Wright believes that first century Jews held to the view that, yes, God is in charge, and yet in all sorts of ways God was not in charge.
“Yes, of course, in one sense the average first-century Jew did believe that Israel’s God was already in charge. But she or he also knew, with every bone and breath, that there were all sorts of ways in which God was not in charge – otherwise why was the world such a mess? Why were God’s people, the Jews, in such trouble? Why were ruthless, coarse, blaspheming foreigners running the show? Why were the Jewish leaders themselves such a corrupt lot? And why – in the middle of it all – is my child so sick? Why is my mother crippled? Why did the soldiers kill my son, my cousin, my husband?” (Simply Jesus, p.59)
I got into a discussion with someone the other day who was so confident that God is so universally in charge that we should take comfort in this fact no matter what. She said this is what she got from William Young’s “The Shack”. What she meant was this: if you are in a plane don’t worry, God is in charge. He will either 1) keep you safe to your destination or 2) take care of your family if you die in that plane. But I don’t know how this way of thinking about God’s “in-charge-ness” is supposed to bring comfort. So I pressed her on this thinking. When Nazi soldiers raped a little girl before gouging out her eyeballs and then leaving her on the ground for dead, all the while forcing her mother to watch, “was God in charge” of that situation?
Not surprisingly she didn’t understand my question.
See I hold with Wright this tension of God’s in-charge-ness. I hold that in some sense God is in charge. But I also believe that in all sorts of ways God is not in charge. I cannot for the life of me understand people who make the universal and unqualified statement that God is always in charge. If God is the God he says he is, then why is the world so messed up? No, we need to qualify God’s in-charge-ness. We need to be sure that we are not giving pad answers to tough questions. And if you don’t want to think about what it might look like to qualify God’s in-charge-ness, then we need to allow for the tension that while he is in charge in some sense, in all sorts of other ways he is not.
In fact, this is the point of Jesus’ central message. Announcing that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” is another way of saying, “God’s in-charge-ness is right around the corner”. To say that the Kingdom of God is at hand or to pray for that Kingdom to come or for God’s will to be done is Jesus’ clear rebuttal to our comfortable pad answer Christian notion that God is always in charge. If God is always and already in charge, why pray for that Kingdom to come? It would already be here. Why pray for God’s will to be done? Wouldn’t that be assumed?