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God Is Not In Control

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Well, of course, God is in control. He’s the supreme being, the maker and ruler of the cosmos. How could he not be in control of what he has made? It depends somewhat on what you mean by “control.” Does God determine everything that happens? Is he responsible for earthquakes and tsunamis, witch hunts and revolutions, murders and rapes? Does he get some kind of twisted delight out of tragic accidents or childhood cancer or Covid-19 deaths? If he does not cause disaster and evil, then does he permit it? And if he permits it, isn’t that the moral equivalent of causing it?

These are deep questions, and I am ill-qualified to answer them, but like many others, I can’t help trying to come to terms with them. As a Christian who trusts God and believes he is all good all the time, it does not sit well with me to imagine he created terrible evils or permits them. Perhaps, then, he allows evil because he can’t put a stop to it. In other words, God is not in control.

I’ve written already about who rules the world. Here I would like to introduce another bit of evidence, this time from the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Your name: be hallowed; your kingdom: come; your will: be done. As in heaven, so on earth.” Yet who prays for what they already have? If God’s name is already highly esteemed, if his kingdom is already manifest throughout the world, if his will is already being done, then why make a petition of it? Christians pray for God’s will to be done because it’s not being done. How is it that omnipotence cannot do whatever it pleases whenever it pleases?

One conclusion that many people come to is simply that there is no God. This view has several advantages—a simplified morality where nothing is Good or Evil in some universal, cosmic sense but merely good or bad to or for particular outcomes in particular situations; a sense of intellectual superiority to the vast majority of mankind who throughout history has believed in some kind of god; freedom from arbitrary rules about how to live and behave; and the seductive promise that the pain and despair of existence can’t last forever.

It has disadvantages, too. Without God, there is no ultimate justice. The uncaught murderer will forever go unpunished. Without God, the longing we all have to be fully comprehended and to be loved can never be satisfied. Without God, we each and also collectively face the daunting task of deciding for ourselves what is good and what is evil. Without God, there is no lasting life, no meaning to everything. We can only look forward to the heat death of the universe and perhaps—if some models are correct—an endless cycle of new universes that come into being, grow old, and die over unimaginably vast stretches of time and space.

At this point, I think it is helpful to introduce a distinction between power and authority. Power is the ability to act in a situation or context. Authority is the right to act in a situation or context. To act in a way that is good and right requires both power and authority. For example, a police officer might respond to a call about a domestic dispute and discovers that one of the participants is an undocumented immigrant. However, her city is a sanctuary city, and the police are specifically prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants unless they are in violation of a city ordinance. The police officer has the power to act but not the authority.

The opening chapters of Genesis reveal a God who, in the act of creating, made creatures enough like himself that he could commune with them and love them. He subjected the world he had made to their authority, and when they rebelled against his good governance, they ceded that authority to God’s enemy. Thus Satan became the ruler of this world, and by his schemes and deceptions he has brought much evil into the world.

If God were like us, his judgment would have been swift and severe. He would have overpowered and immediately crushed the serpent, slain Adam and Eve for their disobedience, and restarted the whole project afresh. But God is not like us. He responded with love like a parent with disobedient children. He gave them consequences for their actions and waited to see what they would do. Would they repent and seek to re-establish the communion they had had with him? Or would they continue in rebellion? Throughout history, some have chosen repentance and some have chosen rebellion1Of course, the Christian understanding is that everyone defaults to rebellion, but some choose repentance and life. In his efforts to persuade rebellious humanity, God even sent his own son as an emissary, not with violence and threats, but with gentleness and love, to persuade the rebels to lay down their arms and surrender. He commissioned his church to the same task, calling them out from their accustomed lives to live a new life in obedience to God by displaying his own loving character in their words and deeds.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

For this reason, those who claim to be Christians but act with judgment and condemnation toward others have not rightly understood the mission of the church. The church has not been tasked with making society righteous by advocating for laws that reflect Bronze Age values from the Law of Moses. Indeed, Paul taught that the Law no longer held sway over those who commit themselves to Christ2Read just about any of Paul’s letters but especially those to the Romans and the Galatians. Therefore, when Christians spew forth vituperation and anger toward those whose political views differ from their own, they are revealing how much their own hearts and minds are still in bondage to the sinful nature. They are still in rebellion against God, who is patient with everyone but especially with those who have never known his goodness and love. Just as parents are gentle with young children who have not yet learned how to behave but harsher with older children who certainly know better, so God has more patience with sinners who have not known him but has less patience with those who have tasted his mercy and forgiveness.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Brennan Manning, attributed
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about me Saint Paul winter

Cabin Fever Cure

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Read and comment on my blog.

