Is God in control? That is a good question to start with, but unfortunately the question and popular answers may mislead lead us in understanding the way God works.
When we think about “control”, we may think about robots, missile systems, video games, or radio-controlled models: you press the button or move the joy stick and the object has to do what it is programmed to do.
So some people say, “If God is in control, then why do natural disasters occur and millions die in violent atrocities?” To them, such horrible events prove that either God is not in control or does not exist.
For others, if God is in control, then there is nothing they can do to affect anything - they may as well be puppets. They become passive fatalists thinking that God will move all the chess pieces on the chess board, including themselves, but having no real involvement except to grin or bear it.
The truth is different from both of these. In fact, the Bible never says that God is in control! Even though some versions use the word in Philippians 3:21, the sense is of being under the rule of law. Instead, the Bible says that God is sovereign over everything and has the right to do whatever He chooses and the right to command as He chooses. So it is probably more accurate to say that God is ‘in command’. So, when God commanded light to appear at the beginning of creation, there was light. When Jesus commanded the wind and waves to be still, they were. It was not so much that these physical elements were obedient; under God’s sovereignty they had no option but to respond to His command.
But human beings have been created by God to be in a non-robot relationship with Him. He wants us to interact with Him knowing His commands and obeying willingly. God is still sovereign, but because He has created us in His image, we have abilities and responsibilities which are very different to the material world, the plants and the animals. We have been given the privilege to relate with God personally, to love and make choices.
The Garden of Eden witnessed a wrong choice after which the close relationship between God and mankind was broken. But God was still sovereign. He could have eliminated the sinners instantly, preventing the human race. Instead He preserved the human race in order to redeem people who would belong to Him and love Him for ever. So He commanded them to leave the Garden and, in case they chose to disobey that command, He also commanded cherubim to prevent them re-entering.
The story from that point is of God commanding people, who either obeyed or disobeyed. The Bible describes how Pharaoh was commanded to let God’s people go, but hardened his heart in disobedience so much that God allowed his rebellion and hardened his heart further in line with Pharaoh's desires. In the end, Pharaoh did obey God, but suffered the consequences of his rebellion. After that, God’s commands to the material world were all obeyed: the Red Sea parted, the rock produced water, manna arrived six days a week. Yet at the same time, God gave His laws so that the people knew what would please Him. When they obeyed Him, God blessed them; when they disobeyed, God cursed them.
So, say some people, if God can command the physical world, why does He not stop floods and fires, earthquakes and hurricanes? They forget that the whole physical world has been affected by human sin. Nothing is quite right any more. This world is not heaven! The consequences of mankind’s rebellion against God are most clearly seen in human disease and death. Sin’s curse has impregnated the universe - so much so that God has promised that one day there will be a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness.
God wants sinful people to realise that they are not in control and that they need to call out to God for His help. He has allowed the effects of sin to impact us in a myriad of ways. It is not that He does not love us; rather in His love, He does not want us to stay deluded that everything is all right and we can manage ... when it is not ... and we can’t.
And so God commands us to repent and believe the Gospel. He commands us not to resist His Holy Spirit. He commands us to do what is impossible for our sinful nature; to give where we use to take and love where we used to hate. God will never force us into salvation or obedience. He wants us to make a free choice to enter a relationship with Him.
As we live the Christian life, there are many choices to make. When we make wrong choices, He commands us to confess and repent and receive His forgiveness. When we do not know what to do, He commands us to ask for guidance; and when we receive He commands us to give thanks. At every point, we have to choose to obey because we love.
Will God not change circumstances if we ask Him? He has promised to work all things together for our good and has commanded us to ask Him for those things that we need. How He responds to us is completely dependent on His sovereign wisdom. Often we cannot see the big picture and how we fit into it, and so it may appear that God refuses to answer our prayers when He has a bigger objective and higher purpose than we can see at the time.
At the end of time, God is still in command. He will command the devil and his angels to go to the lake of fire; He will command the wicked to go to everlasting punishment; and He will command His people to reign with Him for all eternity. That is the point at which nobody will be able defy the commands of God. His majestic sovereignty will be so obvious that everybody will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
So do not think of yourself as a puppet dangling on heavenly strings. You are created by God to enjoy His blessings if you obey His commands. Along the way, many things will not be perfect, but God will use everything so that as we choose to obey His commands we will receive His blessing. So today is a good day to obey.
© Dr Paul Adams