We hear the phrase slip out of the lips of well-meaning friends at funerals – and we hear it now that a pandemic seeds fear and anxiety into our hearts and lives.
But what does “God is in control” really mean?
First, what it does not mean?
It does not mean God sets out to harm us. He is not pitted against us. He is not a puppet master out to get you, to poke you until you bleed. Nor is He uncaring.
That’s what we hear sometimes, though. A husband, brother or father dies and someone tells us “God is in control” and we think, “God caused this death? God caused him to suffer? God wants me to suffer?”
The COVID-19 pandemic races across the planet, people die, anxiety invades our lives, and we hear “God is in control.” What does that mean?
“God is judging the world,” some say, while others may think “if God is causing this, I want nothing to do with him.”
What does “God is in control” imply?
We also may cringe at the phrase because we feel our friends are trying to minimize our grief, suffering, fear, anxiety or another emotion. It’s as if they are saying, “God is in control, so stop fretting, stop crying, buck up and be a good Christian.”
They mean well. They want to comfort, but they fall short, especially if the real meaning behind “God is in control” is misunderstood by one or both people.
I might have been excommunicated 500 years ago for what I’m about to say, but I want to make it clear.
“God is in control” implies everything that happens is God’s will – but everything that happens is not God’s will.
That distinction was important for me 20 years ago, early in my suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Before I realized this truth, I puzzled about what I had done to cause God to afflict me so, and what could I do to win his favor. That attitude drove me away from his love and comfort at a time I needed it most.
Isn’t God all powerful?
God didn’t want me sick. But wait – isn’t God all powerful? Doesn’t that mean He is in control? Yes, God is all powerful, but He does not always intervene. He gives us a right to choose, and He also allows consequences, even those that feel unfair.
I often use the example of a bank robber and a bank teller. The bank robber comes in to steal and ends up shooting the innocent teller, killing her. Did God want the bank robber to kill her? No. God never wants sin to occur, and yet He did not intervene.
Does God want the coronavirus to ravage our nation? No. He created a perfect world that is now fallen. Now I’m getting deep into theology, and I don’t want to go at this from an entirely mental perspective.
The truth is, sometimes it feels like God is against us. He didn’t do what we asked, expected or hoped. Or He didn’t act when we wished.
If we carry a surface understanding of “God is in control” with us, we will feel like victims. Victims of God. Victims of others. Victims of circumstance.
So, what does “God is in control” really mean?
Maybe the phrase needs a, well, rephrasing. An expansion for clarity. “God is in control” really means the God of the universe is watching us and what happens around us, and He sees our pain. He wants to hold us. In his arms, we are safe.
Whatever happens – when illness strikes, when death takes our dearest person, when people push us aside – he is working behind the scenes for His children to bring good out of the bad (Romans 8:28). God uses what looks like an impossible puzzle of circumstances to bring himself glory and simultaneously fill our needs. He yearns to bring peace and joy to hearts and lives in the good times and in the bad.
Because of all that, I can relax into his care. He is pulling for you and for me.
Yes, I may squirm, but after each scary newscast that predicts an increase in COVID-19 death and suffering, I can come back to Him and look to his love and know nothing is going to touch me that He won’t use for my good – here, or in the life with Him in heaven.
What do you hear when someone says “God is in control”? Can you trust God with your worries, knowing He sees what is happening to His children personally and wants to bring good out of the bad stuff ?
Copyright © 2020 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved. www.tonilepeska.com