When I became a friend of Jesus, in my early teens, I was attending a local church of The Salvation Army. Therefore, my theology is largely based on Wesleyan-Arminianism. As a result, if anyone near mentions anything even remotely predestination/Calvinism-sounding, I go into conniptions! And it ain’t pretty…
No one has noticed this tick of mine more than my current congregation at Church At The Corner. Unfortunately, one young woman, who shall remain nameless, has a tick of her own. She cannot help herself but utter the dreaded phrase, “God is in control”, often and seemingly arbitrarily. Luckily for her, I have worked hard on the spiritual fruit of self-control and, so, have not resorted to fisticuffs.
All joking aside, at our Monday Bible Study, we all talked together recently about just what we mean when we use the phrase, “God is in control”. We agreed we mean it to be comforting, which it is. But this phrase implies we believe God is, in fact, in control. To claim God is in control is a big and dangerous claim. Taking this implication to its logical conclusion, if he is in control, then God is to blame for all the suffering in the world and for my sinful behaviour. And that’s not a comforting thought at all … well, it is to Calvinists, those prone to believe in predestination, and crazy people!
All joking aside, once again, it’s an interesting thought experiment to come up with a better way of comforting people and better representing God’s actual relationship to the world he created.Enter Roger E. Olson.
A Professor of Theology at Baylor University (Waco, Texas, USA), Olson wrote a post on his Patheos blog recently which offered up an answer for me and Church At The Corner. Answering the question, “Is God Necessarily the All-Determining Reality?” —which is really just another, fancier, way of asking, “Is God in control?”— Olson, channelling Greg Boyd, wrote, “God limits God’s self for the sake of human (and possibly non-human) free will”. Olson believes, then, that while God could be in control, he willing chooses not to be in control so that humans have free will and some semblance of control themselves.
In other words, God is in charge but he is not in control! The difference is significant and much more comforting. Olson does not explain this idea with any theological detail, but he summarises it like this:
I tell students and anyone who cares to listen that, in SOME cases where the Bible does not seem to be as clear as we wish it were and where there are various options for interpretation, all of which take the Bible seriously as God’s Word, one must embrace the solution that contains the problems one can live with.
I have found in Greg Boyd’s book, Is God to Blame?, the solution to the problem of God and evil and innocent suffering that contains the problems I can live with. One of them is that we cannot know all the rules God abides by in his dealings with the world. But God is not arbitrary, uncaring or uninvolved, and God is omnipotent, good and wise.
Now that’s an answer I can live with because to imagine God as being in control ultimately turns him into a great big bully. He knows everything because he is directing everything. When I brush my hair a certain way, it’s his fault my hair sticks up at the back. When I trip over a crack in the footpath, he directed me that way. When I lie, cheat, and steal —not that I ever do such things— it would be okay because God caused me to do those things. And therein the problem arises. If I am not in control of what I do, then how can God hold me responsible? Similarly, if anything bad happens to me it is because God made it happen and that is just not a comforting thought.
From now on, at least I will never say, “God is in control”. Hopefully, the congregation will follow suit and we will never have reason to argue again LOL.