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Patrick Dodson: God Is Not In Control

Patrick is a father first, then teacher/writer/cook/photographer and sometimes prophet. He lives and works with Heather in New Zealand and has four beautiful game designing (Josiah), film directing (Jordan), artistic (Jasmine), and acting (Levi) children. You can check them out at www.patrickdodson.net .

 

God Is Not In Control
Q: Why do the innocent suffer?
A: Because we don't take care of them.

Q: Why are there so many poor in the world?
A: We're selfish and don't share wealth or resources properly.

Q: Why did God take my sister from me?
A: He didn't, it was cancer.

Entrenched within Christian sub-culture is the idea that God is in control. It's our way of managing complexity. Like when we don't understand how things work or are too lazy to do our part. It's the simple answer we give so we can keep smiling like those distorted faces in Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden - 1994). 

I'm not sure when "God is in control" entered our vernacular, but it makes sense that if you go through three huge scares in one century (WW1, WW2 and the possibility of WW3), you're gonna start losing it. And we have. The idea that God is managing your life, manipulating other people or just subtly making parking places appear so you can get to the mall on time is kinda insane given that there is no biblical, historical or realistic precedent. I guess you can take a few instances like the sun stopping (once in 5000 years of recorded history) as an opportunity pray for nice weather for your picnic, or some guys getting mail-order brides from God (a few times in 5000 years) as a reason to ask God to deliver "the one" for you... as how things work, but you're probably confusing the exception with the rule.

The rule is that God delegated the world to us. We're to take good care of the earth, manage our relationships and multiply resources in a generous way (Genesis 1, 2 and Matthew 25). God teaches us how to do that, and reminds us when we screw it up, but does not take the steering wheel back. There have been exceptions to this but they're pretty obvious examples of God saving us from ultimate annihilation. Which means you can't apply the same principle to you choosing a school or a girl. You're "dependence" on God in this regard is more like co-depence and you may have noticed by now that God doesn't play that game.

So why do we keep asking for God to deliver "the one" to us relationally? Or to "show me the way" in guidance? Or send us "the right President"? My sense is that we are confused and lazy. We're confused because we mistake the exception in the bible or history as the rule, and we're lazy because to apply the delegation God has given us is freak'n difficult. But here's the rub. We keep talking crazy and the world is listening. Which is why people come back to us with the questions above. If God is in control, why are 12-year-old girls in Thailand getting raped daily? Does God have international terrorism under control too? Are all the worlds ills "His will" and somehow all gonna come together as a way of God punishing and blessing the wrong and right people? Or is it that the ones who could really bring some Godly goodness to these issues are too busy playing games and waiting for Dad to come home with dinner?

Comments

oh Patrick...the way you turn my world upside down kills me every time. Thanks for this. It's brilliant.

God take the sister from me to be with him,this is the answer. forex robot

Roger Olson puts it this way "God is in charge, but not in control." I think this idea allows us to have a much more robust theodicy. We do have to be careful to fill in exactly why God is not in control...because he has chosen to limit himself in such a way that we may have free will and as Patrick put it that we may take on the responsibility that has been delegated to us. If we don't fill in why God is not in control we end up with the God of deism.

Well, this is an interesting post. As a person who was an atheist for most of my adult life who had a radical, unsought and unrequested conversion to Christianity at age 37 and whose life has been turned on its head for the past 6 years since that transpired, I have a very difficult time accepting that God is not in control. Yes, we have free will and responsibility. And, yes, God may choose to be hands off for whatever reasons God chooses to be hands off. But, before I knew a thing of theology or the Bible or Christian subculture or anything else that people who grew up in church, I had my legs knocked out from under me and have been following the leading of the Holy Spirit in my day to day life ever since.

Lest you think I am delusional (trust me, I wondered that myself). I was a businesswoman making 6 figures with a happy, healthy family when this went down. No emotional bottom. No needy searching. Just grace in a "Holy *&@* that God that I have been denegrating and saying was a figment of the collective imaginations of the vast majority of the earth's population is, in fact, real. And He, She or It does act and operate in the here and now."

So, while I may be one of those rare exceptions you refer to (but I'm thinking no - I'm not that special) I contend that there may be more guidance (hence the Biblical promise that God will keep our paths straight) out there than we allow ourselves to tap into.

