The subject of God’s control—the extent of it, the existence of it, the arguments for and against it—has been hotly debated for centuries. The purpose of this article isn’t to provide a definitive and absolute proof for or against the premise, but to provoke thought around it.
According to the testimony of Scripture, as well as the evidence in the world around us, God is not in control of everything that happens.
This fact can be shocking, upsetting, and even downright unsettling to Christians. After all, if we believe that a good Father is in control of everything that happens around us, then we can also believe that the good, the bad, and the ugly are all happening for some sort of higher purpose. We can face the trials of life trusting that God’s in control of the outcome, so most likely it will work out in our favor.
However, if we believe that God is completely in control, then the burden of blame rests with Him just as much as the praise. If God controls everything we see around us, then we must praise Him for miraculous healing…but also hold Him accountable for sickness. We have to rejoice when He saves a person’s life…but also accept that He was behind the life-threatening straits to begin with. More importantly, we must also eliminate the possibility of free will.
The truth is that life in this world is much more complex than a God who simply pulls the strings, making all of us dance. Let’s look at a few key mitigating factors in the equation:
1. Free Will
Despite what some Christian circles preach, free will does exist; God doesn’t control the clothes you wear, the food you eat, or the decisions you make, whether good or bad. He also doesn’t pick and choose who gets saved, who rebels, who accepts Jesus and who doesn’t. If He did, everyone would be saved—because, as Scripture tells us, God “wants everyone to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4) But because He respects the freedom of man to choose, God doesn’t force salvation on anyone; this is a pretty good indication that God isn’t controlling our lives. We’re calling the shots ourselves.
God is definitely involved in people’s lives, but He isn’t dictating everything that people do. He watches us, and sometimes He intervenes—but He isn’t controlling every movement of our lives.
2. The Devil
The Bible actually expressly tells us that this world is not under God’s control; it’s “under the control of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19)The Evil One, Wicked One…call him what you like, he’s usually referred to as the Devil. Not long after the dawn of mankind, the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, were deceived into disobeying God. At that moment, way back in the Garden of Eden at the advent of our human race, authority over this world was given to the Devil. It’s his playground—even to the extent that he was able to offer all of the kingdoms of it to Jesus, in exchange for worship (Luke 4:6).
Thankfully, God didn’t abandon mankind to the misery of a world controlled by darkness; not only did He send a Savior, He also has historically, and continues to, work with us in the spiritual battle against the Devil. But the Bible makes it very clear that the one in control of this world—the one responsible for the suffering, evil, and sin we see around us—is not God Himself, but actually His enemy.
3. Natural and Moral Evil
The very existence of evil itself actually proves that God is not in control. Let’s take a look at the nature of God; He tells us through His Word that He is love, light, and all things good. Therefore, if God was in absolute control of the world, where would there be any place for evil in it? But because God gave Man free will to choose—and because there is a Devil, a creature of hate and darkness, and Man chose to listen to him—evil was able to come into the creation.
If God was controlling everything, we would not see destruction, pain, and suffering as a result of rampant sin. The creation would better reflect the goodness of the Creator; but because this world is not under His control, it reflects the choices—often flawed, selfish, inconsiderate, and even downright evil—of its inhabitants. This is why the future kingdom spoken of in Revelation 21-22 has no suffering, sorrow or pain; at that point, the Devil, and evil itself, will be no more.
There are many other factors that come into play here. But it isn’t necessary for God to be absolutely in control for things to come to pass a certain way; whether it’s a favorable outcome or not, God isn’t stacking the deck against us. Even though He isn’t controlling all of the circumstances, the Bible clearly tells us that He’s working for our good. (Rom. 8:28)
What a relief it is to know that when we suffer, it isn’t because of a God who is in control of the world and punishing us—and then requiring us to love Him! (Matt.11:37)And also to know that, despite the evil in this world that’s under the control of the Devil, God is still moving in powerful ways for His people, bringing things together for our good.I don’t know about you, but I can certainly love a God like that!
If you want to learn more about the spiritual realities surrounding suffering, evil and sin, check out “Don’t Blame God,” by Spirit & Truth Fellowship, and “Is God to Blame?” by Greg Boyd, both available through Amazon.com.