Summary: Pre-Easter sermon based on the arrest of Jesus and the question of God’s control in our situations.
DON’T YOU KNOW THERE’S A WAR ON?
Who’s in control?
You know how it is when you are driving down the highway and your spouse sees danger where you supposedly do not…that scene plays out frequently in our van.
Sharon and I have had to get used to each other’s driving over the course of our marriage. Sharon has an imaginary brake pedal on her side of the van that she slams on when she sees trouble up ahead. She grabs the door handle tightly and holds her breath. Or she will alert me to a braking car up ahead, deer in the ditch, or another car about to turn on to the highway. It drives me nuts sometimes; other times I know it’s just Sharon’s way. I also know that her eyesight and depth perception are getting worse and that car is not as close as she thinks.
My response is often curt: “I’ve got it under control. Stop worrying. I’m driving, not you.” Yes, I’ve got it under control. Or do I? There are all kinds of variables that are not under my control. I don’t know what that car is going to do. I don’t know if that deer will decide to jump. I have no idea if there is black ice on the road and I won’t be able to brake. How much control do I really have?
If I am not in control then it is comforting to most of us to know that someone is in control. We take comfort in knowing that God is in control. But what does that mean?
In John’s record of Jesus’ arrest we are given a picture of his Lordship or his control of the situation. But there are questions that arise as to the extent of this control. Does Jesus’ control mean that he influences the outcome? Does he orchestrate every movement for his own purposes? Can Jesus make things happen? What does “control” mean?
When we say “God is in control” we suggest something that may not accurately describe the situation we are in. We may not even be theologically correct in how we use that statement. You see, if we perceive and give Jesus too much control in the Garden, then we are forced to say that Jesus committed divine suicide. If Jesus orchestrated every little detail so that the Jews, Judas and the Romans were simply playing their parts in God’s drama so that Jesus would die, it is suicide. On the other hand, if we give Jesus too little control in the story of his arrest, we would be saying that Jesus was a victim of circumstance, a good man who got into bad trouble.
The question I am raising is, when we experience evil and really bad things happen to us, how much can we say that God is in control? The problem of evil in the world is a tough one to answer if we categorically proclaim that God is in control. Our conclusion boils down to an uncomfortable position where God is responsible for evil. We all still draw so heavily on Augustine’s response to the problem of evil, attributing pain and suffering to the mysterious “good” purposes of God. We say, “I don’t know why this happened to me but God must have a plan.” And I say “why?” Why does evil have to be the plan of God?
The implications of such a belief are horrendous. You have heard of Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and other networks. He is a well known critic of Christianity. What is not well-known is how Ted Turner became an outspoken critic of Christianity. Apparently, as a teenager, Turner wanted to become a missionary but lost his faith when his younger sister contracted a disease and died. Turner said, “I was taught that God was love and God was powerful and I couldn’t understand how someone so innocent should be made or allowed to suffer so.”
In the spring of 1991, a loving mother wept over the FLAG DRAPED coffin of her son killed in the Gulf War. She said, "I’m doing my best to SURRENDER my son’s DEATH as the WILL of God."
She was having trouble ACCEPTING that it was God’s WILL that her son die in that WAR, and was feeling GUILTY because of her DOUBT. Was it really God’s WILL that her son LOSE his LIFE fighting an ENEMY he had never seen prior to going to IRAQ? Maybe it wasn’t God’s WILL at all, but the WILL of Saddam Hussein.
Our difficulty is resolving the problem of evil in our world. Here’s the math: If God is all powerful then he is all-controlling; and if he is all-controlling that forces the problem of evil to be seen as a problem of God’s sovereignty. Gregory Boyd said, “If it is accepted that God is all-loving and all-powerful, and if maximum power is defined as maximum control, then by definition there seems to be no place for evil. If goodness controls all things, all things must be good.” And that is a ridiculous assumption.