Is God Really In Control?

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Heartbreaking is probably the best word I can use to describe the aftermath of superstorm Sandy that ravaged the eastern coast of the U.S. this week. But the use of this word is by no means limited to recent events. We could also speak of what seems like a relentless assault of hurricanes, monsoons, tornados, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. that continue to extract a heavy toll of human suffering.

Heartbreaking could also refer to the pain and emotional distress that humans inflict on each other. The sex-slave trade prospers, as does that of forced labor. Even in civilized countries, the word injustice can be used with increasing frequency. And then there are the wars. O the wars! How many untold millions have suffered and died over the past 100 years? The toll of war is staggering—especially when innocent children are caught in the crossfire, or displaced into refugee camps.

I understand that the phrase “God is in Control” is comforting for some, but not for me. When I think of control, I envision God pushing the buttons and pulling the strings to make all that happens, happen. I do not believe that this is an accurate (or Biblical) way to describe the source of all that is heartbreaking. Ours is not a world in which God is in control in this sense of the word. If He is, then the Creator of our Universe would be uncaring at best, and mercilessly cruel at worst.

Psalm 24 describes God as the King of glory. As the sovereign ruler of the Universe, God reigns as the highest possible authority. No one can tell Him what to do or question His actions with any authority. Every created being is ultimately accountable to the King; and the Bible makes it quite clear that all words and actions will one day be judged.

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Sovereignty does not mean, however, that our Creator somehow incites or guides all child molesters, for example, to do their dastardly deeds. God certainly possesses the ability to influence human decisions, but He has willingly chosen to limit Himself in this area.

I am not saying that our world is completely out of control, however. Any limitations on God’s part are entirely self-imposed, and evil does have its boundaries. This is all very difficult to grasp, but our inability to thoroughly understand these things does not make them any less real. God is somehow able to take our choices and work them toward His sovereign purposes. That is what makes Him God.

God reigns as the sovereign King of glory! Every Christian can stand on the promises that He is indeed the ultimate authority, that every evil deed will be accounted for, and that God will work all that hell throws at us to our benefit. He can do that. He is God.

Others often attempt to do what God can do, but their methods are very different. There was a time long ago when Lucifer and one third of the angels staged a coup in a futile attempt to ascend to the throne of glory (Isaiah 14:12-14). Their plot was easily defeated, and having been thrown to the Earth, they then ensnared the entire human race in their quest to establish their own kingdom of supremacy. But humans and demons do not have the power and authority to reign in the same manner as God. Thus, they are compelled to resort to methods of control, manipulation, and intimidation.

This is where Christians too often fall prey to the tactics of our fallen world. In seeking what we think is right—or simply what we want—we are prone to employ the same political arm twisting tactics of the demonic kingdom. In essence, this involves a continuous quest to wrestle dominion from God, seeking to rule our world independently of our Creator. In the long run, such methods serve only to further promote the heart-wrenching suffering of the human condition.

What is the answer? The advance of the kingdom of God—that domain where the sovereign King of the Universe reigns over His willing subjects. Far from possessing the passive, apathetic mindset which embodies much of our world, those who fully participate in God’s kingdom are motivated by extreme measures of faith and love to do amazing deeds, as the advance of His kingdom always brings with it healing, wholeness, and hope.

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The line between seeking to control people (and circumstances) and facilitating the coming of God’s kingdom may at times appear to be very fine, but it is a well-defined line nonetheless, and not simply a matter of semantics.

The human condition is indeed heartbreaking, but we can take comfort in knowing that our God reigns (Revelation 19:1-6)! And if our God reigns, we can act and pray with the authority of His kingdom to make a very real difference in this broken world. Let us seek to influence the world of politics through faith and love without falling prey to its controlling methods.


Why Can’t We Be Friends?

As a teenager in the 1970’s, I remember the Mid-East peace process being a big deal in the news. Coming on the heels of the Vietnam War, people were beyond tired of the killing; weary of losing loved ones to what at times seemed like endless and senseless conflict.

In 1971, I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony) was recorded for a Coca-Cola commercial. This instantly popular song was re-recorded without the Coke reference by two other bands–both  copies of which became hits. The ideal struck a chord in hearts all over the world.

Album Cover Copyright United Artists

In 1975 the American Funk band War released their hit album titled, Why Can’t We Be Friends?–the title track being one of their biggest hit singles. The point was pretty simple: why can’t we put aside our greed and prejudice and all just get along as the human race?

Other similar songs have been recorded and released in subsequent years—each with the same general message of unity for humanity.

