When asked to describe the attributes of God, we modern westerners typically gravitate towards adjectives like omnipotent, almighty, all-knowing, sovereign, and so on. While I won’t deny that such descriptors can properly be applied to God, I think they really owe more to Greek philosophy than to what Jesus shows and tells us about the character of God.
Specifically, we tend to think of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty as meaning that he controls everything in the universe. While it might give us a sense of satisfaction to believe that God is ultimately pulling all the strings, I’d like to suggest that this belief is, in reality, quite problematic.
Let me come at this from a couple of different angles.
First, if we consider what we know about God from the witness of Jesus and the whole of the New Testament, what we can say with confidence is this: God is love. But what is love? It certainly isn’t the romanticised sentiment that is often portrayed in pop songs and feel-good movies. Love, as it is described and portrayed in the New Testament, is the willingness to lay down all of one’s rights and prerogatives, and ultimately even one’s very life, for the sake and benefit of another, irrespective of how deserving that other may or may not be.
So if God is love, it follows that God must lay down some or all of his “divine rights” as God. Specifically, I would say that he lays down his right to control his children.
Anyone who knows anything about abusive relationships knows that they revolve around control. The abusive husband tells his wife he loves her and is acting in her best interest, but what he actually does is seek to control and manipulate her every thought and act for the benefit of his own ego. Whatever this is, it’s quite obvious that it’s not love.
That being the case, a God who tightly controls every aspect of our lives and destinies could not be a God of love. And yet it seems to me that this is precisely the kind of micro-managing God that many Christians believe in.
Think about it. To believe in a God who is always looking over your shoulder to clear the way for you, open all the doors for you, protect you in all circumstances and engineer every outcome in your favour is to believe in a micro-managing, uber-controlling God.
(As an aside, I have another problem with people who believe in a God who always protects them from accident and illness and even provides them with parking spots on demand: if God is willing and able to do that for you on such a small scale, why isn’t he willing and able to save millions from famine and starvation in third world countries? And why does he choose to save some Christians from fatal accidents but not others?)
Second, I can apply my own experience to this question of love versus control.
I love my kids very much. I want the best for them. And very often, because I want the best for them, I have tried to control their choices and behaviours. And what I have found is that, however laudable my intentions, ultimately these kinds of attempts at control are counter-productive. Rarely do they produce the desired results. And even when they do result in a favourable outcome at some level, they inevitably also create resentment and tension. Why is this? Simply because control is the opposite of freedom, and true love frees the other person, even at the expense of our own freedom.
In other words, I’m slowly learning that trying to control what my kids think, say and do is not loving. To put it another way, I have empirical evidence from my own life that seeking to control other people is not genuinely loving behaviour.
To sum up, then, God cannot be both loving and controlling. And when we try to live in control of all the people and circumstances that make up our lives, we are actually living in a very ungodlike way.
Because God is love, he gives up his freedom and ability to coerce and control so that we may have freedom to love him and each other in return. The flip side, however, is that love is never risk-free; freedom to love always implies freedom to reject and spurn.
Of course, I’m not saying that God never gets what he wants. In the grand, cosmic scheme of things, I believe that God will and does get what he wants. To deny that is to make a nonsense of the Lord’s Prayer, in which we ask “Thy will be done”. God always gets what he wants at the macro level; but at the micro level, he lays down his right to control, even when it hurts his heart to do so, because that’s what love does.
The bottom line, then, is this: you can believe that God controls every detail of our lives, or you can believe that God is love, but you can’t believe both; the two are, at some level, incompatible. You choose.
[ Image: Sarah Spaulding ]