I’ve new exchanged a few comments with Jason Valendy, the United Methodist pastor whose blog post I referred to on Monday. Here is his first response to me:
What I am trying to get at is the idea of “something is in control” is a false god. What I am trying to get at is that even God is not subject to “having to control” things. God, freed from enslavement to control things, is beyond all limits. The reality of chaos, mystery and chance is scary as heck. I believe that God walks with us through the chaos, mystery and chance of life but is not “in control” of the chaos. The nature of God is one of companionship and not of dictatorship.
I agree that God isn’t “enslaved” by his need to control things. But is that our only choice? God is either enslaved and controls things, or he’s free and God’s providence and sovereignty don’t exist? How is it not gracious on God’s part that he chooses to rule over his Creation—even without, I would argue, routinely overriding human freedom?
Here’s my comment back to him:
Jason, I’d still like for you to wrestle with the challenge of answered prayer and how it relates to God’s sovereignty. Does God, even occasionally, give his children what they ask for in prayer? The Bible, including the words of our Lord, says yes—emphatically. Conversely, if we pray for something and God doesn’t give us what we ask for, does God have a good reason for doing so (whether we know the reason or not)?
I should hope so. In fact, Jesus’ words about human fathers giving their children good things and not giving them bad things (like scorpions instead of eggs) implies that the reason God either grants or doesn’t grant our petitions has to do with his goodness: only God, in his foreknowledge, can see the consequences of giving us what we pray for.
So there’s a reason God either grants our petitions or doesn’t. The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12, shares his personal experience with this very issue when he writes about his “thorn in the flesh.” The thorn itself was evil—from the devil himself, Paul says. But not so fast: the thorn was at the same time something that “was given” (divine passive) by God, and it’s good purpose was, Paul says, to keep him humble.
I also think of Joseph’s words to his brothers in Genesis 50: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
In either case, God isn’t overriding the free choices (however evil) of free creatures (human or angelic), but he is using them, providentially, to his good ends.
Is God, therefore, the author of evil? Of course not. But God has the power to transform evil into good. He does this all the time: If he can take the greatest evil the world has ever known—his Son being crucified—and transform it into the greatest good the world has ever known—the defeat of evil and the means of our redemption—then he can certainly take all lesser forms of evil and do the same.
Hasn’t this been true in your own experience? Can’t you say that there are some terrible things that have happened to you for which you are nevertheless grateful? That’s God and his providential hand, not luck. It’s the promise of Romans 8:28: “In all things God works for the good…”
Regardless, it’s hard to square the teaching of scripture with the idea that God’s only role in pain and suffering (if indeed this is what you’re saying) is “companionship.”
If you disagree, please show me where I’m wrong. Thanks.