Is God in Control?

Every day we scroll through Facebook and other social media to find out what’s happening. And what reward do we receive for our faithful commitment to the news? Full term abortions, gross immorality, violence, corruption, rape, hatred—news so bad that we have to screen it when children are in the room.

That kind of news makes us wonder: Where is God in all of this mess? Is He still in control? Why does He allow such evil? If He can stop it, why doesn’t He? Questions such as these can turn unbelievers away from God and can shake the faith of Christians. However, we don’t have to fear the answers. We just have to make sure we look to God for the answers.

Nevertheless, God doesn’t explain the reasons behind all of His actions. After all, He is not accountable to us. He does, however, explain enough of His logic so we know that we can trust Him. His explanations give us some facts to anchor our faith upon.

What does God’s control mean?

Is God in control? Yes. But God is like a teacher watching her students on the playground. The teacher watches while one student uses another’s truck without asking. She sees a big girl crowd in front of a smaller one in line for the slide. She hears a boy call a girl “stupid.” She does not police every action. She doesn’t force each child to correct each misbehavior, though she often disapproves. She knows that children must learn to give and take and cope in an imperfect world. But the teacher watches carefully to ensure that actions do not escalate out of control and that someone does not get seriously hurt.

The teacher controls the situation without controlling the students’ every move. In the same way, God controls everything all the time. Furthermore, He keeps perfect records for coming judgment.

Is the world today more evil than ever before?

But how can we conclude that God is in control when the world around us lists in a sea of chaos? This stormy world gets more evil every year. Have circumstances ever been as bad as circumstances today? History teaches us that our world’s immorality, greed, cruelty and indifference to God are not unusual. In fact, many periods of history were just as bad or even worse!

The Minor Prophets lived during one of those dark periods of history.

Zechariah and Haggai worked to rebuild the temple in a time when Jerusalem looked like a Midwest town after a tornado. The people in Zechariah’s and Haggai’s day laid the foundation of the temple. Then jealousy, disillusionment, poverty and selfishness stopped the project for 16 years.

In Hosea’s day even the priests turned to drunkenness, prostitution and murder.

Micah lived while government leaders were corrupt. But, then, everyone else was equally corrupt. Micah couldn’t trust anyone—not even his friends, his relatives or his wife. He claimed that not one honest man remained in all of Israel.

Those prophets questioned God. “Why?” they asked, just as we do today. God did not try to hide from us the doubts and despair those men felt. In His Word, He gives us a clear record of their feelings. He reveals to us all of Israel’s chaos and hopelessness. But during the nation’s darkest hour, God was in control.

Don’t Blame God.

In spite of the fact that God has complete control of everything at all times, He doesn’t cause our greatest problems; He allows them. Sometimes we think that allowing them and causing them are the same. We think that if God doesn’t stop life’s tragedies, He is partly to blame for them.

Who, then, is to blame for the chaos in the world? Not God. He created a beautiful world and put in it people to whom He gave volition, or free will. He made them free to love and serve Him—or to disobey Him. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, and all of us have followed in their footsteps. Sin entered the world and brought with it death, disease, hatred, greed and every other kind of evil. Our world is cursed by sin, not by God.

Blame Sin.

Satan wants us on his side. And he has a lot of help: society taunts us to do what feels good, and an urge inside us makes wrong seem quite right. In spite of this world full of people trying to please Satan, society and self, many still blame God (not people, not sin) for the world’s problems. They’ve forgotten who their enemies are.

In spite of sin’s influence, in spite of man’s blame-shifting, God is in control. He has, however, determined to work for a while in this sin-crushed world. Sin causes many problems. Sometimes those problems come as punishment for a specific sin committed, but often they come simply as the natural result of living in a sin-cursed world. At other times we get hurt because of someone else’s sin. It isn’t fair, but sin never promises to play fair.

Crimes of abuse, murder, theft, rape or drunk driving claim innocent victims. Sin by its nature hurts others. When a teenager rebels, parents suffer. When Christians neglect witnessing, prayer and giving, unbelievers don’t hear of the One Who can change their destiny.

Are we doing our part?