As for little girls being raped and other atrocities, I do not view evil as a reason to decide that God is not sovereign. Instead, I view it as a reason that we need to get busy doing the work he has called us to do.

Best to you,
Joan

Joan - I'm with you on this one. I think God is in control. Not in a puppet master way, but seriously is IN CONTROL.... knowing best.
~ Sherry

Amen Joan, Amen.

However, I do like this Robert Olsen phrase, "God is in charge but not in control".

Christians who sit on their butts and just expect things to happen irritate me too.

God both steps in AND allows us to dig our own graves. In His sovereignty He knows which tactic will shape us into the individuals we are meant to be to best glorify Him and fulfill us.

Faith without work is dead.
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Sounds an awful lot like a discussion we had over a post of mine a while back, doesn't it Joan? :-) http://www.conversantlife.com/theology/a-good-bad-and-ugly-god

You had some excellent points then, and you do again now. I think it is important that our community here at Conversant carefully consider what you are getting at: Our theology has to be connected to our experience. For you, Joan, it seems that your experience was the primary drive behind your theology, and now you are going back the other direction and looking at how theology relates to (and can indeed drive) your experiences today. (At least that is how my journey has gone. And I know it is a tricky road. One I am still on, and trying to figure out. We are all in this together. :-) ).

If there is anything that we figured out during our discussion on my blog, Joan, it is that we both feel that theology and experience have to be intertwined, intermingled, and joined in a grand symphony. I hope the discussion over this post can go that direction.

--John

Hi Joan
I appreciate your thoughts and experiences. Short bogs leave little room for the nuances of our broader experiences. Yours seem to show a more direct connection with the Spirit of God and your choices. I know others for whom this is a natural experience, which usually denotes very specific purposes from God. I do think this is extraordinary and not the typical way God wants to walk with our creative gift (being made in God's image).

I agree with you that God is sovereign. And in that sovereignty will maintain the cosmos, choose when judgement happens and help us in our development as much as is wise for all of us.

I guess I'm responding to (and reacting to) the flippant way Christians use "God is in control" as a copout to taking responsibility in the world. Or to assuming everything that happens is the will of God. This kind of fatalism calls all circumstances "God's will" and eventually leads to a weirdness that ends in confusion, or worse, psychosis (a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.).

I guess what really gets me, is when the trauma's of the world are called signs of the end times, another convenient way to hide in the suberbs instead of hitting the trenches. God is sovereign, and as such, has given authority to us to own our mistakes, with His wisdom, guidance and power (love).

Thank you for taking the time to respond. May God continue to bless and speak into your life and family.

Hi Joan - my sense is that your view and Patrick's are not at odds with each other ... my sense is that what Patrick is not saying is that because God is not in control he is remote and disinterested ... God's spirit is with us ... talking to us all the time ... just most of us ignore Him much of the time ... because like me so often we are lazy, indifferent, busy, self obsessed ... what accounts for radical conversions like yours and Saul's ... and I don't think that these are at all like the exceptions Patrick describes - I think they happen quite a lot ... but by listening to the Holy Spirit as you now do you are co-creating / re-establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth ... God's control ... but I think control is a word that has all the wrong connotations in connection with the full expression of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth ... I prefer to think of it as full engagement rather than full control ...

I think the reason people have perhaps the hard time "having the carpet pulled from right underneath them" is due to the language and sub-culture created by this major idea, pretty much we've gotten used to the idea. God being "In control" typically means that there is a plan for you and that passion is not liable since he's wise enough to actually form a world without us thinking that there's another way around things. Patrick touches that side which proves that such a different point of view exists, thus, we are not robots.

I've loved passion and the idea of creativity through identity and openness to how God teaches my entire life. I almost live because I lust to sit down and plan on creating almost magical ideas by writing a sentence, or using the absence of a piece of paper to my advantage by moving the poem to photography of a world built on the streets. These kind of things are all ours, what is ours is Gods since we are made in his image, I think a free man should be able to live under a mentor rather than a puppet be drawn back into the red curtain before the show starts (Which is a horrendous image).

