I like a catchy tune as much as the next person. It’s the lyrics that sometimes bog me down. The chorus to Twila Paris’ “God is in Control” affirms:
God is in control
We believe that His children will not be forsaken.
God is in control
We will choose to remember and never be shaken.
There is no power above or beside Him we know, oh oh oh
God is in control, oh oh oh
God is in control.
There’s much to commend here. Like Daniel in the lion’s den, we believe in a God who is able to rescue the faithful. So the line reminding us that God’s “children will not be forsaken” certainly rings true with the witness of Scripture, at least if we add in the final vindication of the righteous at the resurrection, as the book of Daniel itself does (see 12:1-3). The idea that we should “choose to remember and never be shaken” is likewise on-target. Thankful remembrance of the mighty acts of God is wrapped up with the celebration of Jewish Passover and Holy Week/Easter.
Where I start to question is the next line. It starts well, claiming that there is no power “above” God. That’s an important affirmation for the Christian. To say that a power greater than God’s exists would de facto mean that this new power is the rightful God and that who we have called “God” until now is merely an imposter. But the Twila Paris lyric continues, veering into dubious territory. It claims that there is no power “beside” God. In other words, God’s is the only power.
Is that true?
We certainly are used to giving God the title “Almighty,” but does that mean that God has all the power? If it did, then the encounter between Jesus and Satan in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) wouldn’t make a lot of sense. Satan took Jesus to a “very high mountain” (v. 8). There, he showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” promising to give it to him if only Jesus would bow down and “worship me” (v.9). What was the devil saying? He was affirming that in this world, he exercises at least some degree of power. Repeatedly, Jesus referred to him as the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:3-. 16:11), a prince who was coming under judgment through heaven’s counterattack of the Cross and the Empty Tomb. Yet while the Kingdom was inaugurated through Jesus Christ, there is still lingering authority that rests in Satan’s hands until the Second Coming and final judgment. Decades later, John summed up this limited but real jurisdiction: “We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:18, NIV). Like the closing days of World War II, liberating armies are on the march, but prison camps have yet to be freed from enemy control.
Besides Satan and his demonic minions exercising some dominion, human beings also have limited power, authority that is real and not illusory. This week, a disgruntled former employee of a Manhattan firm hid behind a van on the street, laying in wait for one-time coworker whom he loathed. At the key moment, he pulled out a gun and shot his nemesis to death. While many use their liberty to do good things, some humans abuse their God-given freedom. Those last three words – “God-given freedom” – are crucial to the biblical worldview: God in divine sovereignty – for better or for worse – has delegated power to other beings. If reality is a play, then the Triune God is not the only player on the stage. In God’s plan, others have roles to play, and while there is a script God wants us to follow, there will always be some who improvise in evil and catastrophic ways.
I’ve always thought that “all is well that ends well.” Christian theology without a doctrine of “last things” would be woefully inadequate. For all of its strangeness, we need the book of Revelation. We need to know that Jesus – our Captain who now claims all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) – will turn things over to the Father. He will only do this once he has destroyed all rebellious, petty authorities (1 Cor. 15:24-26). Meanwhile, through grace, God has given us the power to respond to the universal salvation call, to receive forgiveness for sins, cleansing, and the offer to join the winning team. How good is that?
Does God have all the power? If he did, we would hardly be morally responsible persons, only puppets. Even Satan was given the latitude by God to either willfully serve or petulantly rebel. But with Twila Paris, we affirm that there is no power like God’s, no power “above” God’s own. This God, this loving sovereign – through the same power that raised Jesus from the dead – will one day make “all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Now there’s a God worthy of our praise!
2 thoughts on “Does God have all the power?”
Thanks so much for this post, Greg.
Like you, I don’t think Christian should believe God has all power or is in complete control. It doesn’t fit with my reading of Scripture, and it doesn’t fit with everyday experience. It also doesn’t fit with the idea that we should be held morally accountable for actions we take.
The two best options for thinking about God’s power, in my opinion, is either 1) that God could have all the power but has voluntarily chosen to share some or 2) God does not have the capacity to possess all power because God’s nature as love requires that God share power.
Personally, I think the second option is preferable to the first. But both are better than the notion God exerts all the power.
Thanks, Tom, for your excellent comment. I’m agreed that attributing all the power to God alone cuts the nerve of human moral responsibility. As for your second point, I’d love to hear more on that, but agree that either 1 or 2 avoids the pitfall of an extreme determinism.