Is God Really in Control?

20160917142321The sovereignty of God is a topic that has been much debated for hundreds of years. I don’t presume to have a different or better perspective about it than those who have written and argued long before my time. However, in view of recent events, I felt led to share some insights that have likely been shared many times before. As we have endured the most heated, intense, and contested election in most, if not all of our lifetimes, I’ve seen the sentiment plastered all over social media – “God is in control!” It is usually said to those who are worried, fearful, or uncertain about what the future holds. Do we ever really stop and think for a minute if this platitude is even true?

Let’s go back to the beginning, when God created humanity, and really look at how He set things up. Genesis 1:28 is the first verse that mentions man and his commission from his Creator. “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” So the first thing they were commanded to do was to be fruitful and increase in number. The word translated “fruitful” literally means to increase, to branch off, to show fruitfulness, etc. The word “increase” is very similar and the result of these two commands is to fill the earth. This not only referred to Adam and Eve having children, but it also included expanding the Garden, where God had placed them and given them authority to do this. Eden was the one perfect place on the earth.

The enemy had already been forced out of heaven, taking one third of the angels with him. Remember, God is not bound by time, so there is no past, present, or future in the eternal realm. The other command God gave to Adam and Eve was to fill the earth and subdue it. This word “subdue” has connotations like, “dominate, tread down, force, make subservient, to subject.” Why would God say this if there weren’t forces at work that needed to be dominated? This explains why the enemy showed up, to try to thwart God’s plans to take over the planet through His masterpiece of creation. Of course, we know the end of the story, our ancestors sinned and fell from God’s glory. The good news is that Jesus came and in our place, regained the authority we had handed over to our adversary. He then again commissioned us, His people, to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I commanded you.” (paraphrase, Matt. 28:18-20)

Sound familiar? God never advocates using force or violence to accomplish His domination of the planet. His way is the way of love and mercy. It is His kindness that brings people to repentance, to change the way they see and think about Him. His plan has always been for the knowledge of His glory to cover the earth, and He does that through broken people like you and me. Psalm 115:16 says, The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth He has given to mankind.”

So what does this have to do with His sovereignty? It is true that He is sovereign, meaning He rules over all. But to say He is in control of all things is not true. He allows hurtful things to happen because He has given man free will, and wounded people wound people. To say it is His will for innocent children to suffer, for unborn babies to die, for murders, rapes, and other untold traumas to happen every day, is to say He is not good, and nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, He can use whatever He wants to accomplish His purposes, but that is His redemptive nature, not because it is His will.

He has given us power and authority over all the power of the enemy, who is out to steal, kill and destroy. We, as His people, have failed to use what He has given us to bring everything in subjection to His will. Rather than going after sickness, disease, poverty, abortion, and other issues, through fasting, prayer, and action, we have believed the lie that, “Well, God is in control, so there isn’t anything we can do about it.” Meanwhile, the world is waiting to see us rise up to be the salt and light He has called us to be. Even creation itself is said to groan with longing for the sons of God to be revealed. Jesus stated His mission early in His ministry by quoting from Isaiah 61. He said He was anointed to bind up (heal) the brokenhearted, set the captives (those in bondage) free, restore sight to the (spiritually) blind, to set the oppressed free (the unborn, women and children who are exploited, those trapped in poverty), and to proclaim the Lord’s favor. In other words, He came to alleviate human suffering, but until He returns to set up His kingdom, He has limited Himself to work through people. That’s why in the Great Commission, He told us to go and do the same; in fact, He said we would do even greater things than He did!

I once heard an illustration that could be used to explain God’s sovereignty, I think it was originally said by Charles Spurgeon, but I’m not certain. He used the example of a large ship, like a cruise ship, where there are many passengers, each doing their own thing, yet the ship is set on a certain path and will not deviate from it. The ship represents His sovereignty – He is in control of the ship arriving at its destination, but He doesn’t control what everyone on the ship is doing. Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:10, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,…” God has given us a part to play to see His will be done on earth; He simply will not do it all. He will help us to do our part if we’re willing, and He’ll be faithful to do His part.

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Learning to Embrace Weakness

Many years ago, at the end of each year, I began to ask the Lord to give me a verse for the new year, a sort of “life” verse that would be the theme of what He was doing in my life that year. I remember one particular year He gave me John 15:5, “If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” The emphasis seemed to be on the second part – “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” This verse stayed with me for probably three years as God taught me in many ways what that simple, yet profound statement meant and looked like when lived out day after day.

Several years later, I was praying and talking with the Lord one day about some EmbracingWeaknesssignificant health issues I had been having. I was having trouble understanding what He was doing in my life and why the problems seemed to go on for so long. In the middle of this conversation I clearly heard Him speak to my heart, “I’ve been trying to teach you to embrace weakness.” Period. I felt like I had been hit in the head with a brick. Suddenly I realized how much I despised weakness, and it greatly disturbed me in light of what He had said. I could think of nothing to say in response.

Immediately after that, the passage Paul wrote came to mind, Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Cor. 12:8-10) Paul, through trials and troubles too numerous to list, had learned what it meant to embrace weakness. Not only had he learned to embrace weakness, he said he actually delighted in it!

The phrase, “made perfect” actually means, “to perform; to complete; to accomplish or fulfill.” The word “sufficient” means, “to be possessed of unfailing strength; to suffice; to be enough; to be satisfied; to be content.” The word “weakness” speaks of the “want of strength, weakness, of the body – it’s native weakness and frailty; feebleness of health or sickness; and of the soul – it’s want of strength to understand a thing; to do things great and glorious; to restrain corrupt desires; to bear trials and troubles.” In other words I believe God is saying that we lack the strength both physically and mentally to perform, complete, accomplish or fulfill God’s plans and purposes. We desire to do great and glorious things, we desire to understand God’s ways, but we are incapable in and of ourselves. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

God’s grace – His enabling power and strength – empowers us to do that which we lack the power to do, but we must first learn to acknowledge, embrace, and even delight in our inability to do anything! Then, and only then, will His power rest upon us, because we will give Him all the glory knowing it was only by His strength that anything good was accomplished. I wish I could say I was where Paul was, but I can’t. I am still learning to embrace my weakness, longing for the day I can actually delight in it. I am grateful for His patience in the process, and I know that He is able to complete what He has begun in me!