Does "In Control" Mean "Controlling Everything"?

(Part of the "Predestination vs. Free-Will" series)

If God is all-powerful and He wants all people to be saved, surely He would force everyone to be saved, right?  So if He hasn’t done this, it must mean that He is not all-powerful or that He is not very loving or that He wants people to go to hell, right?  And since He is in control of everything, doesn’t that mean that He controls everything (even people’s decisions), that He always does everything He wants and that everything that happens is because He wanted it to happen?  So if people end up in hell, it’s because He wanted them there, right? 

I think this is where a lot of people go wrong.  (And I used to think this, too, and it caused me a lot of confusion.)  They assume that since God is all-powerful, He always forces His Will and His plans on people.  And there can be no free-will if God is always exercising His all-powerfulness.  And so if people end up in hell, it's because God caused it to happen.   

The thing is: God is all-powerful.  And being all-powerful, surely He could force everyone to become believers.  But He hasn't done that.  

So how do we reconcile that?  How do we reconcile His all-powerfulness with His love with the fact that many people will go to hell?  

Predestination-people (Calvinists) would say that He is all-powerful and all-controlling, so if people are in hell it's because God chose for them to be there.  Because He controls everything.  But they would also defend His love.  So if you question how He could be loving yet still predestine people to hell, they would say that He shows His love to different people in different ways.  He shows His love to the elect by saving them, and He shows His love to the damned by caring for them while they are alive on earth.  (Really?  Gee, what a great trade-off!  Getting food and water on earth for 80 years but then burning in hell for all of eternity.  What great love!)  

But when faced with the question of "Then how can God say that He doesn't want anyone to perish and that He wants all people to go to heaven, if He predestines people for hell?  And how can He be just if He punishes people for the unbelief that He caused?", they will give answers like, "Well, we don't have to understand it, but we do have to accept it because it’s what the Bible teaches.”  (Does it?  Does it really!?!  The reason they can't truly understand or explain it is because it's ILLOGICAL NONSENSE!)

They quote verses like 2 Kings 19:25, “Have you not heard?  Long ago I ordained it.  In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass.”  And Isaiah 46:11, “What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”  And they say that these verses show that everything that happens is because God planned it to happen and made it happen.  (So because God had one particular plan He carried out in history, it means everything that happens was planned by and caused by Him!?!)  And so there is nothing we humans can do to affect what happens.  We have no real choice of how to act or live or believe because God controls it all and He planned everything long ago.  "And who are you to question God anyway!?!"

But you see, I'm not questioning God; I am questioning your view of God! 

I think the problem here is in the way Calvinists view God, the way they understand His "sovereignty" and "being in control" and "all-powerfulness."

I think they are wrong to assume that just because God is all-powerful and has predetermined certain specific events, it must mean that He always forces whatever He wants and that He micromanages every action of ours based on some predetermined plan.

Just because He's all-powerful doesn't mean He always uses the full extent of His power of all time.

Imagine a king.  He is sovereign over his kingdom, can do whatever he wants, and is in control.  But this doesn’t mean that he always does whatever he wants or that he controls every detail of everyone’s life.  He has the power but doesn’t always exercise it.  He has the control but doesn’t control every detail.  He lets life go on to a certain degree - letting people make certain decisions and live their lives - without stepping in every second of every day, always forcing them to do what he wants.

Just because God has the power doesn’t mean He always exercises it.  Just because He is in control over everything doesn’t mean that He always actively controls everything.  Just because He causes one storm in the Bible doesn't mean He always causes every storm.  Just because He carries out a plan of His at some point in history doesn't mean everything that happens was planned and caused by Him.  (Calvinism is based heavily on man's assumptions about how God works and how He should be.)  

Being “in control” does not mean that He always forces whatever He wants or that we are His puppets.  Calvinists have a very limited, restricting view of God's sovereignty - "He causes everything."  And that's it!  Their God can only manage and work with the things He causes.  

But I think being "in control" means that He could force whatever He wants, that He has the power; He just doesn't always use it because He has chosen to let people make choices.  He voluntarily restrains Himself because He wanted to give people a choice about Him.  Yet, He is still sovereign over everything that happens.  It's just that Calvinists and non-Calvinists define "sovereignty" differently.  

Calvinists define sovereignty as "Causing and controlling everything."  But I define sovereignty as "He has His eye on everything that happens.  And everything that happens – whatever we do, whatever happens as a result of our decisions, whatever happens to us – has to go through Him first.  He decides what to allow and what to not allow.  Sometimes He causes things and sometimes He just allows things, the results of our decisions and actions.  He knows everything that happens, will guide us in the best path if we ask His help, can and will work everything - even our self-chosen sins - into something good, and will eventually make everything right again."

But, make no mistake, if God has predetermined a certain event then it will come to pass.  He has ways of making His plans happen, by working with our cooperation or with our rebellion.  But this doesn’t mean that He has planned everything and that He controls everything.  He could, if He wanted to.  But I don’t think that’s the way He works.

He has chosen to voluntarily restrain His use of power in order to give us the right (and responsibility) to make decisions.  Because that's the way He wanted things to be.  

And let’s see what those verses above are really talking about.  Is the 2 Kings verse essentially saying that “long ago, God planned every detail and event, and there is nothing we can do about it”? 

No.  That passage (from what I can tell) is about God informing the proud Assyrian king, Sennacherib, that the only reason he was able to attack and destroy another city was because God Himself had ordained it.  The king was only doing what God had determined would happen, and so he had no right to be proud and think that he accomplished it on his own.

And the Isaiah passage is about God reminding His people that when He has determined to do something, it will happen.  And in this case, He has determined to bring deliverance/salvation to His people.  God is comforting them by reminding them that He will keep His promises, that if He has planned to save/deliver them then it is sure to happen. 

