There is a particular February morning that taunts me with the questions it asks. It happened 10 years ago but I've never been able to put it out of my mind. I was pregnant with Helen and had made it to a stage where I was starting to feel confident in my pregnancy, I was starting to believe that this time we might actually have a baby, after having our hopes dashed so many times before.
I woke up early that morning because I had an appointment in Spokane to have the car worked on. When it comes to car repair and doctor appointments my practice has always been to schedule first thing in the morning, before things have had time to get off track. It was a cold February morning, but clear, and this was before I had learned to fear winter mornings.
I was driving along when I hit a patch of surprise ice. My car crashed in to the guardrail and then spun 360 degrees. At one point, when my car was perpendicular to the road, I looked out the driver's side window and saw a semi bearing down on me, almost close enough that I could reach out and touch it. The semi driver was on his game that morning and was able to quickly swerve into the next lane and get around me. This all happened in a split second and before I had time to react, or even breathe, my car was again pointed in the right direction and there was nothing for me to do except drive on. I arrived at my appointment on time and tried to put the incident out of my mind.
I've thought about that morning a lot since it happened. At first my thoughts were of the gross Christian platitude variety: God was in control, I'm glad Jesus took the wheel that morning, Angels were watching over me, etc. Then my sister died in a car accident and those thoughts took a darker turn. If God was in control to save me that morning, He was either taking a break the night my sister died or, even worse, Jesus was actively steering the wheel of her vehicle into the pickup truck coming toward her. If angels were watching over me and preventing my potential accident, where the heck were her angels?
These are the thoughts and questions that I sometimes have to ignore in order to maintain faith.
Last week I was listening to the Sanctuary Tulsa sermon podcast, like I do every week. I listen to the podcast partly because I enjoy sermons and listen to a couple of different sermon podcast but mostly because I love Jonathan Martin's preaching. But Jonathan Martin doesn't preach at Sanctuary every week (I haven't really figured out their schedule but it does seem like he preaches more than the others. But this is really beside the point.) Anyway, last week the sermon was given by Dr. Chris Green and it was entitled "God is not in control." You should go listen to it.
There was so much good stuff in that sermon and I'm still thinking through a lot of it. The center point of Dr. Green's sermon was: God is not in control, God is sovereign. That is a stopping point, isn't it? I'm just picturing all the cutesy little cross stitched samplers that Christian book stores would have to stop selling if this idea ever catches on. What would we say to our friends in hard times?
Dr. Green says that "where the devil gets really tricksy is not in getting us to doubt if God said something but in getting us to believe something strongly but unfaithfully." When we take the promises of God wrongly, we end up turning what He meant to be bread into stones. So, many of the things we say to people who are facing difficult times take what is meant to be bread (God's comfort) and turn it into death. If God is in control, nothing is really happening, God is making it happen. If God is in control, He is directly responsible for the evil that happens in this world. When we say God is sovereign we mean that God acts in this time but until the end of everything, God never does everything that He could do. The only example of God doing everything He could do is Jesus and that is why we are Christians. Jesus rights the wrongs, mends the broken, sets the captives free. Jesus saves the woman from being stoned, heals the lepers, opens the eyes of the blind and raises the dead. Until the end of all things, I live by faith and not by sight and that means I never see everything God can do.
It diminishes God's sovereignty to suggest that He cannot use to His own purpose what He doesn't foreordain and originate. So, if I cannot believe that God can bring purpose to something that He did not foreordain, I do not believe God is truly sovereign. It's so hard for me to wrap my head around all of this. In fact, I think I'm going to go listen to the sermon again. Before I do, here are definitions that help me parse all of this. Control is "to determine the behavior or supervise the running of." Sovereignty is "supreme power or authority." So, saying God is sovereign is acknowledging His supreme power and authority. He could take control, that is without question, but He allows us free will which means He chooses not to exercise his control, He chooses not to determine our behavior. Somehow those definitions and Dr. Green's sermon were a balm to my soul this week.