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Who’s In Charge?

Who’s In Charge?

I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. Genesis 45:4-5

The problem of pain and suffering is, in my mind, is the greatest argument of the atheist. If God is all loving and all powerful, then how could he allow such terrible evil in the world? How could God allow a child to be kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered? It’s a tough question, one which countless theologians have tried to answer. For today’s blog, I’ll describe the two main, opposing explanations within Christianity.

The first explanation says that because God loves us and wants us to love him in return, he allowed us free will, which is the source of all evil. This makes some sense, but does this mean that God just completely turned over the fate of the entire world to us? It’s a little terrifying to have faith in a God who can’t or won’t do anything to intervene in our lives. The opposing viewpoint says that God has already chosen everything to happen, from the beginning to the end of time. That sexual assault and murder I mentioned previously? Your loved one’s cancer? The holocaust? Yep, that was all God – according to this explanation. Free will is an illusion, because God has predestined everything that will ever happen – again, according to this viewpoint.

Both extreme viewpoints are hard to accept. How do we make any sense of it? Yesterday, I asked the question – Who caused my addiction? It’s an important question because it personalizes the dilemma, but the dilemma is much bigger than just me and my drug addiction. How we answer this question inevitably shapes our view of God and our faith in him.

Today’s passage provides some insight into our quandary. In it, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, who had no idea that he ended up becoming a powerful figure in Egyptian politics, where he singlehandedly saved Egypt from a famine. It was this famine which drove Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy food, where they encountered, but did not recognize, their now-powerful brother. When Joseph finally revealed his identity to them, they were understandably afraid. The brother they once sold into slavery now held their lives in his hands.

Joseph’s response provides some insight into the question of who’s in control of our world. From one perspective, the brothers were absolutely responsible for their own choice (described in detail in Genesis 37) to sell Joseph into slavery. They hated him. They wanted him gone. They were guilty. From another perspective though, God was in control the whole time, using the brother’s evil choices to bring about his own plan. Did the brothers make their own choice? Or was God in control? Yes. Both are somehow true at the same time.

This is difficult for us, but I think my addiction makes some sense of it. Did I make my own terrible choices for which I was responsible? Yes, of course. Even in my terrible choices, was God in control, using my evil to eventually bring about his plan? Again, yes. Somehow both are true. God allows me free will to follow him or not follow him. In going my own way, I can choose evil. Even in that evil though, God still somehow is in control, working out his own (ultimately good) plan – even when I can’t see it. Faith then, is using my free will to follow a God who somehow allows pain and suffering, but remains in control of our universe. It’s a tough answer to wrap our heads around, but it’s the answer that God’s word provides.

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