I continue to be very disturbed by the many people who claim that God is in control. This belief has come to the fore again amongst many Christians within the context of COVID-19. “Trust God because he is in control” is the advice. Maybe it seems obvious if you believe God is Almighty – or does it depend on what one thinks being all-mighty means?
In the context of the pandemic, God is in control of what? In control of who gets COVID-19? In control of who dies? In control of who goes bankrupt or has a mental breakdown or is beaten up by a violent partner as a consequence of lockdown? Was it God who decided that the mother suffering from COVID should die, even though she had pleaded with the young doctor who was preparing to sedate and intubate her not to let her die as she had three boys who needed her? Did God decide that many of the poorest people in the world, including Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh already suffering from persecution and poverty, should die not only from hunger, Coronavirus and other diseases, but also from the worst cyclone in twenty years when it hit them two days ago (21st May)?
Is the belief that God will bring good out of evil, at least for those who love him, perhaps a watered down version of the belief that “God is in control”? This is expressed in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28). So those who don’t love God have no chance, then?
No, I’m not losing my faith – unless you define faith as trusting that God is in control of everything and makes all the decisions for me. No wonder millions reject Christianity.
I do still believe in God – and that God somehow exists in trinitarian form, with relationships being fundamental to God’s being. But if you can prove to me that God is in control, it won’t mean I can no longer believe in his existence, but I will not be able to love such a capricious and cruel God. I will be so angry with him and hate him for all the innocent suffering that people, creation and the planet are enduring. It will also mean I can do what I like, without thinking or caring, because it’s no longer my responsibility what I do if God is in control – he’ll make sure everything turns out all right, at least for those who love him.
Personally, my faith and hope is in a God who is all-mighty, but who has always “emptied” himself by continuously choosing to give himself away in love and enter humbly and fully into his creation, thereby putting himself at risk. I don’t believe that God created the world literally as described in the Bible (how can anyone believe this when the two stories in Genesis don’t even agree!). But he poured himself into every aspect of the material world from the beginning, from the tiniest particle and force to the most distant universe which may yet be discovered by people – assuming creation is not actually infinite (which I suspect it might be). I also believe that God was (and still is) somehow deeply involved in the development of humankind and that we have been made in God’s image and likeness. This includes being born with God’s innate gifts and qualities of creativity, love, self-expression, humility and vulnerability amongst so many others – including, crucially, free will.
The quality or gift of free will, the freedom to choose every day between what to do and what not to do which is innate in all of humankind, is what proves to me that God is not in control. God could only create us in his own image and likeness and give us the freedom to make our own choices by choosing to give up being in control himself.
So if God is not in control, what is he doing (assuming he does something)? Is he watching us all from afar while we make a mess of the world and cause so much suffering? Does he regret giving up control?
I believe that what creation shows us is that God is intimately involved in the suffering of the world. And the Bible shows us how angry and upset God can be by our wrong choices. But supremely, what the Bible shows us is how God totally emptied himself, giving up his power and becoming completely vulnerable by actually becoming human when Jesus was born (although I realise this is hard for many people to believe). God lived and suffered and died in and through Jesus who showed us the Way of love, of peace and justice, of non-violence and total self-giving. Jesus lived out the Truth that God creates us in his own image and is fully integrated in and involved with the suffering of humanity – he weeps. It is in God himself that we all “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). And the ultimate truth God shows us, not only in all of creation, but supremely in Jesus, is that new Life always comes out of death. Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and Life” (John 14:6).
This is the hope in which I have reasonable confidence – that God is continually pouring himself out, abdicating all control (but not responsibility), intimately and deeply present, participating in and suffering with creation. The divine Christ has shown us that God suffers and grieves with us and because of us – but that God also brings new life out of death. God is not out there, all high and mighty, punishing us and watching us suffer while he controls everything, like some malicious dictator deciding when and how each person will die. Personally, I find the concept that God is always present with us and experiencing everything we are going through much more reassuring than believing that he is in total control “out there” and beyond me.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
“And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross.
“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
and gave Him the name above all names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”