When Christians get too busy meeting their own needs to help others, the needs of other believers go unmet. Naturally our sin and neglect hurt others. Today God uses people to do much of His work. When we fail to do our assignment, or our part, we hurt others.

Instead of blaming God for the world’s problems, we need to ask ourselves, “What problems am I causing? If I’m not part of the problem, can I be part of the solution?”

We can offer tremendous help to the others in our own little corners of the world. But so much of the world lies beyond our reach. Even if we all do our share where we are, the world will remain in terrible shape.

God will fix it.

“Why doesn’t God fix things?” we might ask. Wouldn’t it be great if God would get rid of sin and make life perfect?

He will. In Heaven. But we aren’t in Heaven yet. Earth’s flaws and hardships will make Heaven all the sweeter by contrast. They set us longing for Heaven, and that longing is only right.

Well, then, why couldn’t God just fix up the earth, make everything fair and just, and make people do what’s right?

He’ll do that too—for a thousand years when Jesus reigns on the earth. However, even then, many people won’t love Him.

Right now we’re locked into time. The great here and now seems so important that it’s hard to peek past the now into eternity, when Jesus Christ will make everything right. Though God cares very much about every detail of our lives, He never loses His perspective. All of our tragedies and cares put together form only a speck of eternity. Many of the problems that we regard as crucial now will one day seem trivial. If we would see time as God sees it, we would face life with confidence.

In the meantime we can use that speck of time to live out our lives in a way that will affect all eternity. As small as “now” is, it is all we’ve got to work with.

Don’t lose your joy.

How can we cope with the world’s chaos and come out on top? Believers still need this old prayer: “God, give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, to change what I can’t accept, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Sounds great—until we come across something we can neither accept nor change. What do we do then?

Accept it anyway—with joy. It’s easy to let the world’s chaos and life’s trials rob us of our joy. We need to guard the joy in our hearts.

Paul’s entire letter to the Philippians explains how to remain joyful in chaos. It is in this context that Paul instructed us to fill our minds with things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. This verse is more than a how-to for keeping a pure thought life. It provides a how-to for guarding our joy.

We sing “Count Your Blessings,” but we more often count our trials—the appliances that have quit working this month, the number of times the kids have been sick, the people who cut in front of us in line.

While living on one foreign mission field I could easily count trials and problems: the traffic violations I had seen at a given intersection, the trash dumps on a certain road, the missionaries I’d heard about that got cheated or the weird diagnoses of doctors.

Bad things happen. Denying reality won’t make it go away. However, after we’ve dealt with our problems, it’s time to push them out of our minds and replace them with blessings. After we’ve faced the tragedies of the world and can do no more to help, we need to dwell on God’s benefits. When our conversations center around negative issues for which we have no answer, we can introduce some positive issues to balance them.

Sin cursed the world, but it did not completely destroy God’s creation. In spite of the violence, hatred and ugliness brought into the world by sin, much of the gentleness, love and beauty created by God still remains.

Searching for it will bring the joy back into our lives.

Give God control.

God is in control of the world today. And though we are forced to live in a sin-cursed world for a time, we can make that world a better place for others if we let God control us. We can refuse to let sin’s misery blind us to God’s blessings.

Every day gives us another opportunity to build our faith in God. We need that faith to face the world’s toughest problems.

Why Doesn’t God Punish Evil?

Life wasn’t fair for Mattie Ellen. Her husband died, leaving her with four children and nothing else. In those days in the early 1900’s no high-paying jobs were available for women. Mattie Ellen did housecleaning, mending and other odd jobs. Still her little family was dirt poor. They didn’t know what a good square meal is.

Then one day Mattie Ellen and her children got a job picking strawberries. It didn’t pay a lot, but Mattie Ellen saved every spare penny. Finally she could buy a few new clothes and badly needed shoes for her children.

Soon afterward, a traveling salesman passed by with a catalog full of wonderful things. Mattie Ellen looked through the catalog and carefully chose a few things for each child.

Then the long wait began. Every day the family watched the mailbox, waiting for the magic day when their precious clothing would arrive. New clothes at long last! How they needed them!

