Saturday, 30 January 2016

God is not in control - hallelujah!

In a recent conversation a friend spoke about the need to trust that God is in control. I've heard it before, and often in the context of a reassurance that even if your situation looks bleak, it is supposed to be comforting to know that God is in control.

I don't believe it.

The God I see described in the Bible gives up control rather than always bringing about what God desires. God suffers as much as we do in the brokenness of life. God allows all sorts of personal calamities, disasters that affect millions of people, and horrendous evils like genocide. It would be blasphemous to say God is in control of such things.

Certainly, God often brings good out of suffering. But that's not always in a way that can be seen and might not be in a person's lifetime. Sometimes I think God may use the suffering of one for the good of others, as happened with Jesus.

To say that God is sovereign, or God is Lord of all, does not have to imply that God always gets what God wants. God probably could have created a universe where God was in control, but chose not to.

For instance,  God "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9 claims pretty much the same thing). That either means that God's will is done and all people are saved (which I do think is a possibility), or some people are not saved and God's will is thwarted.

I also think of Philippians 2:5-8 which points out that Jesus, being equal with God, chose to be a servant, i.e. one with no say in what happens. If we truly believe that Jesus was the exact image of God, then we also believe that *God* chooses to be a servant, forsaking power and giving up control. That's God's character. God doesn't always prevent or clean up the mess. God allows things to unfold in directions that are contrary to what God would wish.

Sometimes God does something surprising and turns situations around in ways we can only marvel at. But I do not expect that God has something good just around the corner for me and that since God is in control it is sure to happen.

So quotes like this ...

... don't inspire or comfort me. I am more comforted by the image of Romans 8:18-39. Creation is broken; it groans in agony (22). We too groan within that brokenness (23). And God is not controlling things remotely but sitting in the dust with us, also groaning (26). It is true that what God does is always directed towards that liberation from the bondage of decay for us and for the whole creation (20, 21, 28), but there is a lot God chooses not to do, and the decay continues. God wants good things and sometimes we can work together with God as part of the process of bringing good things to reality, but the control over whether those good things come to pass is a complex interplay of divine and human choices and their consequences.

The good news is not that God promises some escape from the brokenness but that God joins us in the brokenness. Not that God is in control, constraining the outcome, but that God has taken the risky step of forsaking control so that we can be truly free.

This is at the core of the Jesus' message: God stands in solidarity with us in the brokenness.

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