knowledge.
- If everything is God, then why speak to the mountain? If God wants it moved he will move it! (Matt. 17:20; Mark 11:23)
- If everything is God, then why even go to the hospital to be healed? You are fighting God’s sovereign order.
- If everything is God, why make any requests of God? Safety, provision, weather, healing, wholeness, people to be saved?
- If everything is God, then why did Jesus say that if we abide in his word we would know truth and the truth would set us free (John 8:31-32)? Perhaps we need the truth to set us free. Our brokenness is not His sovereign plan.
- If God the Father was sovereignly responsible for all the sick people in the gospels, then why was God the Son healing them all? This would make God completely at odds with Himself (Acts 10:38; 1 John 3:8).
- “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” – Matt. 23:37 (Emphases added)
In the verse above, Jesus had a strong desire for His people, but because of the will of the people that differed from His will, He could not fulfil His desire. This contradicts the idea of absolute sovereignty again.
God has taken the earth and given it to His children to steward (Ps. 115:16). We are now co-labouring with Him in His will, destroying the works of darkness with Him as His royal priesthood. For too long we have labelled the will of God a mystery, when the bible actually says that we are foolish if we do not know His will once Christ reveals it (Eph. 5:17)! His will has clearly been revealed so that we can faithfully manifest it on the earth as His empowered representatives.
A disarmed Bride
As I said, the unbalanced and un-scriptural idea of absolute sovereignty is a devastating deception. It leaves Christians powerless and disarmed when their loved ones go through torment, sickness and pain, believing it is God’s will, ultimately making God responsible for the works of the devil. It must leave our thinking. Jesus said in John 14:12 that anyone who believes will do the works he did.
It is time we stop blaming Him and start believing Him.
God is not ordaining disaster, giving your loved ones cancer, or creating your challenging circumstance to teach you a lesson. As we saw, He will turn all things for good for those who love Him, and father us through every challenge we face. But that in no way declares that He is causing all things (Rom. 8:28). I have seen the deception of absolute sovereignty ruin entire families, crush hope and destroy peoples trust in the Father. Scripture after scripture proves it is not an accurate understanding of God, yet we sometimes conclude it because our experiences confuse us, often at the cost of truth and freedom.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5
Having this misguided view of sovereignty takes the Apostle John’s declaration that God contains no darkness, and makes God more like a yin and yang God (both dark and light). It makes Him unpredictable and untrustworthy. Despite John summing the entire message of Jesus up in one sentence, declaring that He is perfect light, we have created a theological loop hole where we can pin darkness on God whilst still calling Him good.
There are a few verses where the word ‘sovereign’ is used (Acts 4:24; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 6:10 for example). The Greek terms simply mean that God is ‘absolute Lord, or master’, or a person of ‘great authority’.
This is nothing like what many have made it.
In Charge But Not In Control
Simply put, God chose not to take control when He created humans with a free will. Much like a president of a nation can be in charge, but is not ultimately in control of the citizens in the nation he governs. He can lead benevolently, create laws that benefit society and flourishing for all, and even put law enforcement in place to keep things on track. But if someone violently shoots someone else on the street, the president was not personally in control of this, neither did he desire it or even allow it. In the Kingdom, the Church is empowered to be God’s law enforcement against the influence of darkness. We must pursue to understand our mission and start taking responsibility for it.
Often it is our own wrong decisions that bring disaster upon us. Or an attack from the devil. In some cases, the natural results of a fallen world cause us pain.
In the new covenant, our tragedies are not the cause, nor the judgement of God. God is intimately at work on the earth today, but not apart from our stewardship and acknowledgement of His will on the earth, and not in a manner inconsistent with the revelation of His heart found in the life of Jesus.
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,” – Deut. 30:19
God has a plan for every person’s life (Jer. 29:11), but He doesn’t make us walk that path, and the specifics of His plans are usually far more diverse and spacious than we realise. He has presented life and death before us, and as a loving Father, is compelling us to choose life. He is not choosing for us, sometimes death and sometimes life, discernible only by how our circumstances go. We are free moral agents with the ability to choose. God cannot force us to choose Him, He can only present life to us in His son for all men to see, inviting us into His loving arms of redemption and eternal life.
The same message that the Apostle John declared to us, is now our message to declare to the world. “God is light, there is no darkness in Him” (1 John 1:5)!
Let’s be a people who know the goodness of God. People who are empowered to fight for God’s love and purpose to invade the circumstances of the earth. People who are not confused about the Father, but confident in Christ’s perfect revelation of God’s ways, His will and His nature.