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  • Daniel Klassen

Does God Control Everything?

It is one of the most loaded questions we could ask: Does God control everything? This is a question packed full of other philosophical, theological, and even psychological questions.

"What about my free will? Or my choices?”

"Aren't we just robots, then?"

"Does this mean I'm no longer responsible?"

"How can God be good if evil exists?"

"Why would God be preoccupied with my little life when big-time events are going on in the world?"

"Why do bad things happen to good people?"

These are questions still worth answering, but do you notice a pattern in them? All these questions look at God with a central reference to man, meaning they all consider the question from man's point of view rather than from God's.

God's influence in our lives is imperceptible for the most part. We cannot always trace God's hand in the movements of our lives, and all the choices we have to make each day convince us we control our fate. When we think of who is in control, our experiences become too loud for us to consider God's perspective. This is a problem because God's perspective on the matter is a whole lot different (and better) than ours.

Answering the question from our perspective creates its own problems, too. If God isn't in control of everything, who is? Or, if God doesn't control everything, how much does God not control? If Satan has some control, does that mean God cannot control him? If we have some control, what if we're overpowered by a greater force? After all, we aren't as strong as we often think. Even when we think about it from our perspective, we really don't have much hope if God doesn't control everything.

The question of God's control is too deep to unpack in a short article such as this, but there are some considerations we must make to get us thinking on the right path.

The first is the definition of control. What does it mean to have control?

When we think of control, our minds tend to think of manipulative enslavement or oppressive power. Control of others is essentially viewed as nefarious. However, when the Bible speaks of God having control, it refers more to ordaining than control. To ordain something carries much less of a negative stigma than control, so it is a better start to thinking about the issue. Think of how Proverbs speaks of it: "The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (21:1). If anyone is perceived as having control over the most lives, it's a king. Yet, even the king is controlled by God. God does not force the king to act but directs the actions of the king to the end He desires. The king cannot act further than the banks of God's ordination allow. Does God manipulate each choice the king makes? No, but each choice the king makes is ordained by God.

Before you think this is just a game of wordplay, the Bible gives us examples of this happening.

In the story of Israel in Egypt, God is at work in the choices of the Pharaoh. When Joseph arrives in Egypt, God works on both the Pharaoh's and the jailer's hearts to show favor to Joseph. The favor God gave was a disposition of heart to treat Joseph well. It wasn't Joseph's personality that won the hearts of his masters, but the Bible explicitly says "But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison" (Genesis 39:21). Did you notice it? God gave Joseph favor.

The effect of God's work on the jailer was so astounding he put a prisoner in charge of the prison, and on the Pharaoh that he placed a foreigner in charge of the entire kingdom. God gave Joseph favor with the jailor and Pharaoh, and the jailer and Pharaoh decided to treat Joseph favorably.

Fast forward to Exodus when God hardened Pharaoh's heart and Pharaoh hardened his own heart. This phenomenon exposes the biblical tension known as compatibilism. Both God and Pharaoh are active in the events. The question is how?

Some say God can only be active a certain way all the time. So, they work backwards from their philosophical conclusion and get to the premise either that God is not in control at all, or God is partially in control, or that God is fatalistically in control of everything, and interpret the story through that statement. But the problem is God's hardening work is a different kind of action than causing favorable tendencies for His purpose. When God hardened Pharaoh's heart, all He had to do was take a step back and let Pharaoh do what he really wanted. He took away every moral restraint and gave Pharaoh the power to carry out his deepest desires. This is quite different from God's work in giving favor to His people through His (and their) enemies.

There are many more examples in the Bible of God at work to move people to do His will, making it difficult to miss the control of God over all human history. When we step back to observe the entire story of redemption, everything, down to the minutest detail, is in the hand of God to do His bidding.

God is in control, and there is a passage in James which expects us to live our daily lives in light of its truth. James writes,

"Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil." (James 4:13-17).

The arrogance spoken of here is the arrogance of saying, "It's all my choice, I'll decide my fate." It's saying, "I'll decide which day. I'll decide if I stay or go. I'll decide which town I want. I'll decide the duration. I'll make a profit."

Humility, or we can say Christian godliness says, "If the Lord wills," because God holds decisive sway over all things. It sees things from God's perspective and lives accordingly when He says through the prophet Isaiah,

"I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me,

declaring the end from the beginning

and from ancient times things not yet done,

saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,

and I will accomplish all my purpose’" (Isaiah 46:9-10).

God is in control. His purpose will be accomplished. If that is the case, we must be humble. And in it all, we will find true comfort and hope, as the psalmist says, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 118:6).

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