God Can't Do Everything
The most difficult questions I've had posed to me over the years I've been serving in ministry have to do with the sovereignty of God, especially in the face of tragedy.
To put it another way, what do we do when we can't reconcile our faith in a good and loving God with the awful things that happen in the world and sometimes in our lives?
Why does a good and loving God allow bad things to happen to good people? And if God is in control, why doesn't God intervene to stop tragedies, atrocities, violence, hatred, and war?
In theological terms, the arguments about these kinds of issues are generally addressed as a "theodicy" through which people attempt to resolve the problem of evil in the face of what most Christians assume to be God's all-knowing, ever-present, and all-powerful nature.
Anyway. Most of us try not to think about it.
Unfortunately, once you start thinking about the idea of God being in control of everything, you start to wonder if your choice of socks this morning is pre-ordained and ordered by God.
You also might begin to say, "God put me through this [horrible situation] to teach me something."
Or when someone you cherish dies, you say, "God decided that He wanted to take [your loved one] home, so He did."
If you go all in on the idea of God being in control of everything, God has to be on top of every aspect of your life, from socks to sorrow.
I don't believe that God works this way. In fact, I believe that God is not in control of everything because to do so would not be true to the essence of who God is. God is love, and control is not a loving act.
Theologian Thomas Jay Oord has written extensively about this, and he has definitive beliefs about God's openness to us and God's relational activity in the world:
The Creator and Sustainer is more than the glue of the universe, more than a noninteractive Ground of Being. God is active rather than inert. God is a universal agent who acts directly in relation to creation without controlling.
Oord believes that while God is not controlling Creation (nor us), God is in a relationship with Creation and is active in ways that are often hard for us to understand but incredible to experience.
While God doesn't cause all things, God is present in all things.
And because God is purposefully control-averse, we have the freedom to choose our paths in life--- even though our biology determines some of those paths, whether we realize it or not.
We're also affected by the choices of others, for good or bad. Additionally, and this is important to note, we can be affected by the freedom of all the Creation around us.
This helps us understand natural disasters better despite the tragedy they might bring. Because Creation is not controlled or coerced, it is free to act, evolve, and be just as we are.
Some of those disasters are caused by our poor choices as a human race, truth be told. And yet, we have the freedom to make those poor choices.
We are also free to love God by choice and not coercion. God may nudge and guide us, and we might also experience God's presence in those processes, but in the end, we are free to love without fear of reprisal or retribution.
God's love is for all, no strings attached.
For many of us, holding this understanding of God in tension with what we have been taught to believe is difficult. But once we see it, we can't unsee it.
God's very essence prohibits Godself from exerting control over us. In other words, God "can't" be sovereign over everything.
And this is Good News for you and for me. This kind of love can't be found anywhere but in God.
May you live in the hope of this knowledge and the confidence that God's presence is always near and that God's promises for our purpose are true and good.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.