The weeks dragged on into months, but the package never arrived. Finally Mattie Ellen had to tell her four waiting children that the package would never come. They had been cheated.

A poor woman like Mattie Ellen could do nothing to get her money back. The scoundrel continued to travel from place to place, cheating people everywhere he went. As far as Mattie Ellen knew, the salesman was never brought to justice.

“It’s not fair!” we cry out. “Why didn’t someone stop that man?” Yet we know that life is often unfair. Every day evil people work out their schemes on innocent people and get away with it (for now, anyway).

Why doesn’t God put a stop to it all? We know these people will get their due in eternity, but what about now? Why doesn’t God punish evil—promptly, consistently and completely?

Free to Love or Reject

God in His omnipotence could snap His fingers and put the world in order. Yet while Christians yearn for God to “make it all right,” God often restrains His power in the interest of free will.

Free will is a mysterious concept that stumps even the theologians. God chose out a people to believe on Him before the foundation of the world. Yet they choose to believe by an act of their wills. Impossible as it seems to reconcile the two concepts to human minds, it makes perfect sense to God.

God has so ordered life that a person can take God or reject Him. Without free will, our love means nothing to God. Love that is forced, bribed or manipulated into existence is not real love.

What if God dealt with people fairly, the way we see fairness with our human minds? What if God immediately and consistently rewarded every good, noble act and punished every mean, sinful act? People would serve and obey Him, not out of love but out of simple selfishness.

God does reward and punish, but it is not always obvious to us on a day-to-day basis. This way, many ignore God or openly reject Him. But others desire to love Him completely, even when they don’t understand the things that happen to them. And that is exactly what God is after. That kind of love fills God’s mighty heart with joy.

The opposite is also true. When God’s children turn from Him despite His faithfulness and goodness, He is grieved. When sinners refuse His gift of salvation, paid for at such a cost, it cuts Him deeply.

Read the Old Testament from God’s point of view, and you can witness the pain He felt. For centuries God showered rich blessings upon His precious people, the nation of Israel. He promised to continue to bless them if they would only be faithful to Him. And He promised just as sure punishment if they turned to other gods. In spite of the warning, the Jews consistently, repeatedly ran after other gods. Yet as we scan the pages of His Word, we sense God’s dragging His feet in His dealings with them. The rod of punishment moved very slowly in His hand. God never compromised His holiness, but His slowness to act gives us a glimpse of His patience and His yearning for His children to turn back to Him.

God’s Patience

The nation of Israel knew well the benefits of God’s mercy and patience in dealing with them. Yet those beneficiaries of God’s patience could not understand when God turned that patience toward their enemies.

God had promised to destroy Israel’s enemy, Assyria. But the prophet Nahum must have wondered, “What is taking God so long?” Assyria was at the height of its power and constantly fighting wars with Israel and other nearby countries. The Assyrians took pride in their atrocities. They tore off the limbs of their victims, skinned them alive, boiled them in tar, put out their eyes and beheaded them. They erected pyramids of human heads as monuments to their greatness. Next to them Hitler was a wimp.

More than a century earlier, God had promised to destroy the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. But before He did, He forced Jonah to warn them of their doom. Nineveh repented, and, just as Jonah had feared, God had the audacity to forgive them and save the city.

Nineveh’s revival, however, was short lived. By the time Nahum prophesied, the Assyrians were more wicked and ruthless than ever. God still hadn’t kept His promise. Nahum and his people were getting a bitter taste of God’s patience.

Then came the good news. God was finally going to destroy Nineveh. Though it looked as if the Assyrians had been getting away with their cruelty for more than 100 years, their end was near. Nahum wrote verse after verse about God’s wrath, yet this one stands out: “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked” (Nah. 1:3).

The Jews wouldn’t miss Nineveh any more than Jews in this century miss Hitler. God told Nahum the Jews would “clap their hands” when Nineveh fell. But we don’t read of God gloating over Nineveh, glad to see them get what they deserved. God didn’t rejoice at seeing Assyria suffer.

If God, whose spotless holiness is offended by every sin, can be extremely patient and loving with sinful men, we would do well to still some of our cries for justice. God waited patiently for us to come to Him. Dare we complain when He holds out His mercy to others?

