Who’s in Control?

In the first response to my initial blog entry, Liz Mandrell poses the central conundrum that arises when we argue, as I did, that God ultimately chooses who will hold high political offices. (Liz, by the way, is my girlfriend, and habitually keeps me occupied with difficult questions. But that’s fodder for another blog.)

She asks how God could, for instance, place a Hitler or Stalin in power. If there’s a simple answer, I don’t have it. Here are a few scattered thoughts, though:

  • Perhaps God works toward larger purposes than we can comprehend when we’re in the midst of trouble. It was God who sent Joseph and his brothers to Egypt, where their descendents would be enslaved for four centuries. The whole time, God apparently was preparing the Israelites for a mighty exodus that would change the course of history and religion. Still, I’m sure that idea wouldn’t have been much comfort to the generations of Israelites who were born, grew up, and died in slavery, even if they had understood what God was doing.
  • God allows suffering of many kinds. Every tragedy is an individual event. For the humans involved, it’s no more traumatic to be the victim of a purge by Stalin than to be stricken with inoperable cancer or to see your children drowned in a flooding river.
  • For God, all our suffering on earth is temporary, and death isn’t the end of life. In the scope of eternity, whatever we endure here lasts barely a moment.

As I see it, ultimately God’s either in charge of events or he isn’t. It’s a very short multiple-choice list: two items. Both choices have prickly implications.

If God’s not in control, then we really can’t appeal to him for help, because he doesn’t possess the power to help us. And if he’s not in control, then who is? Are we? (That’s a scary thought, given how messed up we humans are.) Is no one in control?

But if God is omnipotent and sovereign, that’s a problem, too. If God can prevent or relieve all our suffering, from political purges to terminal diseases, if he has the power to conquer every evil, then why doesn’t he exercise that power–now? Why does he let us languish in pain, grief, and despair?

For me, faith is less about knowing the answers to such questions than about embracing the mysteries. On my more saintly days, I trust that God is in charge, and that he’s always working for our good and his glory, even when it might look as if he’s not helping us a bit.


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