In amongst all the loud cries for gun control this week following last weekend's tragic events in Las Vegas, I saw one post that actually bothered me. (I apologize in advance for the profanity. And it's not the part about gun control that bothers me.)
As I went searching for this one cartoon, I discovered that this is actually an old meme that usually has a response from the second character blaming humans for blocking God from some kind of institution (e.g. schools) and has (justifiably, in my mind, but that would be the subject of another post) created all kinds of backlash from atheists.
But this post is not for the atheists. This post is for the Christians.
Because if you think that God should have stepped in and stopped what happened and are left wondering why he didn't, you've got God all wrong.
This is an email I wrote to someone in May of 2016, not quite a year after the tragic loss of my 3-year-old son when he very willfully disobeyed and ended up being run over by his own father's vehicle. Yes, this mama's heart cried out to God over and over, “Why didn't you do anything?? You had to be right there! You could have stopped it! WHY DIDN'T YOU???”
This is the answer he gave me.
May 16, 2016
As Christians, we are very good at saying “God is in control”—whether we act that way or not.
I think the reason it is difficult to act like we really believe that is because we look around at a world with a lot of bad things that happen and some part of our minds says “If God is in control, and he has allowed the world to get into this mess, why would I trust him?”
I believe that saying “God is in control” is only a part of the story. Yes, as he monologued to Job, he IS in control—he made everything, and he's in charge. But that doesn't mean he's to blame for everything that goes wrong, and neither does it mean that the stuff that goes wrong is part of his plan.
However, as he promises in Romans, he will make something good come from every situation that we face, if we let him, and in Romans and Matthew, he won't ever leave us to do it on our own. His plan, and his desire, is that none should perish, but all would have everlasting life. He will use every opportunity to make that happen, including using the horrible things in our life (when we are most vulnerable and willing to listen) to call us to him.
When Levi died, the phrase “God is in control” made me angrier than anything else, because if God is in control, how could he have let something so awful happen? A God of love wouldn't have allowed an innocent to die because of lessons his parents needed to learn, or because of their neglect. That's not what love does.
When we think of God only as “being in control,” the childhood sexual abuse victim, bereaved parent, cancer patient, widower, suicide victim's loved one, and many more are left asking “then why didn't he do anything about this?” And that is where so many turn away.
When we talk about God being in control, we also need to talk about the law of sowing and reaping, natural consequences, and how the evil that surrounds us is not a result of God's perfect plan (because if it was, the plan must either somehow be using evil for his purposes, which a Good God wouldn't do, or have gone terribly awry, therefore he isn’t in control), but that it is the result of choices people make—FREE WILL.
God didn't step in and prevent Eve, then Adam, from disobeying him and bringing death on the whole human race. He didn't step in and protect Abel from being murdered by his brother, the Israelites from being hassled, harried, enslaved, conquered, exiled, and ruled. He didn't step in and keep his most faithful servants from being martyred in horribly painful ways.
He didn't step in and prevent his own son from being murdered.
In modern times, he isn't preventing child soldiers in Rwanda, corruption at the highest levels of government that exploit the lowest in society, killing millions of innocent babies a year through abortion or the “one-child” rule in China, women being used as sexual and other forms of slaves in cultures all over the world, child slavery, domestic abuse, suicide, a fire in Fort McMurray, floods in India, earthquakes in Mexico … the list goes on.
God is in control—but not everything is his fault. He rarely ever (and I say “rarely” only to leave myself a loophole, because I haven't thought of an instance yet where he does it) steps in and prevents the natural consequences of sin. Because his interest is not in protecting us, but in having a relationship with us. He will use every situation for good, and “good” is when we turn to him and surrender our lives to his will. He gives us every opportunity. He will heal us and make us beautiful again, if we let him—and then use us to draw even more people into his kingdom.
I wrote a couple of blog posts about this topic as I've been learning this in the past year [note: longer ago now]. If you're interested, here they are:
http://www.talenawinters.com/wintersdayin/2015/10/25/the-uncomfortable-truth (This one is especially appropriate, and explains it slightly better than I did just now, I think.)
When we talk about how “God is in control,” I think it becomes much easier to trust him when we realize that bad stuff is going to happen, no matter what. It can happen to anyone, at any time, but that doesn't mean God did it. He never promised to spare us from pain and loss, and intimating that he has only makes us feel betrayed when we inevitably experience it.
However, he is trustworthy and faithful to do what he has promised to do, such as:
He will never leave us or forsake us.
He is Jehovah Jireh, our provider. He will provide for our needs.
He is Jehovah Rophe, our healer. He will heal us from the hurts that ours and others' sin have brought into our lives.
Nothing can separate us from his love.
He is Jehovah Shalom, our peace. He will bring peace in a life filled with turmoil.
He is Jehovah Shamah (present); he will be present with us.
He is Jehovah Rohi, our Shepherd. He will guide us.
He is Jehovah Nissi, our victory. He will bring victory over whatever trials we face.
He will carry on his work in us until it is completed.
He makes all things work together to the good for those who love him.
When our lives are out of control, we need to surrender to God's guidance and leading in our lives because of all those things that he promised us. He can and will help us bring our lives into balance, and it is much more likely to stay that way if we continually surrender to his leading. However, I think it is important to realize that he wasn't the one who “let” it get that way in the first place.
Just because we live our lives faithfully to God doesn't mean that he will protect us from all harm. Sin still exists in the world, and we will not be safe from its grasp until Christ returns. There is no “magic bullet” or “free pass” that allows anyone an escape from the trials of life. He doesn't send them to us as punishment, either. It's trusting God through the trials, knowing that they will come, and he will be with us whatever happens—that's what surrendering to a God who is in control is about.
Whether the meme was only some atheist's cynical idea of what Christians are like or a reflection of actual rhetoric, I know too many Christians that think that God should step in and prevent the current misery on earth, if not completely, then at the very least on behalf of those who follow him.
But he never said he would do that.
So we need to stop acting like God can't act because of something humans have done (limiting his power) or has betrayed us by not behaving the way we expect or hope. And we need to start acting like he told us to—as emissaries of his love and truth to a deeply troubled and hurting world, bringing healing and edification instead of guilt, condemnation and defensiveness. By showing what a life that is surrendered to a God who is in control looks like.
… And there isn't a single thing in the Bible that indicates that governments should not limit their citizens' rights to own high-powered assault rifles for the safety of other citizens, or any other weapons of mass destruction.
But again, that's the subject of another post.