Does God Always Get His Way-The Difference Between God in Charge and God in Control

Roger Olson posts on this subject in a manner to which I am sympathetic. He writes:

Many Christian theologians believe and teach that whatever happens, without exception, falls into the category “God’s will” in the sense that it conforms to God’s “blueprint” for history and individual lives and, even though evil and innocent suffering may grieve God, God ordains and governs them for a greater good (e.g., his glory). I call this divine determinism because it fits the ordinary definition of “determinism.” Those who teach it often deny that it is deterministic. At the very least it is meticulous providence. Not only Calvinists teach this; it is a view held in a perhaps more nuanced way by many non-Calvinists (e.g., conservative Lutherans). My hunch (I haven’t taken a poll) is that most Christians believe some version of divine determinism often inconsistently.

This is a fallback final word for many Christians when confronted with a circumstance of great pain or trial. It comes in many different forms. One that I hear often is, “God knows what he’s doing.” This is, of course, a truism. God by definition is not only powerful but wise. He is not catching up, guessing around, or playing down suffering. It is part of his plan. We receive it from him.

The only problem is that evil is not part of his plan. God cannot will evil in any decretive sense. He certainly does permit it as the concession made to creating creatures made in his image with free will. And it is part of his plan in the sense that he foresees human choice and wisely works all things together for good as his great miracle.

God is in charge. He will get those who believe perseveringly home. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me…” (Matthew 28:18) But I believe, like Olson does, that when Jesus wept over his rejection by Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37, the clear teaching is that things happen that do not find their origin in the will of God, that is, he does not determine that they come to pass. While it might satisfy for a time our hunger for logic, always the great temptation of determinism, it leaves us with a God who falls short of the moral righteousness and love which we believe him to be and have. Nor does it honor the nature of the true drama in which we are engaged-choice with eternal consequences.

In my pastoral ministry I have seen so many rest in so much evil as an unavoidable part of some larger and mysterious plan that I cannot help but believe that their critical faculties have shut down. All admit that there is mystery beyond the comprehending here – human freedom and God’s total authority. But to resolve this mystery in the direction of validating the presence of evil at the expense of God’s righteous glory is something that should sour the stomach until it is expelled.

Ben Witherington, noted New Testament scholar and Arminian, recently went through the early death of his adult daughter. He made it clear that her death was not something God desired. A decreed death for his daughter was not where Ben went to for comfort. Where he went is that the love and goodness of Christ is greater than death. It is our choices that lead to the brokenness of this world where in our unrighteousness we have subjected ourselves to the power of death and the grave.

I know that some will rise up and accuse me of a weak view of God and virtually stripping him of his throne. But if you need a God who decidely includes evil by a decretive and secret will to accomplish his work, then the God you supposedly leave on the throne is not glorious and will gain only the submission of Islam’s Allah. And this is not worth a theological battle.

One thought on “Does God Always Get His Way-The Difference Between God in Charge and God in Control

  1. Don, thanks for highlighting the post by Roger Olson — he is clear and very helpful. I very much need to hear reasonable, faithful alternatives to Calvinism’s hard view of divine determinism, so I encourage you to continue to write on the issue.

    I’ll mention two significant insights I gained from Olson:
    (1) “God is in charge but not in control.”
    (2) “… the Scriptures do not present the future as something which materializes according to a ‘plan’ but according to the covenant.” (quoting Adrio König).

    I think the first point is a fundamental perspective in arguing against divine determinism.

    I paraphrase the latter point as God saying, “Even if everything falls apart becuase of sin in the world, I will still be faithful to my covenant to you.” That is, he need not be in determinitive control in order to assure the outcome.

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