One of the big questions that has been raised for many of us at church by what we’ve been reading and thinking about in Job over the past month has been the thorny conundrum of how much God really is in charge.
Job seems to think that God is in charge, saying, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21). The narrator then stops and tells us “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” It seems that the bad things that happened to Job came directly from the hand of God and yet God is not to be charged with wrongdoing.
Elsewhere the Bible makes similar statements about God being in charge. Two spring immediately to mind, the first from Proverbs:
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:33).
God is not just in charge of seemingly “random” events, He also overrules in human choices. Joseph famously says to this brothers who sold him into slavery,
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20).
The evil action, which the brothers are clearly responsible for, was not just “allowed” by God but actually intended by Him. It’s confronting stuff.
The theologians call this interplay between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty “compatibalism”. It’s tempting, perhaps, to reject it in favour of a God who “allows” bad things to happen but it doesn’t really solve the conundrum of God’s involvement in sin or responsibility. After all, is God any less culpable if He stands back and allows a terrible event to happen when He could have easily stopped it?
What we begin to realise is that there is no easy answer to this question and any attempt has the danger of making us look like Job’s “comforters”. The better way, surely, is to allow the Bible to show us how things really work, not least in the Cross of Jesus where God is totally in charge of the worst, and yet the best thing that ever happened.
“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:27–28)
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