God Is (Not) In Control!


control1“God is in control!”  You hear that mantra a lot in certain Christian circles.  Whether over a tragic death, a lost job, or even a lost presidential election, Christians like to brace themselves with the security that despite the circumstances,“God is in control!”

(Except, of course, in the case of lost presidential elections where we Christians prefer to declare “God is still in control!”  Conceding that there may be some cosmic purpose behind this tragedy but if we lose again in 4 years we’ll have our doubts)

But what makes us think “God is in control?”  Is it because:

* he is “all-powerful”?

* he is “all-knowing”?

* he is “all-present”?

The irony is that it’s these omnipotent traits of God which allows him to  not be in control!


God is NOT in Control?

Think about any situation you’ve been in where you had to deal with a controlling person.  It could be a controlling boss, a controlling pastor, or even a controlling friend or family member.

Is it a pleasant encounter?


A controlling person will rob you of your ability to make your own decisions and limit you in the expression of your thoughts, giftings, and individuality.

They make you feel like less of a person…

What drives a controlling person to control?  Insecurity, fear, a need to guard a territory.  They brace themselves by stealing something from you.

control 2

But God is none of these things.  He’s totally secure, fear flees from Him, and His Kingdom shall never end.  He only desires to see you come to the fullness of what you were created to be; to feel more like a person, not less!

All the hallmarks of a God who is not in control!


The Gift

I know what you’re thinking?

“Not in control?  Steve, you’re scaring me.  The only security I have in this crazy world is knowing somehow God is in control”

But God has given us a wonderful gift.  Some call it “free will” but I prefer the term theologian Mike Lloyd chooses to useWe are allowed to be “self -defining”.  We get to define ourselves; who we are and what we want to be.  It’s only in our ability to self-define that we can be fully human.  Self-definition allows us the joy of freely giving and receiving love.

Unfortunately that same self definition that allows us to freely give and receive love can also allow us to freely give and receive destruction.  This tragically has largely been the case and a corrupt and fallen world has been the result.

puppet on a string

In and amidst the horrible events in the world people understandably ask, “If God is good, why is there evil and suffering?”

Let’s take a trip back to The Garden


Humans Not Robots

Adam and Eve had one prohibition in the garden; don’t eat the fruit from the Tree of Good and Evil.  They disobeyed and the rest is, as they say, history.  Now why didn’t an all powerful God who is in control simply stop the couple from making the biggest mistake in their lives and wreaking havoc on generations afterward?

He could have!  They didn’t do it while he was off having a cigarette break.  He was there…

But if He did, He takes control and our ability to self define is lost.

We are no longer human…we become robots.

A controlling God, like controlling people, would love to make people robots.  Robots made to love, made to appreciate, and made to respect.

But God is not into making robots…he is in to making humans.  Humans who can choose to freely give and receive love.  Who can choose to reflect his Kingdom and identity…

…or not!



God’s answer to a fallen world and our self definition gone crazy is Jesus. God comes into the world, not as a controller to snatch our self-definition away from us and clean up the mess, but as a man.  A self defining man who shows us the way home.  I can’t say it better than Mike Lloyd did in a talk I heard called What about Suffering?

If you want to see how un-controlling He (God) is take a look at the manger.     Here is no cosmic controller.  Here, far from one who is inflicting suffering, comes within the range of other self defining creatures and allows them, allows Augustus, allows Herod,  allows us, to affect him with the warped and destructive mode of our self definition ,..and he suffers it with us… and he shows us how to define ourselves in such a way as to renew the face of the Earth.

Mike Lloyd – What about Suffering?

God is not in control.  It’s just not the kind of God he is.  He could wipe out evil and suffering immediately…but then you would cease to be you!

And God loves you to much to lose YOU!



  • I think “God is in control” speech is a habit that is developed in religious circles because the community gives its nod of approval when it is uttered. However, one only needs to take a half a step back to see that is so inconsistent as to be meaningless.

    I was watching a Mormon teaching video recently where one of the apostles was telling a story of when he was a boy out in the desert with his Grandfather. On their way back, they got lost and came to a fork in the dirt road. They both had a feeling in the Spirit that they should turn to the right. However, after 10 minutes… this road dead ended. When he questioned his Grandfather as to how they had felt the spirit wrong, his grandfather replied that they didn’t… God had put them on the wrong path, so they would know within 10 minutes that that WAS the wrong path… they could now proceed with confidence and no doubt on the right path.

    “God” was covered in both path selections. If they had chosen the left path the first time round, that would have confirmed their hearing the Spirit’s voice as well. Trying to point out this reality to the person who posted the video was an exercise in futility. When the desired conclusion has already been chosen, the steps leading to an event are meaningless. Such is the reality for those who pepper their speech with “God is in control” talk.

  • so…does this all change in the afterlife? is life in heaven to be the same as life on earth? will there still be free-will (or “self-definition”) (and therefore evil) in heaven?

