“Don’t worry, God is in control.”
Does that phrase sound familiar? Maybe you heard it after you got laid off from a job or after a family member passed away. Perhaps someone encouraged you with that idea during a very hard financial season. It’s easy to find solace in this ideology – that there is a God out there who is in utter control of the workings of your life, especially when you’re feeling a bit out of control.
But if we follow this line of thinking, it leads us to another question, “If God is exerting absolute control on the Earth, is He responsible for all the evil things happening as well? Is every abuse and violation also a part of His ‘Perfect Will’?”
The moment I first began questioning a fundamentalist view of God’s sovereignty was while watching a youth group performance entitled “How God Made You”. The purpose of the show was to teach kids to love how they look, because God designed them that way.
That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But then I started to really think about it, which we know is always dangerous…
A healthy adult male can release up to 1.2 billion sperm cells in a single emission, and each of these sperm cells competes to reach and fertilize one of around 450 eggs. If you hadn’t caught on, that means there’s an infinitesimally small chance of any particular sperm-to-egg combination occurring, and every single one of the trillions of possible combinations will result in a different person being born. If that wasn’t enough, once this 1-in-a-trillion combination occurs, the genetic sequences from both parents combine in what can only be described as a random manner, resulting in yet another extensive range of possible outcomes.
This means a child conceived at 8am today will be a completely different person than the child conceived at 9pm. This also means that two parents with brown eyes and no family history of blue eyes are going to have kids with brown eyes. The reason for this is that eye color, like many other physical attributes, is taken from the parent’s dominant genes. It’s not because God wasn’t in a blue mood that day.
Does this mean God is not involved in the conception of human life? Just like all the laws in creation, God put a system in place. Why would God create a biological system with such infinite possibilities if he was just going to hand pick each combo and personally determine the genetic makeup?
Now, I believe God breathes His Spirit into each life and decides that within His infinite love, He will pursue and covenant with every child. He cherishes every new life, regardless of the circumstances in which that life originated. But this doesn’t mean that God “willed” for that 15 year old to get pregnant on August 5th at 4:45pm in the back of Johnny’s mustang. That was simply biology, boys and girls.
Surprise, surprise, God doesn’t make you pregnant. Sex does.
That Verse About God’s Plan
Now, there’s a chance you are beginning to feel “righteous indignation” at this point, rehashing in your head that verse you read somewhere that talks about God forming you in the womb… and wasn’t there something about God’s plan?
There are 3 commonly-referenced biblical authors who wrote about God’s interaction with them pre-birth:
- The Psalmist
Let’s start in Psalm 139:13-14.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
Have you ever wondered what the reference “fearfully and wonderfully made” means? The Strong’s definition of wonderfully made actually means “to be set apart”. God imprints His desires on our lives and distinguishes us with different mandates and giftings. King David was set apart in this way, and that’s why the prophet Samuel saw a spark in him – the spark God had used to mark him as one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history.
What’s also interesting is that the word “formed” in verse 13 can more accurately be translated as “purchased”.
The Psalmists wasn’t making a scientific observation of conception or gestation; he was emphasizing God’s wholehearted investment in every life – that even in the womb, God sees you and chooses to connect His heart to yours.
In Jer 1:5 and Isa 49:5, we see that both Jeremiah and Isaiah are referring explicitly to the purpose that God attached to their existence. Isaiah was called to be a “servant” and Jeremiah a “prophet”. In fact, the Hebrew word used for “form” in Isaiah can be interpreted as “predetermined”. Now, God isn’t predetermining every choice they will make, but rather, He has created them to be uniquely capable of accomplishing a strategic purpose in their generation.
The beautifully infamous verse Jer 29:11, has become the motivational cat poster for modern Christianity, upon which we can calm our nerves with the fact that God has a predefined plan for every aspect of our lives.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
People use this verse to suggest God is micro-managing every moment of their lives, but what is actually written is “For I know the PLANS I have for you, says the Lord…”
Plans is plural! There is more than one track for you to choose, because you are a powerful participant in your own destiny. To assume that every aspect of life, from your physical makeup to your daily decisions, is predetermined by God is to ignore a healthy understanding of science and Scripture. It robs us of appreciation for the systems God has set in place and ownership of our own roles in stewarding the lives He’s given us.