Patrick is my uncle, at 15 I've seen the things ideas form with the right experiences by it to form wonderful stories, and now I'm reading his book on relationships (probably for chick help, but five years in advance would help I reckon) and am noticing a revolution. So Patrick's our leader? Maybe.. I think if he got a megaphone and some Guy Fawkes mas-- Anyway. Hopefully, what is said here keeps passing through the "Tell your friends to tell their friends" process. It's worth it.

the first). But again there are disasters of drought, blight, famine that are beyond our ability to completely eliminate by sharing what we have. The last response that God didn't take my sister,stiff neck

Patrick, questions 1 and 2 - brilliant! You had me at them.

'His Kingdom come on Earth as in Heaven' is not going to happen by some over-our-heads miracle of end-times whilst we use scapegoats like 'control' to enable/justify ourselves to live a self-centred, sedate, and oblivious 'faith-filled' life that suits us and our loved ones just fine. I'm not sure where we learn these things but they're so ingrained that I think most don't even realise our (re)actions are being dictated by this foundation.

I thank you and pray that you will continue to be one who will shed some light. bless u.X

I think you're on the money Patrick. I think it's a form of escapism and mysticism as well. It can be easily bucking the responsibility. I know too many "christians" who love to clothe themselves in "Well, God told me this and God told me that" only for you to end up thinking "This person needs help", because if God told them all these things, ultimately God is TO BLAME when it all goes down the sewer. It has the appearance of being highly tuned in to God's agenda but often times, perhaps NOT always, it's the person hiding behind God and not taking any responsibility for their actions.
That's a very practical scenario for lots of folks today. Let's take responsibility for our thoughts, actions and words. We're not puppets on a string. That's an insult to the God who made us. I'm not negating the fact that God can and does speak to folks today but it's not necessary telling us which pizza to eat in a restaurant or even to go as far as to which girl to marry and stuff like that. I think folks have gone way too far with it all, which is very convenient for coping out of their individual responsibilities.

Hey Pat. Yap, as always a good thing to listen to you. Well written, not too much. I think you nail it, bring it to the point. Suits perfectly in the emergent theology stuff and I think it's cool that a man like you speaks INTO the church - not from outside. Digg that.

Interesting...would love for people to read this very short post and see what they think. As for me, it is an intriguing concept with very true undertones about Christians needing to take more responsibility for the planet and its inhabitants. However, GOD IS IN CONTROL, no doubt about it. HE is sovereign and HIS Kingdom has already come. He is Lord of ALL. Much like an earthly kingdom with a human king, His laws and authority are real, but it is up to the people of that kingdom to adhere to those laws authority. If they don't, that is their choice, but if Jesus isn't the Lord of their life when Judgement arrives, that is when they will be held accountable for their actions. God allows freewill until it is too late for us to turn our lives around.
For more biblical reasoning on this topic, read the book of Job. It is an account of how God is in control and Satan must get "permission" from God to do what he desires. Due to freewill, God allows some things, but not others because he is in control.
God bless.

Hey Scott
I agree with you about God being sovereign, and I think you have said this really well. I think what I'm addressing is the knee-jerk way we use "God is in control" as an excuse to do research on decisions, deal with and understand complexity, (like when a family member dies) or apply Godly wisdom to massive problems like the economy or health care costs. I'm really trying to address our underlying spiritual laziness, like Tina mentioned, which keeps us from cooperating with the power of God available to us.

For example, you mentioned God's laws and authority. I think we are under this authority and also delegated to exercise it in wisdom and responsibility. But if I'm lazy or uncaring, I will simply call the worlds ills God's judgement (like AIDS) or worse, His plan... all in an effort to avoid having to do something about it.

In an entitled generation, nothing is our fault and we can "trust God" to take care of it. So my headline is not challenging the power of God, but our lazy delusional subculture.

Thanks for weighing in Scott. Much appreciated.
Patrick

WOW Patrick you alway bring a crazy but real side to things. This goes deep and I like it, surely something not just me but I think a lot of Christians need to hear.

