For the week of November 17, 2012 / 3 Kislev 5773
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1 - 2:7


Is God in Control?

There are two nations in your womb. From birth they will be two rival peoples. One of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. (Bereshit / Genesis 25:23; CJB)

Do you believe that God is in control of life? If so, how in control is he? Some people believe that he is so completely in control that every single thing that happens - every human action, every drop of rain is a result of God's direct initiative and involvement. Other people, while claiming God is intimately involved in life, resist this extreme view. They assert that this level of control makes human beings nothing more than puppets in God's hands. But if God isn't completely in control, how can we be assured that he is in control at all? Either he is or he isn't, isn't he?

It seems to me that if God is really God, he must be fully in control. If he is in control, then his control must be absolute or else there is no basis for having confidence in him. Is not this week's Torah portion a case in point? Isaac's wife, Rebekah, receives a prophesy regarding her yet-to-be-born twins. God tells her that contrary to custom, the younger of the two would be the greater. This is exactly what happens. Jacob, the second born, instead of his older brother, Esau, becomes the heir of the promises given first to his grandfather, Abraham, and then to his father, Isaac.

But how do prophecies like this work? When God predicts the future is he simply communicating what he sees will happen or is he saying that this is the future he will intentionally bring about? Some prophecies sound like the former; others sound more like the latter. Overall, however, throughout the Scriptures, God's predictions don't sound as if he is passively looking through a window to the future, but rather they sound like a ruler determined to fulfill his plans.

Does this therefore mean God was a manipulating force controlling Jacob's scheming in the buying of his brother's birthright and in the deceiving of his father to steal his brother's blessing? Logically, if God is in absolute control, then this must include Jacob's antics. The problem with this conclusion is that it doesn't seem to reflect how the Bible tells these and other stories.

Certainly the Bible regards humans as free moral agents, who are to be held responsible for their actions. The misdeeds recorded in Scripture are provided as lessons for us to learn from. If God treated us as puppets, then there would be no reason to learn in this way.

Yet at the same time, the freedom with which human beings conduct themselves will never be able to undermine God's plans. What God has determined to accomplish he will do with or without our cooperation. So what we encounter in Scripture is a complex interplay between God's control and the freedom which he has bestowed on his creation, humans included. Only a God who is absolutely in control can allow for the level of freedom we have (whatever that is), without threatening his sovereignty.

So contrary to how some may think that God's control restricts our behavior, it is actually wonderfully freeing. Even in the kind of dysfunctional world we live in today, we can be confident that God is working out his plans and purposes. And for those who love God and align themselves with those purposes, we can successfully live life in spite of our failings and weaknesses, knowing that he will cause everything to work out for our good (see Romans 8:28).

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