How can you put your trust in a God who’s not in control of everything?

Question: I read your book Is God to Blame? and found it to be very compelling. It’s rocking my world. But I’m also finding I’m now having trouble trusting God like I used to. I used to believe that God ordained or at least foreknew all that was going to happen. Now I’m questioning this, and I’m wondering how to trust a God who’s not in total control of everything.

Answer: I’ll make three comments in response to your excellent question.
1) I’d like to first ask: What are you trusting God for when you believe he controls every detail of world history? That he already knows and/or has ordained all that comes to pass? How does that help a person trust him? What if what he already knows or has ordained that your child will be kidnapped tonight? Or that your child will go to hell? How does trusting that God knows or ordains that bring security to someone?

In the blueprint worldview the only thing you can trust is that what is fated to occur is fated to occur — and that there’s nothing you can do to alter it. That’s wonderful, I suppose, if you’re certain that your future is bright. But if the future God has ordained for you or a loved one is nightmarish, this isn’t such good news. And you can’t simply “trust” that God has ordained a good future for you and your loved ones. Many wonderful godly people have nightmarish things happen to them or their children. (And even if you could magically be assured your future looks bright, you know the future of some others, whom you are called to love, looks nightmarish. So it seems to me there’s no assurance in this “trust” however you slice it.

2) Most people don’t think through the logic of their blueprint worldview to the point where they see the problems involved in trusting a God for whom the future is unalterably settled, whether by God’s will (Calvinism) or in God’s mind (Arminianism). What they mean when they speak of “trusting God” is that, whatever happens, they believe “God has a reason” — that is, that their suffering is not in vain, meaningless, etc… To this I would simply say: you can get this same level of assurance from the open view of the future, but without any of the accompanying problems.

Consider this: You and I and all other humans lose anticipatory power (power to effectively anticipate possibilities) when we have to attend to possibilities as opposed to certainties only because we have finite intelligence. We have to spread our limited intelligence thin to cover the possibilities. Hence, the more possibilities we have to anticipate, the more anxious we tend to get.

But because God has unlimited intelligence, he doesn’t have to “spread his intelligence thin” to cover the possibilities. He can treat each and every one of a trillion trillion possibilities as though each and every one were the only possibility. In other words, a God of infinite intelligence can anticipate a possibility as effectively as a certainty. In fact, for a God of infinite intelligence, there is no functional difference between a possibility and a certainty.

To illustrate, if you’re playing God in chess, from the beginning of the game he would have anticipated and prepared a response for every possible move you could possibly make, and he would have done so as effectively as if he was certain you were going to make the exact moves you ended up making. It’s just that God is so smart, you didn’t have to make the moves you ended up making for God to anticipate them as though you did have to make them. In other words, God is so smart, he doesn’t lose any advantage by virtue of not knowing what moves you will make and he wouldn’t gain any advantage if he did know what moves you were going to make. Only a being of finite intelligence would play chess more effectively if he foreknew the moves of his opponents.

If the angel Gabriel were to approach God while he’s playing you and whisper in his ear, “Sir, we happen to have a blueprint of exactly how your opponent is going to move,” God would respond, “What on earth would I need that for? I already perfectly anticipate every possible move my opponent will make as though she had to make them. Don’t insult me!”

So, in the open view of the future, God can have an eternal purpose planned for every event in case it comes to pass. But in the open view, you don’t need to believe God allowed or caused an event for a good reason, as in the blueprint worldview. (As though God is secretly behind child mutilations, the Holocaust and people going to hell!) No, God can be in every sense of the word against what happens. But he’s so smart, he’s still got a plan in place to respond to it.

You might say that, while in the blueprint worldview everything happens for a reason, in the open view of the future, everything happens with a reason. But in the latter, as opposed to the former, you don’t need to think God is in any sense complicit in the event. In any event, the open view of the future can give the same assurance the blueprint worldview gives.

3) Finally, the assurance the New Testament gives to people is not that everything that’s happening now is somehow part of God’s plan — as the blueprint worldview suggests. The New Testament ascribes a lot of activity to human agents and spirits, and a lot of it is against God’s will. Rather, the assurance of the New Testament is that a) God is with you; b) God can bring good out of evil (as I said in #2 above); c) God can bring a peace that passes understanding; and most of all d) it won’t always be like this. God wins in the end, and when he does, suffering and evil will be eradicated.

So trust that God is not behind anything evil that takes place in the world, trust that when evil happens God has from all eternity been setting up a way to respond to that specific event, and trust that, however bleak things appear at the present time, God will win in the end, and it will all be worth it.

Related Reading

How do you respond to Proverbs 21:1?

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wills.” Calvinists sometimes argue that this passage teaches that everything every government official ever does is the result of the Lord turning their heart. In light of the hideous things many government officials have done (e.g.…

Is Open Theism Incompatible With a Chalcedonian Christology?

Question: The Chalcedonian Creed says Jesus was “fully God and fully human” and that these “two natures” remained distinct in the Incarnation, even though Jesus was one united person. I’m told that part of the reasoning behind the concern to keep Jesus’ humanity distinct from his divinity was to protect the “impassibility” of the divine…

How do you respond to Acts 2:23?

Peter preaches to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, “[T]his man [Jesus], handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.” Jesus’ death was certainly planned and foreknown by God, as the previously discussed verses have repeatedly demonstrated.…

Seven Lies

 hobvias sudoneighm via Compfight Stephen Mattson has contributed for Relevant Magazine, Sojourners (Sojo.net) Redletterchristians.org, and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta. Stephen recently published an article in Sojourners titled Seven Lies About Christianity — Which Christians Believe that we really…

What is the significance of Numbers 14:11?

In the light of the Israelites’ relentless complaining the Lord says to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” The fact that the Lord continued, for centuries, to try to get the…

Topics:

How do you respond to 1 Samuel 2:25?

Eli’s sons “would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to kill them.” Compatibilists sometimes cite this text as an example of how God determines events for which humans are morally responsible. Eli’s sons were evil in not listening to their father, yet it was the…