This question has been in the forefront of my mind recently. Is He or isn't He?? Seems everyone gives a different answer. But, in searching it out over the past month or so, I think I have come to agree that Patrick is very right in what he is saying. Now, ultimately I believe that God is in control... but certainly not in the way most people think He is. I mean, I believe that God at any moment could come in and "fix" things. But the fact is he isn't going to. He has limited his control, because he gave over that responsibility to us; to care for the world and each other. Like a father and mother have to limit their control of their kids. Sometimes we make decisions that break his heart.

We are created to be with God, and engaged in His plan, that is to restore creation back to the way it was intended, what we find in Genesis 1 and 2. Where God and humanity (being... Adam and Eve) walked with God, and everything is under the order of God. Heaven on earth. Our salvation isn't a free ticket out of this world. Christ said he would bring everything together in heaven and on earth. We, as his creation, like Patrick said, made in the image of God, have been wired to create, and to bring heaven to earth. Those moment inside us where we hate poverty, or where we just want to enjoy the mountains, or cure cancer, or anything like that... is because we are like-minded with Christ to restore the earth. To bring heaven to earth. Believers and unbelievers, because we are ALL His creation, have been wired this way. Its in the fabric of our identity. Creation is moving towards restoration. And bit by bit heaven touches hearth, the way God intends things to be happens... like a starving child getting fed... or people enjoying what God has made... or girls from brothels being saved. But these moments are a result of US responding to the mandate God has given us, whether we are aware of that or not, not because 'God is in control'.
So... go... bring heaven to earth by responding in the way you have been created to... care for the widows, the orphans, and the oppressed, and care for the earth. God has placed in you creativity to think of ways you can do it. Because YOU are in control. Because God has given you that control. Is that a privilege or what?

What do you think???

Wow, that was really well said. Maybe you should have written this blog. You're way nicer than I am too:-)

God may be in control but he's letting us drive. God has given us the power of choice and it is up to us whether we listen to God and do what he says or we turn our backs to God and do what he condones. God is in control but he's not going to hold our hand every second of our life. bible lesson plans

In Charge and in Control....?

I think when you read through the Bible, and read each persons story and read about each persons life, He was different with each one of them.

His character will always stay the same as it says in Hebrews 13:8" I am the same yesterday, today, and forever."

But when I look at the scripture, I guess I see the Father Heart of God. God's heart was personal with each one of them. The way He responded and interacted to Israel was different then He responded with Moses or Elijah or... Eve verses Adam, in a personal way I mean, look into it in detail, it's interesting! It's like a Father I guess, (not that I know because I'm not one, nor has mine been that great, but I'm just takin a stab at what I've learnt i guess, which isn't much ) but as Father He treats each child differently because He knows what they need or doesn't need in order for them to learn, or in this case know HIM, and his ways ( God still remaining the same in all of this though).

There are times and stories in the Bible when God stepped in in a major situation and a major way, and there were times when He didn't really at all .

When you look at the hole Bible as a hole, you see the theme that He's Colossians 1:16-17 ".... reconciling ALL THINGS unto Himself.."

I think it's just above our understanding, that YES, he holds us in the palm of his Hand. That He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, "And that ALL THINGS work together for good Romans 8:28."

Its hard to understand that when these kind of bad things happen, like human trafficking, unexpected deaths, and other tragedies but HE is Father that lets us learn, learn from our mistakes and learn from "seek me and you WILL find me, if you seek for me with all your heart"... from drawing nearer to Him, doing the "proper/right" things if we are willing to walk His ways.

He's going to let us learn, but that doesn't mean that He's still not dad. That He's not over and above it all. That He still isn't going to bring to completion what He started when He started the earth and everything good thing in it "Philippians 1:6".

I think He is big enough for that. And weather we call that " IN CHARGE" or "IN CONTROL" I don't really know. He IS GOD. We don't understand His ways, but He started many years ago, He will Finish! He will get the last say ( ..beginning and the end). He's just loving and patience right now, until His Justice.

So... I think He is " In Control" yeah, He's just a patient Father and as the book of Revelation says He is a Just God. It won't last forever. Its in His time frame.

Anyways
~ Me
;)

hi,

patrick asked me to drop in and comment, so if you don't like what i have to say, blame him... heh.

when i was a kid, i needed God to be "in control" to sleep at night. when my pastor's son drowned after falling off a cliff i needed him NOT to be "in control" to sleep at night.

now i don't believe he's there at all. i sleep fine.

