As I work on this article in June 2016, here are some of the stories dominating the news headlines:
- Orlando, Florida, is reeling from the murder of 49 people at a gay nightclub.
- BREXIT—the UK’s eventual exit from the European Union—and the geo-political implications of this move by UK voters.
- The two presumptive presidential candidates are engaging in a bitter war of words over the country’s present and future values and policies.
- Many health authorities are pushing for the cancellation of this summer’s Olympic Games in Brazil due to the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
- The world’s major economies continue to struggle toward recovery eight years after the end of the 2008 “Great Recession.”
- Hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn Middle East huddle in camps while nations debate their future.
- The so-called Islamic State shows no sign of slowing its agenda of terror with the aim of establishing a radical Islamic caliphate (rule) over all the Middle East (and the world).
These were the headlines in June of this year. By the time you read this in October, some of these issues will have been resolved and some will continue. If any are resolved, new crises will take their place—crises no one foresaw.
In each of these issues, there is a focus of authority at work. Sometimes the authority is political, sometimes medical or health related, sometimes military, sometimes economic. There are “experts” at work in each of these situations trying to resolve them. Which leads us to ask: Who is actually in charge of the world? Is it politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats, lobbyists, corporate titans, secret financial cabals, generals, or futurists working behind the scenes?
Looking at the world through human eyes, it’s hard to tell who is really in control. Many people, figuratively speaking, close their eyes at night and hold their breath, hoping they live to see the morning light. Because it’s always daytime somewhere, a new crisis can erupt while we sleep. We never know what the morning headlines will tell us.
That’s how the world looks at life—not knowing who is in control. But Christians look at the world differently. We have a reason to sleep soundly and peacefully at night. We are able to greet each new day with confidence rather than cowardice, with faith rather than fear, with trust rather than trembles.
How is that possible? Because we know that God is in control. That truth is best illustrated by who God is and what God does.
Who God Is
Deists believe that God is like a watchmaker who creates a watch, winds it up, then leaves it to run—and eventually run down—on its own. In other words, the deists’ believe God is not intimately involved in the affairs of man. This is not the God of Scripture.
Biblical theists believe the opposite: Like the watchmaker, God lovingly created the world and put it in motion. But rather than abandoning the world to run on its own, God remains intimately involved, moving the world toward ultimate renovation and redemption. Everything that happens in this world is but a sentence in a paragraph on a page in a chapter of God’s redemptive story. It’s the reason the prophet Isaiah quoted these words of God:
Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, “My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,”
Calling a bird of prey from the east,
The man who executes My counsel, from a far country.
Indeed I have spoken it;
I will also bring it to pass.
I have purposed it;
I will also do it.
Who was the “bird of prey from the east”? It was Cyrus the Great of Persia who conquered Babylon, the captor of the Jews from Judea. What looked like an international crisis—a major power displacing a lesser power—was really the “pleasure” of God at work. He called the bird, Cyrus the Great, to conquer Babylon and eventually release the Jewish captives to return to Judea, all of which happened. It was God advancing the storyline of history.
Just as in our day, an ancient “media report” in Cyrus’ day would have reported the facts only. They would not have reported that Isaiah had explained God’s role many years before it actually happened. That is why we cannot base our understanding of the world on the headlines. Only the Bible gives us the real story of who God is.
And who is He? When it comes to knowing who is in control, remember that God:
- Is eternal. The Psalms say that God is “from everlasting to everlasting.” God is surprised by nothing; He sees all of eternity at once (Psalm 90:2; 93:2; 102:27).
- Is sovereign. Using the language of poetry, Isaiah notes that humanity is like grass when compared to the awesome reality of God (Isaiah 40:6-8). Every human decision is subject to the sovereign will of God (James 4:13-17).
- Is mindful and merciful. God does not turn away from the problems of His creation. He is mindful of them all and merciful (Psalm 103:13-17), working all things for His purposes (Romans 8:28-29).
- Has a plan. God’s relation to humanity is like a potter to his clay. He lovingly and righteously shapes human history for His glory (Jeremiah 18:1-10; Romans 9:21).
- Is everywhere present. There is no crisis, eruption, calamity, or need that occurs outside of God’s awareness. He is intimately present to them all (Psalm 139:7-16).
- Is unchanging. God has one never-changing story: the story of redemption. The world is not “on track” one day and “out of control” the next. Because God never changes (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), the story never changes.
- Is wise. God never labors to decide how to solve a world crisis because “His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:4-6).
What God Does (and Doesn’t Do)
With that background in who God is, let us see examples of what He does, and doesn’t do, in the world.
First, God sets up and takes down kings. For example, Daniel had seen his own king, Jehoiakim of Judah, taken down by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. And Daniel was fine with that: “[God] removes kings and raises up kings” (Daniel 2:21). Later, an angel from heaven delivered that same message to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream (Daniel 4:17), and Daniel confirmed it (verse 25). After losing his throne for seven years, Nebuchadnezzar himself declared it to be true: “[God] does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (verse 35) There are no backroom deals done in the halls of power that God does not see (Daniel 2:22). The decisions of kings are overseen and guided by the will of God. Read today’s headlines with that truth in mind.
Second, God does not always intervene in history. For example, when you learn of radical Islamic terrorists killing “innocent” people, or a natural disaster taking “innocent” lives, remember Jesus’ reference to two similar events (Luke 13:1-5). Pontius Pilate killed a group of Galilean Jews while they were offering sacrifices, and a stone tower collapsed, killing eighteen people. Could God have intervened to prevent both tragedies? Yes, but He didn’t. Instead, Jesus reminded the living that a day of judgment is coming for all—that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Rather than wondering why God doesn’t intervene to stop every crisis in the world, these crises remind us of our own need for repentance and His grace and mercy.
We live in a world cursed by sin, a world longing for God’s redemption (Romans 8:18-25). But it is also a world certain to be redeemed according to God’s timetable. He is in control. He does” all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). We may grieve over the state of our world, but not like those who “have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him” (Psalm 18:30).