Old Christian Catch Phrase: God is in control.
New Christian Catch Phrase: Even if you're slowly eaten alive by lemurs, God is still with you.
Life is confusing and hard and unfair. We all know this. We don't want to know it, but we do. The current Christian catch phrase that is a catch all for comforting those on hard times is "God is in control." Having a hard time paying your bills? God is in control. Annoyed with your boyfriend? God is in control. Looking for a job? God is in control. But I'd like to propose a change of the guard.
I've experienced the catch phrasing a lot lately as Mike looks for a full-time job. And I know that people genuinely want to offer comfort which I deeply appreciate. We hear a lot, "God is in control," "it'll all happen in God's timing," "God has a plan for this." I certainly do believe God is in control--but not the way it's often meant. When people say "God is in control," generally they seem to mean "it'll all work out." You'll somehow be able to pay your bills. Your boyfriend and you will patch it up. You'll eventually find a job. But none of us can guarantee a one of those things, and God hasn't guaranteed them either.
By "God is in control," we seem to often mean, "Don't worry; God has a happy ending for you in this life." As Christians, we're so often raising the banner of Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future," a very specific promise made to the Israelites living in Babylon that after 70 years, God would bring them out of Babylon to fulfill his plan for the Israelite nation. Now we fling this promise fairly carelessly around to mean something like, "God has mapped out each step of your life, and has great things at each step. He has planned where you'll go to college, who you'll marry, what you'll eat for dinner tonight, which job offer you'll receive, and what parking space at the grocery store you'll get."
Although God is very much in control, God does not seize control. He has the reins of the world, but as far I can tell, they're loose in his hands, not because he's inattendant, but because he has allowed free will in his world. And because of this, there are princes and rulers of this age that are not God: "The whole world is under the control of the evil one," 1 John 5:19.
Sometimes we make the illogical jump that because everything is "in God's control," everything that happens is part of God's plan. This is true in one sense, but very untrue in another sense. A woman is raped. God is in control? Yes. This was part of God's will (i.e. plan)?No. I don't think so. God doesn't will evil. God allows things to happen. He allows people to rape each other. He allows people to get cancer. He allows me to choose which line I'll check out in the grocery store. But I wouldn't say that any of those things is necessarily his "plan."
What does this have to do with lemurs slowly eating me alive? I'm getting there.
Each time a person tells me, "God has a plan for your lives, you'll find a job when it's the right time," I can't help but think of those people whose stories I read each day in other countries. Sorry, but a lot of the people around the world in need aren't going to get a solution in this life time. They aren't going to find a job that pays the bills. The unjust society they're in isn't going to change in their life time. Their babies aren't going to get the health care they need. They're going to die in bonded labor. There isn't a happy ending, as such. The happy ending that is so easy to fling around in words in our American lives, is like vapor to them. The words "It'll happen in God's timing" are simply meaningless. It probably won't.
Because the happy ending isn't that it will all work out. It's not that we'll get a job or whatever else it is that we want. God hasn't promised these things, and when he talks about his "plan" and "will" in the Bible, it's never that specific.
The happy ending and the solace is that God is with us. That God's grace is sufficient for us. That no matter what happens, if we die as a slave, if we live in abonimal conditions, or if lemurs slowly eat us alive, God still loves us, is with us, and offers us his saving grace.
In Job, the epistle of pain, after the friends spout platitudes about the omnipotence of God, God shows up. After rebuking them for their presumptuous platitudes, God gives quite a speech. He makes it clear that he is Almighty over this world. But the general feeling you're left with at the end of it isn't, "ah, God is in control, it'll all be alright, the world is rosy." Not at all. It's more like: God is huge and powerful and we can't understand, fathom, or question. We can only throw ourselves at his feet, saying "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know."
So, please, if you see me having a hard time, don't tell me that it'll all happen in God's timing. I won't believe you. You can tell me that whatever happens, God is still God and he is with me.