I recently heard a person who had experienced a tragic event in her life ask “how could God let such a thing to happen?” I suspect most of us have heard someone say something like this when really bad things occur.
One of the bedrock theological tasks of any believer is the issue of “Theodicy:” is God all powerful? If so, where does evil come from? Does God “cause” bad things to happen? Or does God “allow” bad things to happen? How you answer this question likely has important ramifications as to how you view God and life on this earth.
The question of the origin of evil has perplexed humankind from the beginning. Even the Book of Genesis, not the first book written, but placed first in the Bible’s order, tells a story right off the bat about where evil originated. The story of the Garden of Eden and the fruit of that one, particular tree and the activity of that mysterious snake that talked and walked upright all figure in to a poetic attempt to locate the source of evil. The takeaway from that story is that disobedience was what led to all the calamity. That’s a pretty good place to start, then AND now.
That same story also introduces the notion of human freedom. Adam and Eve were free to roam the Garden, free to eat of any fruit they found. They were told not to eat the fruit of that one tree. But as it turns out, they were also free to disobey, and God did not attempt to stop it.
So one might say that God was “IN CHARGE” of the Garden, but not “IN CONTROL” of it. For reasons we will only learn when we met God face to face, God has made a deliberate choice NOT to interfere.
In charge, but not in control. I resonate with that and so does anyone who is a parent. I am in charge of my children, but not in control of them. Even as small children, we let our kids go out in the yard to play; maybe there’s a fence in your yard to be sure they don’t wander away. You don’t hover over them and tell them what they should play; they are free to play as they wish. You might warn them not to do certain things that might cause them to be hurt, but short of locking them away in your basement you can’t control the choices they make.
Is this how you view God’s relationship with the world? It is clear to me that we live in this wonderful Garden called Earth. It is filled with wonder and beauty. And people. When people treat one another well and with love and respect, this is a truly beautiful place. If people treat each other or the planet badly, life can be painful. God apparently does not step in to stop school shootings or epic flooding or cancer, etc. Either that or God decides to get involved directly only in very limited ways.
We have been given the freedom to roam and eat the fruit of this Garden. We have also been warned that there are certain things we ought not do if we want our garden to be a joyful, safe place to live. The choices we make matter very much. God is in charge, not in control. We are in control of our own choices AND how we react to calamity.
There was a preacher who once preached a funeral sermon for an elderly woman who lost her balance and fell down a flight of stairs and died as a result. After listening to well-meaning church members and neighbors say things like her death was God’s Will, this preacher titled his funeral sermon, “God Does Not Push Old Ladies Down Stairs.”