Another important point I’d like to touch on from Jeremiah 29:11 is that God does not orchestrate tragedy or destruction in our lives. His plans for us consist only of plans “to prosper you, and not to harm you”. So often, when anything bad happens in our lives, we tend to chalk it up to either God testing us or the enemy attacking us. The reality is that in most cases, it’s just life.
Our actions have consequences, as do the actions of others. Sometimes the pain we experience is the result of others making poor choices. Sometimes it’s the result of US making poor choices.
But regardless, just like a good Father, He “picks up our tab”. He wastes nothing. Every time we mess up, he absorbs the pain and suffering into His plan to prosper us and give us a hopeful future. He never fails to replace our mourning with dancing.
Finding “The One”
Of course, no discussion of God’s sovereignty is complete without mentioning the Christian dating scene. Somehow, many Christian young people have gotten it in their heads that God is responsible for finding their future spouse. These poor souls often waste years and years on the pretense that they are “waiting for The One God has for them”, instead of taking the initiative to pursue functional and life-giving relationships.
This idea isn’t even Biblical. Other than Adam & Eve (which doesn’t really count), the only time in the entire Bible we see God actively selecting a spouse for someone is when he instructs Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute, as a prophetic act to the people of Israel.
So unless that is your ideal marriage scenario, waiting around for God to marry you off probably isn’t the best plan.
The central problem to this concept of God-ordained soul mates is that God, rather than you, is responsible for the marriage. So when you’re having problems in your marriage, it’s God’s job to fix them, because hey, He put you in that situation to begin with.
I believe God is fully invested in your process of exploring relationships, choosing a life partner, and developing a thriving marriage. But participation and predetermination are hardly the same thing.
In my own experience, there were very obvious indicators that God was participating in bringing my husband and I together, but at the end of the day, it was my decision, not God’s, to say “I do” on my wedding day. I know that the Father would have been delighted with me no matter who I vowed myself to. The point is He has given us the capacity to choose. And this is why we should invite counsel and the Holy Spirit into our decision making, rather than simply coasting along with the expectation that God is going to handle everything for us.
Believing that we are just pawns in a divine game completely misses the picture of God that Jesus came to reveal:
The Father-Son Relationship
Imagine a father and son running a business together. The father asks the son to take over a particular project for him, because he wants to ultimately hand down the family business. Now imagine the son knocks the project out of the park, and someone comes up to offer congratulations.
The father isn’t going to reply, “Oh yes, my son is an excellent tool I use from time to time”. No, no, no! Instead, he would probably say something like “Actually, my son took the lead on this one! I gave him some ideas to start with, but then he ran with it and made it his own. I couldn’t be prouder!”
According to Genesis 1:26, we were created in the “image” of God. The Hebrew word used here is tselem, which is derived from an unused root word that means “to shade”. Humanity could be described as 7 billion shades of God, and we each carry a unique reflection of our Father.
We see God’s intention to partner with and empower man, rather than control him, from the very first interactions in Genesis. God asks ADAM to name every living creature. Why? Because God gave MAN dominion over the earth. By asking Adam to participate, through deciding upon and declaring the animals’ identities, He was inviting Adam into a place of ownership and authority on the Earth.
And guess what? Even after they left the garden, the purpose of mankind stayed the same – to paraphrase, “Create family and steward the Earth I have given you.”
God is not in control. As theologian Harold Eberle aptly puts it, “God doesn’t control the world, but He is in charge of the world.” God has ultimate authority. He’s the King. And with that, He is free to intervene in any way He desires. But instead of micromanaging us, he chooses to participate with us as we live our lives within the systems He built for us. Furthermore, He imparts some of His authority to us.
