As we come to the end of another year (can you believe it?!), our culture is floundering. Effects of COVID (and of politicians’ attempts to control it), violent groups destroying cities (under the guise of confronting violence), and news media which most no longer believe, have undermined our traditional foundations. Our nation’s ‘soul’ already wounded by the killing of babies in the womb and our mocking of the God-ordained institution of marriage, we approach this Christmas, wondering if there is any real hope or joy in our country’s future.
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. Faced with all the evil, violence, lawlessness, and dishonesty in society, Christians have this refrain: Whatever happens, we know that God is in control. The statement is undeniably true: Our sovereign God, creator of the universe, is all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, eternal, and as Moses proclaimed, He is God of gods and Lord of lords (Deut. 10.17). Obviously, He is in control.
But wait: If we are not careful, we may end up with an atrocious view of God! Calvinist theology understands God’s ‘sovereignty’ to mean that whatever happens, God is the one who makes it happen. In fact, He planned it. “Nothing happens other than what God decrees.” If you think that view is too terrible for anyone to hold, get this: Even John Calvin himself finds it dreadful!
“I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree.”
The idea that God ordained (ordered by His own plan) the Holocaust, or communist purges, or other murderous regimes in the last century is biblically untenable. The idea that God ‘decrees’ sin at all is utterly absurd to anyone who reads Scripture. At this point, someone will say: Well, Calvin lived 500 years ago; surely no one would believe that today! Sadly, many do.
Leading Calvinist theologian James White was asked, “When a child is raped, is God responsible and did He decree that rape?” He replied, “Yes…” After all, if God is really in absolute control of everything that happens, then nothing else is possible. Is this what Scripture teaches? No.
The Bible unequivocally affirms the ‘sovereignty’ of God – He alone is God. There is no other. But it also presents in the realm of earth, in the ‘time and space’ in which we live, a competing power: The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5.19). Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are of your father, the devil” (John 8.44), and Paul refers to the devil as “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4.4). Herein lies the conflict of the ages – the battle which rages all around us and in us now, until all evil is finally defeated at the end of time (read Rev. 20.7-22.5!).
So what do we mean when we say, “God is in control”? We mean that no matter what happens in this world, God’s purposes, His ultimate end, His final defeat of evil, and the eventual judgment of all men, is inevitable. No man, nor Satan himself, can thwart what God will do. And while evil men may gain power through fraud, bring misery on millions, and exert control for a time, their doom is sure. This is how inspired Scripture characterizes it in Psalm 2.1-6:
Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one. “Let us break their chains,” they cry, “and free ourselves from slavery to God.” But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them. Then in anger he rebukes them, terrifying them with his fierce fury. For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”
In the Old Testament book of Job we get a glimpse ‘behind the curtain’ at the unseen spiritual realm between heaven and earth, as Satan seeks to ruin the life of a righteous man, Job. Satan – the ‘god of this world’ – has great power, but can do nothing to Job without God’s permission. From an earthly perspective, the tragedies which befell Job seemed meaningless, but the biblical revelation exposes Satan, who markets in sin and death, as the one behind it. So was God ‘in control’? Yes. Was God the cause of the evil which befell Job? No. Through it all, Job did not sin or blame God; in the end, with Satan’s scheme defeated, God restored his fortunes doubly.
It’s important for Christians to remember these things, as the effects of COVID linger, as events in the political arena continue to unravel, as leaders (all of whom are ‘fallen’) lust for power, and wield it in ways that dishonor God and exalt evil. Let us never suggest that God wants such evil to occur! God always exalts good, and decries evil.
So when someone says, Oh well, God is in control, make sure you take the meaning the way it is presented in Scripture: God is not the cause of everything that happens in this fallen world; He is allowing ‘the god of this world’ to wreak his havoc for a time, but greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4.4)! And never forget that God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2.4).
Stand strong for the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and keep ‘shining the light’ of God’s gospel in our darkened world…for one day, perhaps soon, Christ will return and commence the final defeat of Satan and evil. Of that final event, God is in absolute control!
 John Calvin, Acts, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.66.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Ch. 23, Sect. 7.