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Article No. 122

God in control?

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Orthodox theology considers God as omnipotent and omnipresent and omniscient. The all powerful God who created from nothing and who sustains his creation every second of its existence.

Some modern Christian thinkers are challenging whether God has to be “in control” - and what those words might mean. I think the problem with the idea of God being in control stems from the fact that the power that controls the universe must surely be held to be accountable for the pain suffering and ‘unfairness’ (as we see it) that we see all around us. Some theologians have been looking for a solution to the loving God/unjust suffering problem.

It is true to say that there is a problem. The vast majority of people are bemused by the fact that Christianity posits a loving and caring God, but that in his world there appears to be unjust suffering - as for example in the tsunami a year or so ago - along with deep pain and suffering from diseases like cancer. I think some people’s hearts are particularly touched when a child suffers from some incurable disease, before their life was properly started!

Down the ages there have been various attempts to ‘explain’ how a loving God could create a world of such pain and apparent unfairness. Frankly I don’t think that any of the explanations that I have heard have inspired me as being the complete “answer” - maybe we have to accept that it is a mystery.

However, in recent years an old idea has regained popularity - it is called panentheism. This is to be distinguished from pantheism which holds the belief that God is within everything. Christians have flatly disagreed with pantheism because they hold that God is transcendent - independent of his created universe.

In panentheism however the belief is that God is both within all of his creation but also that he is standing outside it. In other words he is both immanent and transcendent - an eminently Christian idea.

Without going into more detail about panentheism I want to link it to another big subject for Christians: the providence of God. This term is used to indicate that God is not only in control of the world but that He actually directs affairs on earth. As I am not a trained theologian you will have to consult the books or search the internet for more detail on all these terms if you want to go deeper.

So if we focus in on the activity of God in his universe what might we say? We could say that, being immanent as well as transcendent, God directs how everything shall act. In other words he controls everything from both inside and outside it. This, for me, is implied in the words “In Him we live and move and have our being”.

From what I understand of Quantum theory (which is extraordinarily little!) it seems to me that it is perfectly possible for God to be the structure of everything that is. Thus he would permeate all of nature down to molecular level and that would include human beings - and their brains. God is the creator of all things and I cannot see why we should relegate him to some far off place above the clouds.

If we once accept that God is inside us (as well as outside) - in our bodies, our brains - then it is easy to accept that God also directs everything. Jesus said that not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father seeing. In other words we can know that God is intimately concerned with every detail of his universe at every moment of time - and has the power and authority to be that involved.

If God is implicit in everything and every action and every thought, then can we not also say that God, in a providential way, is ‘in charge’ and ‘in control’ of everything that happens?

Once we see that God is in everything (as well as outside it) then we have something that helps us with our problem of suffering. When suffering happens, it happens in a universe that God created exactly as we presently have it. Nothing has slipped out of control - there have been no unforeseen hitches - everything is exactly as God anticipated from the moment of creation. He fully saw all the possibilities and accepted them.

Once we accept that what happens to us and around us has been permitted by God - if not actually engineered by God - then does this not completely change the way we should look at the world?

Can we not see that everything that happens in our lives must come from or through God - he is in control, he is able to foresee all that happens. He has purposed that things shall proceed in this way.

This is what the saints down the centuries have told us over and over again. Trust God they say. He will not let anything come near you that you and He cannot deal with. He will give you all the strength you need. Accept all that happens as coming from God - that every person you meet is put in your path by a loving God so that you may learn and give. That every problem is meant for a purpose and will lead you forward.

This is an incredibly releasing belief. It releases us from worry - God is in control and will take care of things. Our only task is to be completely obedient to Him moment by moment and to listen for the whisper of his guidance.

This is a view of religion that empowers people to cope with the most horrible disasters and sufferings. Once you see that God has allowed what is happening to you then you can surely accept it a part of his plan for your life. Is your child run down by a drunken driver? Of course there will be the most terrible feelings of anger and great sorrow. But at the end of the day a loving God has permitted that to happen in his world, his universe. Therefore ultimately you can accept that his purpose is bigger that even this terrible event.

