The idea that God is in control can actually be a hard truth for some of us in the midst of a painful trial. Is God in control of the coronavirus, of remedies, of symptoms, of death counts, of economic impact? Yes, according to the Bible. He is absolutely, without exception, without interruption, in control. But if that is so (and the Bible says quite clearly that it is) then why doesn’t he just stop the virus, reveal the remedies, change the symptoms, eliminate the death counts, reverse any recession?
The answer to that challenging question is an important one, indeed a dangerous one, if it leads us to manufacture a false picture of God. Two false answers come quickly to mind.
1. God isn’t in control, he’s just really, really powerful.
This version preserves our ability to pray to God, because his strength can work for us in resisting the spread of disease and the effects of trial. He’s far stronger than any of us. Not strong enough to stop suffering completely, but certainly strong enough to work miracles and mitigate suffering. Many, many people operate with this functional view of God, but in the end, it doesn’t provide real comfort. If God is really strong, but not All-powerful, then how do we know that in our particular case, in this particular illness, God wasn’t quite strong enough to accomplish his loving will toward us? How do we know, actually, that the chaos wasn’t just barely past his strength this time and that chaotic and evil forces will be the deciding factor in our lives?
2. God could be in control, but he voluntarily gives up control so that we can have free will.
This version presents God as desiring to do good and to use his power to help the world, but operating within his own decision to let people make their own sovereign choices. That decision goes back all the way to the fall, when Adam and Eve exercised their will and plunged the world into sin and its effects (including our current virus.) Some people, even Christians, cling to this idea because it resonates with the Biblical truth of human responsibility. Yet, in the end, it offers more anxiety. How do we know that our free will won’t lead us further and further into chaos and darkness? If God is not in control over the free will of humans, how can he promise that those “free wills” won’t produce permanent and even eternal evil? In the end, every promise that God makes, including salvation, is subject to the whims of “free will.”
The Biblical answer is more complex, and yet more comforting, than either of these false answers. God is absolutely in control—not just really strong, but actually sovereignly sustaining and ordering every event and detail in the created universe. Yet he is also perfectly holy, just, wise, and good. Men and Women do make choices and their choices reflect their own desires, not the coercion of God forcing them to do things “against their will.” And we are morally responsible for those choices since they are really ours. Yet God is sovereignly ordering even sinful choices to his appointed end. He is sovereignly ordering even the catastrophic effects of sin toward his intended goal. His goal is his own glory, which includes the glory of his loving redemption toward his people and his promise that ALL things will work together for their good. Because of this, every detail, even sinful choices by humans, are under the sovereign direction of God. And what Satan and men and women intend for evil, God orders for the good of his people.
This definition of sovereignty, the Biblical one, is harder to believe, and requires humble trust and faith in the middle of trials that we don’t understand. But it is much more comforting when we believe it. I don’t understand how the Lord can order the coronavirus which is causing unimaginable suffering. I don’t understand why he doesn’t stop it all immediately. But I do know this. Every atom, every proton, neutron, electron, quark, water molecule, virus, antibody, human decision, sickness, death, pain, suffering, healing, job loss, job gain, and news report, is under His control. And His control is the only secure comfort we have of any enduring good for this world or the next. His absolute control is challenging; it requires humble faith to line up our thinking with the Bible’s testimony. But it is ultimately the only true comfort for our souls.
I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:7
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28