Is God Really in Control?

As promised, a post about something unrelated to politics! If you feel like wallowing/ gloating about the election results, there are plenty of sites on which to vent your frustration/elation. If you want to talk about determinism and free will, this is the spot for you!

The other day, an author friend of mine sent me a message that said, “I’ve finished my manuscript and sent it to my editor. It’s in God’s hands now.”

 I couldn’t help myself. “You’ve got a pretty high opinion of your editor, don't you?” I responded.

Those who know me well know that I’ve always struggled with the idea of divine intervention, and am not particularly fond of theologies that emphasize determinism.

When I hear the expression, “God is in control,” I tend to think about the Asian tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in 2004, the countless women who have been raped in the Congo over the last few days, and the many children who will die of hunger and preventable disease this year. Is God controlling all of that? Isn’t it a bit too easy for those of us enjoying comfort and security to make such a statement?

When I am urged to pray about a church building project, or when I'm told that God has intervened and made funds available for a vacation or an exotic mission trip, I think about the little boy in India who begged me to pray for his mother, who died of AIDS a few days later.

When I’m wrestling with doubt or am frustrated with Christianity, and someone tells me to “leave it in God’s hands,” I feel like they’re just telling me to shut up and stop asking questions.

When I’m told that God picks and chooses who He wants to save and who He wants to damn, and that I shouldn’t question the notion that He created people for the sole purpose of inhabiting hell, I get pretty angry—not just by the theology, but by the stoicism of those who believe it.

Most of all, I am deeply suspicious when someone tells me that he is getting specific instructions from God to do this or that, that it’s not really his choice that he buy a new car or take out a loan or apply for a certain job. God is telling him to do it, and he is simply obeying God’s will. Isn’t this just a way of spiritualizing decisions we’ve already made and justifying our actions?  How does one know when it is God talking or simply one’s internal voice?

These attitudes reached a bit of a boiling point this week. I don’t know abut you, but I know some people who were absolutely convinced that God had told them to vote for John McCain and others who were absolutely convinced that God had told them to vote for Barack Obama. I was urged to pray and fast. And yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I was reminded that this election was “completely in God’s hands anyway,” so ultimately it didn’t matter one way or the other. I guess I’m wondering why anyone would bother to  vote if they thought the results were predetermined. And why would God be telling some people one thing, and others the opposite?

So, (no news here), I’m not a fan of determinism. It seems to me that it is applied somewhat arbitrarily, and that it is incredibly impractical. One has to believe in a certain amount of free will in order to function. Otherwise, I’d just sit on the couch and watch the news all day, expecting my book to write itself….(Oh, wait. Perhaps I’m a bit more of a determinist than I thought!)

And yet Dan graciously reminded me the other day of how important it is to respect the fact that so much of life is out of one’s control.  

We can plan and obsess and worry and strive, but we cannot manipulate all of the forces around us.  We can’t uncover all the mysteries of the universe or choose when we live or die. He reminded me that perhaps this was what Jesus was getting at when he said, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” While our lives are heavily influenced by the decisions we make; they are not completely defined by them.  There is a certain amount of peace that comes with this realization, a sense of surrender that is undoubtedly healthy and good.

Still, I’m not convinced that praying for the hungry and homeless is enough, or that “leaving things in God’s hands” is the best approach to stopping the spread of disease and the scourge of human trafficking. We’ve got to put legs on our prayers. We’ve got to quit blaming God for failures that are essentially ours, not His. At its best, the idea that “God is in control” protects us from arrogance and worry. At its worst, it prevents us from taking ownership of our decisions and making serious effort to change the world.

So, is God in control, or are we?

I’m still not sure that the answer is as simple as we make it out to be. Let me know what you think!

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