In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says to the Father “Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” The wording here implies that His will is not yet fully manifested on the earth, and by inviting us to pray in this way, He is telling us that we are participants in God’s will being accomplished in the Earth. We have the privilege and responsibility of partnering with his destiny for mankind and bringing the accessible Kingdom of Heaven to earth here and now.
God isn’t controlling the career path you choose. He isn’t controlling your diet or fitness plan. He isn’t controlling where you decide to live. He isn’t controlling how big your family grows. He’s not even controlling the way in which you’ll die. He’s a dedicated Father, not a control freak. A good father guides, encourages, and adores, rather than controlling his kids’ every move.
This realization can be scary, because it implies that you have the ultimate power to make your own choices and experience the consequences of those choices. The choice to live an abundant life is yours. You can no longer play the victim. God has plans and callings for your life, solutions and strategies, but He doesn’t live your life for you.
If God had wanted to stringently control the workings of the earth, why exactly would he have created the beautiful chaos that is mankind? Why would he have created a biological system driven by random genetic pairing?
If the world is a divinely driven robotic machine, what is the significance of you?
God is not a control freak. Like a good Father, He has given us the freedom to choose our careers, our spouses, our life goals, and so much more. He invites us to make wise decisions and shows us the way to live abundantly. He longs to partner with us in our day-to-day activities.
He’s a father, not a control freak.
Thanks for reading! We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments below! We aren’t easily offended, so have at it.
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Thanks for the post. I was just wondering if you were aware of open theism? This sounds similar to it.
Jacob McMillen says
Hey Jesse, I don’t think this article is quite making that leap. Open Theism would go as far as to say God doesn’t know what is going to happen, which is a discussion all its own.
But what are your thoughts on Open Theism? I’d love to hear.
Destiny McMillen says
Yes I am aware of open theism, and I think addressing what God’s sovereignty looks is sort of the beginning of open theism. But this article wasn’t intended to make the full arguments for open theism, such as the idea that God is not even sure of what’s going to happen in the future. We will hopefully address the ideas of open theism more in depth in a later article.
Jacob McMillen says
I don’t think this article is going quite as far as Open Theism, which would say that God doesn’t even know the choices we will make.
That said, Jesse, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on Open Theism.
My thoughts are that God doesn’t know know what choice we will make, but He does know all the possible choices. I think that at the base of it is what you all have stated here and that is God doesn’t micromanage us, but rather created a world that we are able to interact with.
Destiny McMillen says
Yes, I am aware of open theism. This article was a commentary on what the sovereignty of God actually means and the freedom God’s given mankind. And though I do think that how we view God’s sovereignty is at the foundation of open theism, the intention of this article wasn’t to apply all of the open theistic views of God, such as the belief that God doesn’t even know all that will take place in the future. But we would love to hopefully delve into the ideas surrounding open theism in greater depth in some future articles.
I’m really enjoying the writing on this blog. I look forward to reading more.
Destiny McMillen says
So glad to hear it, looking forward to your feedback as well!
Richard Sprunk says
“Another important point I’d like to touch on from Jeremiah 29:11 is that God does not orchestrate tragedy or destruction in our lives. His plans for us consist only of plans ‘to prosper you, and not to harm you.'”
I like your description of Jer 29:11 as “the motivational cat poster” for the present church. But all that you describe here is equally “faddish” thinking. Your reference to Jer 29:11 is also taken out of context. Read the rest of the chapter (esp. v 15-19), consider the context of what God is saying through Jeremiah, and then see how that fits with your theology that God doesn’t “orchestrate tragedy or destruction.”
Jesse Ireland says
So you would say that God causes cancer, school shootings, and natural disasters? Really? That’s not a God worth of worship if you ask me. Good thing that is not who God is, rather God is like Jesus and I don’t see Jesus doing any of those things. Rather, Jesus heals the sick, suffers with us in our losses, and runs to the broken who have been devastated by disasters.