I was very struck by the response of the Amish Community last year when there was that terrible shooting in one of their schools. They were not only able to accept what happened as something that God had allowed, and therefore was to be “accepted” by them, but also they went the extra mile and forgave the person who did the shooting - and even embraced the family of that man, all of whom were devastated by what had happened.

When we fail and sin that too is allowed for by this loving and all powerful God. Obviously nothing we can do can ultimately defeat God. He will take all that happens and use it in a way that brings the result around to what he wants to happen.

If your two year son crawls about the carpet, and you are sitting there, watching all the time to prevent him from falling into the fire or pulling the tablecloth off the table, nothing untoward happens. What you do at that level for your child, God does for us at our level. Nothing that happens in this world happens without the permission of God. He allows it all to happen because it does not defeat his purposes. It is only we who cannot yet fully understand what his purposes are.

Once we really understand the thought that everything happens within God’s permission, then we receive a new vision of what really matters. If I go down with cancer at the age of forty three that is terrible and I will fight it all they way. But God has allowed it. He does not purpose it - for that would be for God to purpose evil - an idea that Jesus warned us away from.

So while sickness is not God’s purpose for us, he has allowed it. Indeed, he must have allowed it if he is the all powerful God we think he is.

It is essential that we don’t react to these thoughts with the idea that we may as well relax because it does not matter what we do, God is in charge and won’t allow anything he does not want to happen. That way lies disaster! That is to become passive and useless. Certain Christians have taken that route in past centuries - but it is a false route. While we must accept that everything that happens is allowed by God, that does not mean that we don’t have to fight evil. When someone falls sick it is no use just sitting back and saying ‘God’s will be done’. That would be passivity at its worst! No - we must immediately be open to the Holy Spirit to see what our action should be. We may have to work very hard, and very quickly. Whatever God tells us must be obeyed.

If we are ever to change the world - and that is the aim for the Christian, who is working for God’s realm on earth - then we may have to be very active! And that activity must be directed by God. It is no use our just doing what we think is best. Always we must consult the Spirit who will guide and lead us in the way we should go.

Why has God created such a puzzling world? A world where the ground rules seem to contradict the idea of a loving caring God. We shall not know the answer to that question until after we are dead. But one clue might be that even when people go through horrendous suffering, it seems to toughen and strengthen their characters. Could it be that all these events, that seem so terrible to us are actually avenues for the grace of God to reach into our lives? That is not to say that God intends our suffering - but it is interesting that he has allowed it. None of us is exempt, although some seem to have much more trouble than others!

So let me summarize what I have been trying to say. I believe in an all powerful, all knowing and ever present Creator God. I believe that he never sends suffering or sickness on people - either for a reason or haphazardly. I do believe that he allows pain and illness into our lives and therefore our attitude to all those things we call evil should be that they are allowed by God and therefore we will accept them as from Him, that is - seeking to know what he wants us to do about it. .

There is a further step. It is to actually cultivate a thankful heart - so much so that we can even thank God for the things that seem painful and evil, because we know he will take care of us through it all and will guide us every step of the way.

Is life throwing stuff at you that is making you stagger and query your faith? Good! When you have fought your way through, you will find that your faith is the stronger. Are you in deep pain at the moment? Take comfort that Jesus did not shirk going to the cross. He could easily have slipped away to his Galilee, and avoided the whole horrible confrontation with Priests and Romans. Instead he stayed and billions alive today proudly call themselves Christian.

So we can embrace all that happens to us - just as He did - as we know it has been god-allowed. And God is the Creator of the universe and he is all knowing and all powerful and ever present. The world has not slipped out of control. He is not ultra busy trying to cope with it all. And his touch still has its ancient power - and sometimes if we pray for healing he heals us. None of us can ever say that we have truly fathomed it all out, that we now understand it all. But we can rest in Him and trust him and live one day at a time, obedient to all he tells us.

Tony Cross

January 2007

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