Is God in Control?
By Merle Hertzler
On September 11, 2001 millions of people watched in horror as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Why did God allow it to happen? Many were praying for God to protect their loved ones. And yet they watched the horrible destruction occur. Many people asked questions. Why did this happen? Did God not love those people in the towers and in the planes? Did God not have the power to stop it? Christians would certainly say he had the power to prevent it. But he chose not to.
Some might point to one or two cases in which God supposedly did intervene. I have heard of a flight attendant who woke up sick that morning, and called to say she could not make it to work. Later, her plane crashed into the World Trade Center. That is a nice story. But I keep thinking--what about the attendant that took her place? Was God not protecting him or her?
What about the thousands that died that day? Where was God's protection? I've heard the recurring response: "Perhaps God had some mysterious purpose in letting them die, or perhaps their time on earth was done." Some would even tell me he allowed it to punish the people in those planes, or to punish their nation. We are told that God--who has reasons we do not understand--worked his own plans. But I find that unbelievable. Imagine the details that God would have had to control to assure that only those people whose time had come were killed. What if the planes had hit several stories higher or lower? What if the flights had been delayed 10 minutes? What if somebody in the towers had gotten stuck in traffic that morning? What if the planes had hit at a different angle? What if the North Tower had collapsed first? All of these things would have altered the death toll. If God had planned for certain people to die that day, then he must have guided all of these details. He must have guided the planes to hit the buildings exactly where they did. In other words, God would have had to have been in control of those airplanes, and the terrorists were merely doing what God directed. All of this is of course absurd. And so I conclude that the reason these people died had nothing to do with God having a purpose in them dying. It just happened. God was not in control.
Why does God allow suffering? Why do so many people starve? Why is there so much disease? Why does God not stop terrorists? These questions have been asked many times. And somehow God is said to have a reason for it all. If a car misses us, that must have been God's protection. If it hits us, God is trying to teach us something. Everything has to have a purpose. Otherwise, we are left with a God who refuses to help. And it would be hard to respect someone who refuses to help. So we hear that God must surely have had a purpose.
If God was in control of what happened to the people in those planes on September 11, and if he wanted them to die this way, then this event was not a tragedy. It was God's will. But we all agree that it was a tragedy. We seem to be admitting that it was not God's will, and he was not in control.
Now if God did not want it to be this way, and could have stopped it, how can you explain his actions? Many people have been blamed for that day. We have heard the pundits criticize the FBI and CIA. We have heard how airport and airline security was lax, and that airplane doors were not designed correctly. What about God? He apparently could have stopped it all, wanted to stop it, and did not stop it.
Disease has destroyed many lives throughout history. What did God think in the past when he looked down on children in polio wards? Did he look at the pain and suffering of innocent children, and think it was good? Did it have a purpose? No, I think not. Many people were sure that this suffering was pointless. They thought that nature was acting by itself and causing this suffering. They wanted to stop it. They looked for a natural cause, and they found it. Then they looked for a way to eliminate that natural cause, and they developed a vaccine. When the vaccine became readily available, the illness was controlled. If God had a purpose for polio, were these people right to try to prevent it? I think they were very right. Polio was bad. What do you think?
Suppose that firemen arrive at a burning house with a child inside that they could rescue. Is it possible that God wants this child to suffer? If God wants the child to suffer, are they doing the child a disservice by rescuing him? Of course not. The firemen would not think that for a minute. They would do everything they could to rescue the child. They would assume that the suffering was bad.
Tomorrow, almost everyone will be doing something to prevent others from suffering. Nurses will care for the sick. Policemen will protect us. Road workers will fill in potholes. Researchers will try to find the natural causes of diseases. Truckers will deliver laxatives. We will go about our lives hoping to minimize the suffering of others. We know suffering is bad. And so we will try to stop it.
Which brings us to God. Suffering will happen tomorrow. God, if he exists, will not stop it--at least not all of it. People will get sick. Accidents will happen. And where will God be? For whatever reason he will not stop it. But people will know that it hurts. They will know it is bad, and they will try to stop it. It is no use telling us that suffering has a purpose. We will assume it is pointless, and will try to prevent it. But God will not stop it.
Some would argue that God is there comforting the suffering people, but how does that solve the problem? Would a fireman be excused for ignoring a fire if he later comforted the survivors? It is a good thing to comfort the suffering, but when it is completely within somebody's power to stop suffering, and he does not do so, his comfort is small consolation to the victims. Has God been demoted from Supreme Ruler to Comforter-in-Chief?
It appears that God was not in control of the circumstances when those planes hit the towers. So why think that he is in control when somebody takes your parking space, a tree falls on your house, or a loved one has cancer? Why try to answer the agonizing question about why God did this? Is God trying to teach you patience? Is he trying to win people to himself? Is he punishing you, or teaching you to rely on him? No, it would seem to me that it just happens. And it seems that our minds can be much more at peace when we realize this.
I don't think God has a purpose when bad things happen. I do not see a strong wind or a mighty movement of the earth when I need it. So where is God in all this? Am I looking in the wrong place? Perhaps I should be looking, not for might or power, but for a still, small voice. Let's look at that next.