Ben,
Sorry to hear about your sleep disorders.
Sorry to learn of your loss. My sympathies.
Sorry you lost faith. His heart was broken too.
~ Jesse

P.S. I don't believe you sleep fine. At least not all the time.

hi jesse,

was that a haiku?
no really- i do sleep pretty well. i'm under a lot less stress as a post-christian. things make more sense, i carry more personal responsibility, my sense of humor has vastly improved...

thanks for the poem.

hi jesse,

was that a haiku?
no really- i do sleep pretty well. i'm under a lot less stress as a post-christian. things make more sense, i carry more personal responsibility, my sense of humor has vastly improved...

thanks for the poem.

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Well Patrick knows how to draw in a good discussion or debate. A clever subject title like this will get the feedback needed thats for sure! I remembered teaching a similar thing in 1992 to Christian Early Childhood student teachers on NZ history and I got a rebuke from the school director for it. My point then was that NZ colonial history in particular was surrounded by lies, trickery, deception, and many deaths particularly to the host indigenous people of the land. How could God be in control then and now? Whats the evidence? How is it measured? Patrick's blog is what it is; a challenge to get involved in all matters of society and life, take the necessary measures to be involved even if its a long process of learning, and taking on the mundane for now. Is God in control when we see the rise of child abuse, rape, domestic violence and murder, new viral diseases like H1N1, political corruption, greed, global financial collapse etc? Then I ask was God in control when His Son was tortured beyond recognition and hung to die? Simply for me; He is and we're not! The fact that I can live to write a comment on a blog, the fact that the whole universe can be admired and explored by mere humans, the fact that scientists are now researching for new innovative technology to answer the most complexed issues of human existence and society, and most importantly that God didn't wipe out humanity when His Son was humiliated and murdered suggest that He has given us an extra day to get back on the bus and drive it as it was made to be driven. I don't have His patience and foresight into the future to put up with the multitudes of disappointments He had and have to endure and like someone said to me before "He won't take back authority to whom He has given it to, namely us." Soo in the words of the wise; "Keep Creating!" Thanks!

Great discussion topic. I see a lot of this type of tension in various debates over Christian topics ie a more nebulous concept like "faith" versus the other end of the scale with a concept like "religion". We want to have certainties to grab onto. Fair enough - life is hard enough without introducing the intangible to our spiritual journey as well. Humans will seemingly always tend toward a desire for certainty in their lives and the "God is in control" mindset is, as you mention, easier and less reliant on our input and thought.

In a way, it's a worthy goal in terms of submission to our Lord. Giving back to him what was his anyway and asking for him to take care of it and shape it (with our own dedication to the cause too!). This is the type of control I believe in. The picture is something like each person holding their hands out offering their prayers. God doesn't take it away to work on it and bring it back, finished and perfect. Save for the occasional miracles... Rather in most cases it seems that He leaves it in our hands and gives us the guidance and energy to work on it WITH Him. We grow from the experience no matter what happens and God is with us while we do.

It seems like when things go like we want them to "it is God" but when they don't "it is Satan." I am so tired of the simple answer "if it happens It is God's will." Well then, what about like what Patrick says above, about all the horrible things that happen? How can that be God's will? If you can get an A on your paper because you prayed, how come people are abused every day even though they pray for help?
God is so able to intervene and does but not everything that happens is God's will, that would be impossible...it is not His character. It makes more sense that God is good, if we are responsible for our actions and not Him.

you always make me think Patrick!

