One of the core claims of the Bible is that God is the creator of the world. The intricacies of creation demonstrate that our world has been put together with an amazing degree of detail and design; it is not just the product of random atomic interactions. And God continues to show his care and provision for this world. Our universe is sustained by a God who is good and who is working out his good plans and purposes.
Despite this, when we take a closer look, we quickly see that our world is broken. Sometimes it is very hard to see God’s good control of the world.
The Bible addresses this issue in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. In chapters 1 to 3, we read that God made humans to be in relationship with him—but sadly, humans decided to turn their backs on God and live for themselves. This brought God’s rightful judgement on the world, and is an explanation for the chaos we see around us in our lives and in our world. However, the definitive reason we know that God is in control is because of the person and work of Jesus. There is solid historical evidence that Jesus existed, that he lived and died and rose again from the dead. For Christians, this is a clear demonstration that God is still in control of this world, caring for it, and that he has not abandoned humanity to their life of sin. He constantly calls men and women back to himself. And he promises that one day, when Jesus returns to this world, it will be restored and transformed, with no more pain, tears or death.
Is God a mean and cruel dictator? Isn’t what he says restrictive and burdensome? Isn’t some of what God says hateful and dangerous? What about God’s control of COVID-19; how can that be good?!
Maybe these are some questions that you’ve had. They are good and important questions. A God who is mean and cruel would be a terrible God to believe in. But that is not the way the Bible portrays God.
The Bible constantly says that God is a God of love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6-7). In Psalm 139, we learn that God knit us together in our mother’s womb, while Jesus says that God knows every hair on our head (Luke 12:7). God knows us intimately, which is both a great comfort but also a great challenge. He sees us at our best and at our worst. We can come to God just as we are, because he is the one who has created us. But even though we come to God just as we are, we must not expect that when we come we will be left unchanged. This is because God knows what is best for us, even when we actually think that his ways are bad ways. Because God is perfectly just, and his eyes are too pure to look upon evil, God is right to punish sin and evil. But God doesn’t dish out punishment willy-nilly. He does so in line with his perfect character. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we don’t measure up to his standards. In fact, we often don’t even measure up to our own standards!
But the wonderful news of the gospel is that instead of us being punished for our sin, Jesus takes our place and is punished, so that we can be forgiven and brought into God’s family. Part of the Christian life is acknowledging regularly that we fall out of line with God’s standards, then coming to Jesus to ask for forgiveness and to renew our trust in him. And, like a skilled surgeon cuts out a cancerous tumour in order to make the patient well, God sometimes removes things we love in order to show us that true satisfaction and joy can only be found in him.
The Bible is also realistic about the struggle for control that Christians have. In this world there will always be a struggle between what we desire and what God desires. (For more on the Bible’s very real acknowledgement of this struggle, have a read of Romans 7.) And so we need God’s help to live the way that he wants us to live. That is why God has given us the amazing gift of prayer. Prayer is the means of aligning our wills to God’s and reaffirming that we want to live under his control and care. What about God and COVID-19? Jesus tells this story:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
Natural disasters and global pandemics are a result of the sinful and broken world that we live in that is subject to God’s considered judgement. They are not, however, a result of a particular sin, and there is nothing in the Bible that suggests that COVID-19 is a particular judgement of God upon anyone. But in the passage above, Jesus explicitly says that natural disasters, global pandemics and particular expressions of human evil all happen to cause us to consider our lives, where we stand with God, and to lead us to repentance (turning away from ourselves and to God).
For further biblical reflection, read Luke 15, 1 John 4 and Psalm 23.
The Bible does not present humans as puppets that God just manoeuvres here, there and everywhere. God has given us the means of controlling certain aspects of our life. We are free to pursue the job we desire and to choose where we live, what to have for breakfast, and Apple or Android. The book of Proverbs in the Bible is full of advice on being wise and making good life decisions.
But there is a limit on our control. Our life decisions are not outside God’s view, nor is he uninterested about the decisions we make. God will judge all of our decisions and actions. Ultimately, our decisions are never outside God’s absolute plan and purpose to bring everything and everyone under the authority of Jesus.
Jesus offers a helpful guideline as we think about the control we have over our lives. He says:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)
The upshot is: go and make wise and thoughtful decisions about your life, but make following Jesus your number one priority.
Our world sells to us that the fullest expression of life is to determine who we will be and what we will do. Who doesn’t get a thrill when they listen to a catchy song with lyrics like, “Look out cause here I come, and I’m marching on to the beat I drum. I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies: this is me!”
But if there is a God who is perfect, who created this world, and who knows what is best for us, then living outside his good plans and purposes is ultimately life-denying rather than life-giving. It’s like a fish living outside the ocean. A fish is free to live outside the ocean for as long as it wants, but pretty soon it will die. This is what it is like for those who live outside the plans and purposes of God. Life might be amazing, perhaps even for many years. But there will be a time when everyone will stand before God and give an account of their own life (Hebrews 9:27). On that day, people who have lived their life seeking to control it will find out in an unbearably painful way that this was wrong all along. They will be sentenced to eternal judgement and hell. And that is not a place that anyone will be happy to be in.