I would guess that if asked, 99 out of 100 people would say they want world peace; that they cherish close relationships; that they would prefer to avoid conflict and all of its associated pain. If asked.

Reality, however, differs significantly from our wishful thinking. In 2010, several of the original members of War sued Pepsico for $10 million for using “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” in a commercial without permission. Members of the British band Oasis were sued for using some of the music and lyrics from “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” without permission. And, unfortunately, after more than 35 years of persistent effort, hatred and killing still abound in the Middle East.

It’s obvious that the world can’t get this right. Interpersonal harmony and world peace continue to be wonderful, but elusive notions.

Diagram by Stevertigo - CC BY-SA 3.0

When Jesus walked this earth, He set a high ideal for human relationships. Today, many of His followers are sharply divided. No clear count is available, but scholars contend that there are between 20,000-43,000 Christian denominations across the globe. It’s not extreme to say that many of them can’t stand each other.

I don’t like it, but I can understand the conflict between those who don’t know Christ. I cannot, however, accept this degree of division within the Church as I find it to be terribly dishonoring to God.

Jesus once said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:34-35 (ESV).

It’s no wonder that in many parts of our world the Church has little to no influence on the culture. By our own Leader’s words, our inability to love one another shows our faith to be a sham. Blunt, I know, but painfully true. At least the world thinks so.

Why can’t we be friends? I’ve blogged about Christian unity before, but in this upcoming series I’d like to spotlight some of the root causes of our conflict. Feel free to weigh in if you have any thoughts!

The Plight

Rwandan Refugee Camp - U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

If you read some of the comments from my previous two blogs, you’ll quickly notice that my perspective of homosexuality in relationship to Christianity puts me at odds with the gay community. You’ll also see that with this hot-button issue discussions can quickly become inflamed arguments, even among friends. And it’s entirely possible we’ll disagree on these things for a very long time to come. But there is one thing I am confident we do agree on. Our world is overflowing with refugees and not all are the result of wars between world governments. Vulnerable people, often the young, are continually being caught in the crossfire between the GLBT and socially conservative battle lines.

Imagine yourself as a 15-year young man who begins to feel an attraction to other guys. What would go through your mind? Seriously, take a minute to consider the inner turmoil that you might feel. Where would you turn for help in processing your struggle?

If you look toward the GLBT community, the message might be something like: “This is your identity! Embrace it! Accept who you are! Come out of the closet and quit living a double life!” But maybe you don’t want to go there.

Turning toward the conservative Christian community, you could hear a very different message. “What’s wrong with you? How can you call yourself a Christian? If you were a real Christian, you wouldn’t have such thoughts!”

Then, of course, there are the bullies. Those who prey upon weakness and ridicule anyone different from themselves. Their torment can be absolutely brutal!

Photo by lisasoloynko - morgueFile

So, if you were in this situation, where would you turn? You certainly didn’t ask to be physically attracted to other males. Maybe you have even prayed extensively that your desires would simply go away. But they haven’t. Where does that leave you?

Although I’ve never wrestled with same sex attraction, I’ve had my share of struggles in life. There have been times when unwanted feelings and desires wouldn’t go away no matter how much I prayed. Times when I tried turning to Christians for counsel, only to receive hollow, pat answers. Times when I avoided speaking openly because of the judgmental murmurings I heard around me. Breaking my silence would have been tantamount to drawing a bullseye on my back. Such times are lonely, painful, confusing. You feel as though you’ll be sprayed with arrows if you let down your guard even for a second.

Photo by Mary R. Vogt - morgueFile

It’s here that I think the sin of the conservative Christian community is grave. Rather than lending a hand of love, encouragement or strength to those struggling with same sex attraction (or any other issue), we tend to create a judgmental environment, complete with off handed comments and contemptuous jokes. In the end we push people toward the gay community, which they often find much more accepting. Those who desire to stay connected to conservative Christianity are compelled to a turtle-like existence. Feeling inferior as Christians they pull inward to hide their struggles. Sometimes the pain of the plight leads as far as suicide. This really is a life and death issue.

The Apostle Peter once wrote, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17 NASB). It’s such a simple and powerful command—one that truly deserves our attention. God doesn’t call us to agree with everyone or to put a stamp of approval on everybody’s actions, but to treat all men and women with honor and respect. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so life-giving, and yet mostly ignored! Until we learn how to honor even those who oppose us, the best of our arguments ring hollow and our witness ineffective. And worst of all, spiritual refugees will continue to suffer and possibly die in isolation. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Holy Spirit of God dwells within us. We can do better than this!