It is not easy to stand by and watch evil men prey on the innocent and prosper because of it. Even King David struggled with that frustration in his day. In Psalm 37, however, we see David realizing how short the days of evil men are before certain destruction. In the meantime he counseled righteous men to “cease from anger, and forsake wrath.” Anger leads only to evil.

How Should Believers Respond to Injustice?

Sometimes Christians have to stand up to injustice and demand that things be put right. Most of the time, however, such things are beyond our control. Then we have to stare injustice in the face with peace in our hearts. When we are treated unfairly and can do nothing about it, we have to let go of our hurt, forgive the person and go on.

Is that possible? I know it is. Mattie Ellen’s little boy grew up. He knew poverty. He met grief when his mother died when he was eight. He witnessed plenty of unfairness and was taught to respond by getting even. Then one day he met the Master and learned to forgive. When he had children of his own, he taught them to let go of anger and wait for God to repay evil.

And that’s why I know this truth. I am his daughter. Pastor Ray Allen is now in heaven.

In my next blog I deal with this question: Is God in control?

Why Do Good People Suffer?

Why do good people suffer? Why doesn’t God punish evil? Is God in control? Part of ministry is answering honest questions like these. In the next few blogs I’ll talk about these tough questions. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I trust these articles will be helpful in your ministry.

Why Do Good People Suffer?

 Crib death. An ugly term. To Diane (based on a true story) it meant her beautiful baby girl was suddenly, inexplicably gone. While the pain of loss still tore at her heart, Diane received another death sentence: multiple sclerosis.

This time she herself was the victim. The doctor’s diagnosis meant that she would not see her toddler Sara graduate from high school maybe not even from grade school. Someday when Sara’s friends were still hanging on monkey bars, Sara would be cooking, doing laundry and pushing her mother’s slumped form back into her wheelchair.

Then, in the midst of the disaster of diagnosis and loss came joy. A new baby girl. For a while the joy of the new arrival helped ease the pain of the former loss. But one day while Diane was bathing her precious infant, she blacked out. When she came to, she found her baby had drowned.

Why? That’s what we want to know when tragedy strikes fine Christian people such as Diane. Why does God allow good people to suffer?

Most of us can’t claim two dead babies and a debilitating disease, but when tragedy hits us we still ask why. We don’t expect life to be easy. Everyone experiences hardship. But when we get more than our “fair share” of it, we begin to doubt God. We must believe that God is in control of our circumstances. Nothing comes to us that He doesn’t allow.

That reassurance can be comforting. Or it can shake our faith. When our pain is most intense, we know that God is standing by with His hands in His pockets watching His children suffer.

An unbeliever may accept tragedy as part of life, while a Christian knows God allowed it on purpose. He struggles with not only the hardship but also the reason behind it.

What did I do to deserve this? Did I unknowingly do some awful thing, and God is punishing me for it? Is God trying to teach me a lesson, and I’m not learning it fast enough? Like a doctor ticking off diseases that could cause a set of symptoms, we try to make our tragedy make sense. We can guess at the whys, but most of the time we end up with more questions than answers.

The questions can shake our faith. At the bottom of quivering faith lie not only questions but also myths. Some Christians expect these myths to be true, but they aren’t.

Myth #1: Christians shouldn’t have big problems.

We don’t expect the Christian life to be easy. We know we’ll face opposition from a hostile world. But with Almighty God on our side, we expect many of our problems to disappear.

It starts with little things. We learn to pray about finding a parking place or money for a new pair of shoes. Many times God does help us through these everyday problems. Therefore, we expect God to work out all our inconveniences and make life smooth. Then when God makes us sweat out the same everyday frustrations that unbelievers face, we doubt His love.

Then comes the big stuff: suicide in the family, incurable diseases, rebellious children, violent crime. We expect it to happen to unbelievers, but when it happens to God’s own children, it leaves us reeling. We think God should prevent such things from happening to His own. If not that, we want Him to work a miracle to make the tragedy come out all right. But as Phil Yancey observed in his book Disappointment with God, a fierce, insistent desire for a miracle “sometimes betrays a lack of faith rather than an abundance of it. . . . True faith does not so much attempt to manipulate God to do our will as it does to position us to do his will.”