The ancients knew what they were about making February shorter than other months. Short as it is, it still seems the longest. Since Christmas with its reds and greens, all we’ve seen are somber browns and grays and blacks and blinding whites. The snow has lost its charm, and all of us, cooped up together for the past two months, have too often lost our tempers. We needed to get out. We needed to renew our faith in the coming of spring with its lush growth and wanton colors.

Saint Paul mercifully provides a place where those weary of winter’s doldrums can refresh their souls. The Como Park Conservatory operates year around, but in February, it’s like water in a desert. We all went yesterday to marinate ourselves in the tropical weather under its glass dome. We breathed the drenched air of the fern room. We saw the stately Christmas palms and the not-so-stately bottle palms. We saw oranges on an orange tree and cacao pods on a chocolate tree and coffee berries on a coffee tree. We saw allspice and red ginger and black pepper. We saw a Panama hat tree, so called because its young leaves are used to make Panama hats.

We always save the best for last, of course, and the best is the Sunken Garden with all the flowers. I like flowers, but I’m not very good with their names. I do fine with marigolds, daffodils, and tulips, but I can never seem to remember cyclamens, rhododendrons, or bromeliads. So, to my chagrin, I can’t remember most of what we saw. All I know is that they were beautiful. There were crimson blossoms sprung from drooping heads that twisted their petals upward as they unfurled. There were star lilies as big as my hand. There were blossoms shaped like tiny vases.

And there were carp in the pond. When the children were young, they would race past the flowers to see the fish, to touch the fish. Certainly, the carp are fascinating: their glittering scales, whiskered faces, and round toothless mouths. Lithe and slippery, they glide over and under one another looking shamelessly for a handout.

After walking through the garden, I sat down on a bench where the winter sun dazzled me. I relaxed. For, lo, the winter is past. The rains are over and gone. Flowers appear in the earth, and the time of singing has come.

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politics Saint Paul

Republicans Come To Saint Paul

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On Sunday, we went downtown to count the police and watch the Republicans gather. We were turned back at two of the parking lots on the west bank of the river where we usually park, but we were allowed to park on Water Street, just south of Harriet Island. We walked into the park where a few workers were putting up tents in preparation for a concert. Rage Against The Machine was going to be playing later.

We walked along the river to Raspberry Island, where we ascended the stairs to the Wabasha Street bridge and crossed into the city. Kellogg Boulevard was blocked off at Saint Peter. There were ten-foot fences and three police officers barring the way. We walked down Saint Peter, turned left at 5th Street and made our way to Rice Park.

MSNBC Video Stage for Keith Olbermann
MSNBC Video Stage for Keith Olbermann

MSNBC had setup a video stage in Rice Park where they were filming some kind of political commentary show. A few people were resting in the shade near the fountain because the day was so hot. It seemed that the people with press tags outnumbered the ordinary citizens out for a stroll. One interviewer with a camera operator was buttonholing people at random. On the west side of the park, all approaches to the Xcel Energy Center were blocked by fences. Police were everywhere. We saw mounted police in full riot gear, down to the face shields covering the eyes of their horses. Nelly was glad to see the horses—she likes horses—, but Belinda was alarmed to see so many police, as if the city of Saint Paul expected some kind of attack.

A Lone Protester
A Lone Protester

We sat on the edge of the fountain watching and waiting. Nothing much happened. A protester came by carrying a sign that read “McCain Votes Against Veterans.” I suppose he was a veteran himself. Another protester carried a sign that proclaimed “9/11 Was An Inside Job.”

It was hot. The fountain was cool.

The Landmark building was all fitted out with bunting and flags. We took some pictures and then headed for home. We got back to the bridge as the sun was going down. The river looked lazy in the golden light. There were Coast Guard boats on patrol and several squad cars went racing by on there way somewhere.

The whole experience was surreal: a celebration of freedom surrounded with systems designed to control crowds and exclude people. I don’t know if Denver was like this, too.

Mississippi River At Sunset
Mississippi River At Sunset

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