I have always struggled with this question. Often I felt that when people said that God was in control it was really just an excuse for apathy but I struggled to let go of the concept completely.
Since March of this year I have been living with an undiagnosed medical condition that aggressively attacked my body. I was in and out of doctors and hospitals and nobody could help me. I had gone from running a marathon a few months prior to struggling to walk 100m. During this time I had many people praying for my healing and over and over again I was told by others that God was in control. But as no answers came and I continued to decline I noticed that a lot of these people who had been praying for me became uncomfortable around me. The healing that many of them had promised me in their prayers had not come, which left all of us confused and disappointed.
At this time I was planning on moving to Cairo, Egypt. After months of prayer people began to tell me that God must be telling me not to go to Egypt. I was told that since God was in control, he would remove my sickness as soon as I did what he wanted me to do. It was a confusing and discouraging time because as I sought the heart of God I found none of the convictions that people kept suggesting to me. Rather, as doctors were unable to give me answers I made the decision that while my body allowed it, life had to go on. So despite sickness and pain I took a step of faith and moved to Egypt.
Here in Egypt I work with refugees and on a daily basis I hear stories of torture, murder and rape and it makes you realize just how much evil man can commit and I am glad that before I came here my belief that God was in control was wrecked. I think that God has the power to be in control but he gave up that power when he handed stewardship of the earth over to us. He gave control to us and every day we have to choose to invite either heaven or hell to earth with our actions. Here in Cairo I am still sick and in pain but I have come to a place where I believe that God did not make me sick, but rather sickness is a part of this world and who am I to say that I shouldn’t be sick. Healing, I hope, will come for me but in the meantime I can either despair and become angry or have courage and find joy and purpose in it. The other day I sat across from a refugee who described to me his chronic illness and a lot of his problems are very similar to mine. And in that moment I was truly able to say “I understand,” which most of them time I can’t even imagine saying to one of my refugee clients. But at that moment I realized that though I would have always felt sympathy for this man, I would never have been able to feel empathy unless I had been sick, and I found the purpose in my sickness.

Thought provoking and provocative. Which I'm sure it was meant to be. As Patrick has stated in his response to some of the comments, he is trying to move us away from the simplified, responsibility shirking statement that "God is control." However, the first three provocative Q&A statements are pretty oversimplified as well. Much suffering goes on in the world because we are not caring enough to do anything about it, but that doesn't account for earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, etc. How we respond to these phenomena may mitigate or worsen their effects, but people don't cause the phenomena. There are many poor in the world due to the selfishness of industrialized countries citizens (many of whom call themselves Christian--although there are now more Christians in the third world than in the first). But again there are disasters of drought, blight, famine that are beyond our ability to completely eliminate by sharing what we have. The last response that God didn't take my sister, it was cancer, is perhaps the shallowest of all. Some cancers are caused by human activity, some of which can even be labelled sinful, but most have no know connection to things we can control. The causes of breast cancer are still a mystery.
Either God is in control or chaos is in control.
God may have (and I think he has) given us responsibility of stewardship of the earth. He did allow freedom to choose rebellion against his will. He allows evil in the world. The consequences of rebellion and evil are suffering, degradation, rape, slavery, oppression, murder, famine, disease. People choose this evil and it results in these consequence for other people. Then "good people" choose to be lazy and comfortable (which I believe is Patrick's point) and it makes it worse.
We have no excuse not to do everything we can to make the world a better place, even if our eschatology tells us that it will get worse. Otherwise we are in danger of being on the wrong side of the division between sheep and goats when He says "as you did it unto the least of these..."
I believe that the Bible teaches that God is in control. Yet He does allow suffering. He allows martyrdom. Scripture teaches that the number of martyrs is not yet complete. It is actually somehow part of His plan that more will be martyred to make that number complete. Yet the death of the saints is precious to Him. He knows when a sparrow goes down. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the death of His friend, Lazarus. This is a mystery that I don't think we will solve with volumes of theology books or blogs or other human musings. God Himself suffers. Imagine how much He suffers each time we suffer and how much He suffers each time we don't do anything about someone else's suffering.

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Wow, if this doesn't show you how far emergents are from authentic Biblical Christianity, I don't know what does. Reader take warning. Learn from the example of the Bereans. Test this line of thinking against the whole of scripture and see if it does not ring hollow.

The definition of the word "Sovereign" in the dictionary: sovereign: One that exercises supreme, permanent authority, especially in a nation or other governmental unit, as: a. A king, queen, or other noble person who serves as chief of state; a ruler or monarch. b. A national governing council or committee.

Where in the definition of the word "Sovereign" that says he or she controls everything. Stop blaming God for all the mess that happens in the world it's the Devil and according 1 John 5:19 the Devil is the God of this world. He's the one responsible not God and it's our job to fight against the Devil not God's.

Funny. When people achive something great, they say they worked hard for it and take all the credit but when disasters hit them, they blame the one up there.

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