Destiny McMillen says
That’s a really great counter point Richard, thanks for bringing that up. Yes, there is definitely tension held in Jeremiah 29. But I would actually make the argument that when it’s referencing all the judgement that the Lord will bestow on those who did not go into captivity in vs. 15-19, that the biblical author was interpreting his word from God through his world view. In the Hebraic world view, they believed that everything that happened, good or bad, was from God. All the judgments that are mentioned in vs 15-19 could actually be seen as natural consequences that would happen if they didn’t submit to captivity. The sword, pestilence, famine, are all environmental and political factors that the Israelite’s would face if they continued to rebel against the Babylonian empire.
In vs. 5-7 God is exhorting the Israelites to live peaceably in their captivity. I actually believe in a theology of non-violence that a sector of Christianity holds to, belief that is God is good and he doesn’t participate in the cycle of violence, but always propagates peace. These virtues of God are emulated in the life of Jesus, forgiveness in the face of the suffering and execution. There is a whole different level of how you interact with your biblical exegesis in order to come to this conclusion. (and there are a lot of resources I can cite that can properly defend this). But this is how I came to my personal application of what God was speaking about His character in Jer 29:11 and why I interpreted it that way.
I think Destiny’s quote from Dr. Eberle is from his book “Who Is God?”. It’s a fantastic book, and offers a well laid out understanding of Open Theism. If you want more, that’s a great place to start. It’s sold on Amazon.
Jacob McMillen says
Love Harold’s work! Here’s a direct link to that book – http://amzn.to/1Y0xYS0
Valerie williams says
I’m loving these posts and look forward to hearing more from Brazen church!!
Jacob McMillen says
Thanks Valerie! We really appreciate the kind feedback! Feel free to let us know if there is anything specific you’d like us to write about!
Great thoughts! I definitely found your thoughts on the “image” of God interesting. I’ll have to look into that more. I have just started to vocalize my branching out from fundamentalist Christianity. It’s frightening and liberating at the same time. More than that though, it’s exciting to see God as the author of all good things rather than the two-faced deity who brings good and evil into the world.
Destiny McMillen says
That is so true Joe, we’re right in that boat with you.
Luke Kliewer says
I appreciate your efforts and I, for the most part, enjoy the writing on this site, but I must say this particular article is seriously under written. I mean to prove that God is just “in charge” and not “in control” is going to require much more than the weak proof provided here. It also demands that you discredit the scriptures that contradict your assertions. I realize you can’t write an exegesis on a blog post but you do need to make sure that you are presenting honestly.
Désiré Rusovsky says
Amazing that you publish this today.
I do believe that God is in control and I do believe that Jer 29:11 is a sure promise from God!
Let me explain in my broken English.
My wife got cancer a couple years ago, and now she is bedridden and unable to speak. In the early days of her cancer, I got the firm assurance that God is in control of her situation. It means for me that it’s not terminal nor fatal.
Jer 29:11 is a verse which pursues us even before our marriage. I do believe that the good things it proclaims do not pass and are still future. So, with this verse, I do believe that our time together is not over but that our future is bright in the Lord.
I believed I received a word from the Lord through a commercial which sings, “We feast Xmas all together.” I understood it “we will feat Xmas all together” (it’s almost the same in French).
And today, the Christmas Eve, you share this article. I receive it like a prophecy, like a confirmation.
Thank you so much!
Roby Blest says
Another outstanding Scripture outlining evil, predestination and foreknowledge is:
1 Samuel 23:1-13
D. Michael Heiser, Scholar-in-Residence at Faithlife, breaks down the above passage and explains the events clearly revealing:
1) Neither of the events that God foresaw ever actually happened.
2) Divine Foreknowledge doe NOT necessitate divine predestination.
It is right there in the Scripture. If God foreknows some event that happens, then He MAY have predestined the event. But the fact that He foreknew the event does NOT require its predestination if it happens.
He says several modern theological systems presume that foreknowledge requires predestination., and so everything must be predestined- all the way from the Holocaust to what you’ll choose off the dinner menu.
In light of this Scripture passage, this is obviously not so and provides evidence that Yahweh is NOT a control freak.
1 Samuel 23: 1-13