It may sound right when things go wrong to remind believers that God is still on his throne.
But is it right? What do we mean when we say that?
Option #1: Everything that happens is what God predetermines
This is called Fatalism. The sentiment is that, as Creator, God is sovereign and all-powerful, therefore nothing in his creation can happen unless he wants it to happen, like an author and a novel. This is not only logical, but it seems to have support in Scripture:
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” Eph. 1:11
Taking this position, and assuming that God is as good as he claims, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about. When we see our world slipping sideways, whether personally, socially, politically, or otherwise, we can sit back, take a deep breath, and realize that this is exactly how God wants it to be.
Maybe he’s trying to teach us something. Maybe he’s painting with darker shades so the light will be even brighter. Maybe things need to get worse before they get better.
In any case, we can close our eyes, forget all the madness, and picture the author of the universe with a secret smile on his face, getting ready to write his surprise ending.
Option #2: Everything that happens is what God allows
Many people struggle with the fatalist position. To claim that everything that happens is God’s will is to enter a tenuous relationship with the concept of good and evil.
If everything is God’s will, and God is good, we should be able to look at every natural disaster, every terrorist attack, every broken home, murder, rape, genocide and suicide and say, “Praise God.”
Satan and his demons become pawns of God’s ultimate plan, not his enemies. Sin becomes obsolete, because it is impossible to “miss the mark.” Judgment Day becomes a farce.
If we want to hold to the logic of God’s sovereignty, while also accepting evil as evil, we have to believe that God, at the very least, allows his creation to spin sideways.
In my opinion, the word “allow” is a tricky one. On the surface, it would seem to make sense of God being sovereign and good at the same time.
Take the story of Job: Satan comes to a sovereign God asking permission to torment someone God is protecting. God allows it. In the end, Job is proven righteous, learns some valuable lessons, and has all of his fortunes restored.
This may seem like a happy ending, but Job’s previous children are still dead, his marriage is ruined, and his friends are gone. Was it worth this cosmic demonstration? Or should Job not be concerned with these things, happy to have a new set of blessings?
Look at it another way: If I am standing with a toddler beside a busy freeway, gripping that toddler’s hand, would it be okay for me to let go, allowing her the freedom to choose to stay with me or risk the freeway? Why not?
Because I am the parent. And I love that child. And I would do everything I could to preserve that life, promoting happiness and wholeness. That is undeniably good.
If I let go, allowing the toddler to make its own choice, and the toddler wanders into oncoming traffic, am I not, as a parent, ultimately responsible for whatever happens? Couldn’t I say that allowing something inevitable to happen or planning for that same inevitability is just two shades of the same black?
Option #3: Everything that happens is what God endures
This would be the option I would take, and I think it’s the most consistent with the whole witness of Scripture.
How else can you explain Jesus praying for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, or Jesus not arguing with the devil when he offers him all the kingdoms of the world, or how he calls Satan the ruler of this world on more than one occasion? How else can you explain his frustration with his disciples, his struggle against the religious leaders, and his devastating efforts to seek and save the lost?
To watch and listen to Jesus is to see this issue most clearly. Does he act as if everything around him is happening according to plan? No. Does he act as if he is opposed to evil, but passively allowing it to happen? Not unless his emotions and actions are forced.
When the people were in a frenzy about the political situation in Judea, did Jesus just tell them to relax, reminding them that God was on his throne? No. He told them to follow him.
Does this lens contradict the claims of the Old Testament prophets, or the witness of the apostles, speaking of God’s sovereign plans and power? I don’t think so.
From the early chapters of Genesis we see what God desires, how God communicates those desires to the world, and how he makes himself available to help his people accomplish them. But it also shows that the creation is free to make decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions.
Not only does the story of Scripture support this view, but we can sense the truth of it. When we do something wrong, we apologize. We try to make it right. When we see a tragedy, we cry, aching for justice.
Then, by some theological verse-wrangling, some of us will pause, reminding ourselves that these things are not beyond God’s control. He is allowing this evil for a season, accomplishing some greater purpose.
I would disagree. I would say that God is angry, saddling his white horse, getting ready to finish what he started.
Option #4: Everything that happens is what God observes
This last option is as extreme and unbiblical as the first, though many people have taken this position, including America’s founding fathers.
God sets up the playing field, chooses his players, then sits back on his throne, grabs some popcorn, and watches it play out.
If this was the case, the Bible would be a radically different book. Prayer would be meaningless, miracles would be a joke, and we can just forget about the Second Coming. God doesn’t care. He’s just enjoying the show. And someday he will honor the best players, and damn the rest.
What is your position? How does that position inform your thoughts, feelings and choices?