God never promises us a sort of “charmed” life where the solution to all life’s problems is miracles. If we think so, we have forgotten Joseph, Job, the Apostle Paul, Hosea, Jeremiah, Stephen and a host of others in the Bible for whom life often did not make sense.

God does promise a good life without tears—but not until eternity. Until then, Christians have to fight out life’s hardships and unfairness along with unbelievers. And why not? We can take suffering better because we have God’s enabling and guidance from Scripture to help us. Unbelievers suffer with no purpose, but we know God has purpose even in suffering.

Myth #2: God is out to get us.

“If we do something wrong, He sends hardship to punish us. And if we’re doing our best, He keeps busy thinking of all kinds of bad things to send our way to teach us things. Like a stern parent, He is determined to make something out of us if it kills us. Whipping us into rugged soldiers is everything. Enjoying life is quite beside the point.”

Yes, God sometimes sends suffering as discipline to bring us back to Him. He allows hardship to teach us things. But He is the same God Who created thousands of kinds of butterflies, flowers and tropical fish. He is not the no-nonsense, wet blanket kind of God we take Him to be. He brings beauty and opportunities for laughter and fun into our lives every day. Most often, however, we’re too busy to notice.

God never rejoices that we suffer. He feels our pain. No doubt it would be far easier for God to step into our lives and do all the hard things for us. But like a wise parent who watches his child striking out at baseball, He does not always intervene. God allows us to learn and to grow up.

Myth #3: Someday God will explain everything, and it will all make sense.

Many times I have heard people say that when we get to Heaven, God will sit down with us and explain the reason for all the bad things in our lives. I picture God going down an itemized list and explaining His reason for each unpleasant event in my life. But as I search the Bible, I find no such promise. God is under no obligation to explain anything, much less everything, to us. My guess is that the whys of life won’t matter much then. And if they did, God’s wisdom is so immeasurably higher than mine that I would probably understand few of His explanations.

But I can understand this concept: God loves me more than I can possibly imagine. If He did nothing else for me, Calvary would be proof of that. Yet Calvary is only a beginning. Every day He supplies every need I have.

The whole world is full of evidence of God’s goodness and love. But since Christ died for everyone and many of His blessings are also universal, it’s easy to think these blessings don’t count. We begin to think God owes us an easy life besides. We will never be happy, however, until we trust God’s wisdom in ordering our lives.

Myth #4: Suffering is always the means to another end, not the main point.

“Suffering teaches us things, brings us closer to God, causes us to grow. But suffering is only as good as the result it brings.”

The apostles thought suffering was a privilege. After they had been beaten (see Acts 5), they rejoiced that God had counted them worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. The early Christian martyrs were so thankful for Christ’s death for them that they welcomed the chance to suffer for Christ as the means of expressing their love for Him.

But they suffered because of their stand for Christ. They will get a rich reward in Heaven for their suffering. What about the suffering that makes no sense?

Job lost everything in a seemingly senseless string of tragedies. His friends were not impressed by his faith. Job had no idea his suffering would span the centuries and inspire people of all ages. Nothing made sense to him. Yet Job said, “Though he [God] slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job. 13:15).

And that was the whole point. Job believed in God when he had every cause to doubt. Even if no other person were inspired by Job’s testimony, God could hold up Job as a trophy before Satan. “Look at Job. He doesn’t trust me just because there’s something in it for him. He loves me for Who I am—all apart from what I do for Him.”

Job’s faith when he had cause to doubt pleased God. He recorded the whole story in Scripture. We don’t read of Job preaching, doing miracles, organizing revivals or serving on committees. All Job did was trust. That was enough to make him a giant of the faith.

And what does that mean to us? It means that our response to difficulties, both large and small, counts. Our trust in God in difficult circumstances sends a powerful message to a hurting world. It reaffirms the faith of other believers. But even if no one else sees our suffering or response, our faith matters to God.

Nothing else pleases God quite so much as our unreserved trust in Him when we can see every reason to doubt.

My next blog talks about this question: Why doesn’t God punish evil?