Neither of these passages is about a generalized way that God works.  Neither is saying that this is how God always does things – that He has planned everything and always forces what He wants.  They are about very specific moments and events and people in history.  

But those who believe in predestination often apply these kinds of passages to everyday events and claim that it’s how God works in everything.

And Calvinists have a way to "manipulate" you into agreeing with them on this.  They say that if you believe God doesn’t control everything then you're saying that He can’t control everything ... and that if you believe that we can have an effect on life and on God through our actions or prayers then you're saying God is ultimately weak and powerless.  That we are somehow stronger than Him.

They shame you into "submission," making you feel like you are reducing God to a weakling while elevating yourself to a supremely powerful being.  

But their logic is faulty.  And they are trying to manipulate you (intentionally or not) into agreeing with predestination because no one in their right mind would call God powerless or say that people are more powerful than God.  

But, no!  I am not saying any of that.  I am simply saying that God has the power but He has chosen to not always use it.  He Himself has chosen to allow us to influence things and have real choices, and He will work everything into His plans. 

To be clear, I do believe that God has some over-arching plans for history and mankind that will happen and go according to His plan, such as creating a new heaven and earth, separating the sheep from the goats, having everyone eventually bend a knee and confess that Jesus is Lord, etc.  

These plans will happen regardless of us.  But He doesn’t control the path everyone takes to get there, their every move and action.  We are definitely on a pre-determined path for mankind, but how we walk that path is up to us.  And it will greatly affect our eternity.

I think God invites us to follow Him on the path He wants us to take in life.  He calls to us and asks us to obey and to do things His way because He loves us and wants (and knows) what’s best for us.  But He doesn’t control our behavior and choices.  He gives us the option of disobeying, of doing things our way.  

Yet His way is always the best and the one that He intends for us.  (For more on this, go to the “Understanding God’s Will” series on the blog

But does the Bible support my view - that God has a plan but expects us to follow Him in it?  Let’s look at a passage that illustrates this:

In Acts, Paul is headed to Rome as a prisoner on a ship when they come against a hurricane-like storm.  And after many days at sea, Paul tells the discouraged, scared men, “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete, then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss.  But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.  Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. . . . God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ . . .”  (Acts 27:21-24) 

And then a little later, when the sailors were trying to escape from the ship in the lifeboats, Paul tells them, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”  (Acts 27:31)

Obviously, God wanted to spare the men from having to go through this storm and the damage it would do, so He gave Paul the insight and wisdom to warn them.  But they didn’t listen.  And then, when they decided to sail from Crete anyway, God graciously decided that none of their lives would be lost in the storm.  

It was His Will that they all lived . . . but only if they stayed with the ship.  

Their actions and choices had an effect on whether or not they stayed safely inside God’s Will.  He invited them to obey and to follow His plan.  And if they didn’t, it was on their own heads.  God had a plan and made a promise, but they had the ability and choice to obey or disobey.  He did not force His Will and plans on them; they had to follow Him in it.

I think this is how it is with salvation.  God has given us the ship that will save us – Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf.  And He has promised that we will be saved – but only if we stay with the ship. 

Just because people end up in hell doesn’t mean He has predetermined that it’s where they would go.  They chose to reject the ship, the only means of salvation.  And just because He doesn’t “force” everyone to be believers doesn’t mean that He doesn’t have the power, isn’t in control, isn’t very loving, or that He has predetermined that certain people should go to hell.  He has the power.  He is in control.  He is loving.  BUT He gave us a choice to do things His way or to go our own way.  And that's how we end up in hell.  Not because He predestined it or caused it.  But because we rejected His way.  

As I said, He doesn’t force us to obey or disobey, to believe or not believe.  He doesn’t always force whatever He wants, even though He has the power to.  In general, He has chosen to voluntarily restrain His use of power over us.  He calls and challenges and guides, but doesn’t generally “force.”  He has decided to allow us a certain amount of freedom, the ability to make decisions for ourselves and to choose to disobey or obey, to believe or not believe, to stay with the ship or jump off and face the consequences.  And He works it all into His plans. 

The Israelites in the Desert

I think we can get an idea of how God works (even relating to salvation and to how He allows us to choose to obey or disobey) when we look at the Old Testament.

Time and time again with the Israelites, God regularly lays out the “blessing path” and the “curse path,” and He tells them to choose which path they want to take.  (Check out Deuteronomy 30 as an example.)  He has the plans - the destinations - clearly set for both choices, but He leaves it up to the people to decide which path they take.  And I think these are real choices, not the illusion of having a choice.

Also, we get a clear picture of how God works when we look at how God called the Israelites out of Egypt and took them to the Promised Land.  His predetermined Will and plan was to take the Israelites from Egypt right to Canaan.  And He would have done that.  But the people rebelled against Him.  And so He allowed them to die off in the desert.  And then He took the next generation - those who were willing to go with Him - into the Promised Land.

His ultimate Will and plan was still accomplished.  He planned to take Israel into the Promised Land.  But He allowed the people to choose to reject Him or to follow Him obediently.  He didn’t force them to go along with His plan.  But His Will was still accomplished when He led into Canaan the ones who were faithfully and obediently willing to follow Him.

This is the perfect balance between “pre-planning/predestination” and the free-will of mankind, the right to go down the path God laid out or not.  

His ultimate plan to have people with Him in heaven for all of eternity will still be accomplished, but we have to choose if we will accept or reject the pre-paid ticket to heaven, if we will follow Him to the Promised Land or not. 

The more I read the Bible and see how God works, the more predestination and Calvinism don't fit! 

Previous post in series:  Predestination Manipulation

Next post in series: How Could A Loving God Condemn People To Hell? 

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