    • Steve

      What do you mean Brook by “in Heaven”? According to Christianity I’ll be resurrected with a new body (thank God) and there is no point “going” to heaven since apparently the whole point of Christ’s birth, life,, death, and resurrection was to somehow start the process of bringing Heaven and Earth together again. But to answer your question in my life “after”…truth is I have no great answer to how I will be self defining (which I trust I will be) and not “sin”…since that combination comes so easy now

  • another problem with this line of reasoning is something you allude to – that of controlling people in *this* life. history is, in fact, one long story of humans seeking to exercise power and control over others. the “we” you speak of who are allowed to be self-defining are the lucky few in the history of the world. much of that history shows people “defining themselves” by taking away another person’s/people’s freedom or ability to define themselves. If God doesn’t intervene to in some way control people, the people themselves will do that controlling to others, and either way you don’t have much in the way of true free-will. as Elie Wiesel famously said, “Anything you want to say about God you better make sure you can say in front of a pit of burning babies.” not sure how self-definition fits into this picture. if self-definition can include destroying another’s self-definition, then there’s something seriously wrong with that design.

    we could also bring into this discussion the problem of people with mental and physical handicaps that can only be attributed to God and not the evil of other humans and ask how that self-definition thing is working out for them.

    a god who has the *ability* to be in control but chooses not to be is still ultimately in control, whether that god actively causes the suffering and evil or just allows it to happen. it’s still the same thing in the end.

    and just to complicate things further, do you believe that God *ever* intervenes in the lives of humans, whether on his own or in response to a request?

    • Steve

      But the possibility to affect another negatively has to be included in self definition or it isn’t self definition. “You can do anything…well except that..oh, and not that…oh, and certainly not THAT” See, where that leads…to being a robot!

      Yes, I do believe God intervenes. What the rules are on that I can’t even begin to guess… 🙂

  • Chuck

    Well said, Steve. What so great about this, God is not in control is that he’s given all of us the resources to become like Jesus, not the person Jesus but the resources Jesus had. Our Goal in life is to ask for wisdom to become what we should become and that we are pleasing to him. Because of Grace we have the Father listening and waiting for us to ask. No wonder Apostle Paul said we were more than Conquers Thru Christ who loves us.

    • Steve

      Thanks Chuck, very encouraging!

  • Tim

    Why can’t it be both? He’s in control and sometimes not? Does it have to be an either/or? What do you do with a scripture like “..causes us to will and to act according to his good purpose?”

  • Steve

    Tim, the play on the title “God is (not) in Control” is an appeal to that very notion

  • Mary Douglas

    Invalid move from ‘in control’ to ‘controlling’ at the start of this post. Yet, timely reminder that we have free will because God made us that way and that He respects that free will. On the other hand, many many passages in both old and new testament indicate that God knows the future. That does not undermine our free will. As Tim says above, this is not a matter of either/or but (as so often) of both/and. Strange and awesome mystery…

    • Pharaoh didn’t have free will, God did not respect his…. He wiped out the entire planet during the flood… no concern for their free will. He consigns a fair amount of humanity to Hell…. no free will there either. In fact, I think Free Will is a modern notion that the writers of the OT would have not understood.

      • Steve

        Pharaoh had free will…Moses said God hardened his heart but that could have been just Moses upset at what happened. 🙂

        I don’t think God will consign people to hell and the flood is not really an argument for or against free will.

        True, Free Will is a concept few Old Test. writers would have understood but their understanding doesn’t negate its existence. (See also: gravity, atomic theory, and physics etc)

        The idea of free will is very real…and right now I choose to have a sandwich!

  • I just don’t find the idea of Free Will to be a very strong idea in scripture…. at all. There is certainly a lot running against it…. Why then does it come up so often in Evangelical and Christian apologetics? Scripture has God coercing, manipulating, strong-arming, and punishing people into his plans. One can say, well… that really isn’t God, that was just primitive people’s take on God… Then isn’t a contrary God simply another take? And everyone is just making up a God who appeals to them at the varied stages of their lives?

    • Steve

      The idea of turning from death to life, Caesar to Christ, kingdom of darkness to kingdom of light etc. is very much a theme running through the Bible. Repentance (or not) is a choice people make. Are you suggesting you don’t have free will?

  • I think whether or not we really have a truly free will is entirely another argument… and one I tend to agree with the varied, even contradictory notions… I tend to be both/and.

    I don’t deny that there are redemptive stories in scripture, my point is that god, as he is often presented in the bible, does not seem to have fidelity to the notion of human free will. For every example where scripture seems to express the notion, I can cite an equally contrary example. The god of the bible “turns the hearts of kings.”

    The common apologetic maneuver when justifying Hell, is that “God is a gentleman, he will not force himself on you, it is your choice.” I heard that one just this week. But the word choice to this believer is nonsense to the rest of us because the follow up is torture for making the wrong choice.

    Look at the way Mary associated god and free will above… that is a typical presentation, but it makes me scratch my head in wonder of which god she is talking about. Not the one in the bible who caused the flood, ordered non virgin wives to be stoned, told soldiers to keep young girls as spoils but slaughter the rest of the city, who says to his followers to love their enemies while he plans their eventual torture. That god has no interest in humanity having a free will.

  • I believe God is in Control. You can be in control and yet not be a controlling dictator. God allows us to make choices that define who we are. Hopefully we know Him well enough to make Godly choices but do not always do so . That does not mean God is not in control it means He allows us and then uses these things to teach us. I don’t know why things happen. But in the end at least for me God makes good come out of them.

  • tjoord

    Steve – Thanks for your good blog!

    Have you come across my new book, The Uncontrolling Love of God (IVP Academic)? I argue that God is not in control, because God’s nature is uncontrolling love. Much of what you’ve written above coincides with my book.



    • Steve

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the comment. I love the title of your book and will check it out!

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