The Tension of God’s “In-Charge-Ness”

Derek Ouellette —  October 23, 2011

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?

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Dan Martin

    God is sovereign…that is, he has both the right and the ability to govern whatever he chooses. But God has also delegated some decisions to his subordinate…us and others…and sometimes we make decisions that are NOT what he would make. And further, God is at war with forces that, while he will eventually defeat them, are resolutely dedicated to doing things that are NOT his will.

    We need to get over the silly notion that “sovereignty” equates to absolute, minute control of everything. It makes no more sense than it would make to say that the CEO of a corporation (who is definitely in charge) dictates the color of paper clips the receptionist uses to attach messages together…that CEO can certainly make that choice if he/she chooses, and if made, can require that it be followed…but is rather likely not even to make the choice.

    For more on the sovereignty of God, I would invite you to this post at NTD

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  • LCK

    I have never been able to understand what it is about God’s meticulous control that people find comforting? Should I rejoice that God decided that there was some “greater good” in the rape and murder of a child so he purposely brought it about? The first time I read the story of the little girl who got her eyes gouged out (which I assume is from Greg Boyd’s “God at War”), I was so shocked, I’ve never been able to read it again.

    I know a lot of Christians who find the idea that God might not be meticulously in charge scary. What I find even more frightening is that He is meticulously in charge and that this is the result.

  • Jeff K. Clarke

    I agree with your post (being that I’m closely aligned with Open Theism). However, I think the nomenclature needs to be changed. I think it would be accurate to say that God can be in ‘charge’ as in overseeing the creation project (there is no one greater as creator/sustainer), but not in ‘control.’ Roger Olson has used the terms in this way and I think it more clearly defines God’s activity in the world, while leaving room for other agents.