Don’t Tell Hurting People that God’s in Control

crosstornadoWe say it to the family who’s standing in a sea of twisted metal and broken dreams that a tornado spit out. We say it to the man who lost his job, can’t find work, and is on the verge of losing his home. We say it to the cancer patient, the pregnant teen, and our sons and daughters as they leave for war.

We mean well. We intend it as good news. We say, “God is in control,” to help them see that God is bigger than their struggles. That he has a grand and wonderful plan for their lives. That he, as the sovereign Lord, has this universe—and them—in the palm of his hand.

And we need to stop saying it.

There are things that are true of God that are not truly the good news people need to hear. There are hidden things about God and there are revealed things about God. The hidden things are of no concern to us; the revealed are our sole concern. And in those revealed things of God he discloses to us everything we need to know about who he is and what he does for us.

We want to know how God rules this world, how he is present in all things, how he exerts his control over the course of world events. We want to know why some get cancer and some don’t, why terrible things happen to the best of people, why volcanoes erupt and hurricanes strike and fires consume. We want to know whose side God is on when there are wars, why he waits so long to answer our prayers, how he’s going to sort out the ups and downs of our day-to-day lives.

Yet these questions are none of our concern. They are wrong questions that seek imperfect answers that give unstable hope. These deal with the hidden things of God. And even if the Lord gave us an answer, it would sound like Einstein lecturing on the theory of relativity to a bawling infant. The hidden things of God are hidden for a reason. They are none of our concern, none of our hope, none of our life.

Here’s what God wants us to know about him: that everything there is to know about him is Jesus. He is the sole means to the Father, the only revealer of the Spirit. He is the exact representation of God. In him all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form. In other words, the only God we know is Christ. And, equally important, the only Christ we know is the crucified one. Thus Paul says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” (1 Cor 2:2).

God does have a wonderful plan for your life, but it’s not what you think. His merciful plan is to crucify you with Christ, bury you with Christ, and raise you to new life in Christ. All this he does in baptism. Baptism unites you with the only God we know. And in that God—the crucified and resurrected Christ—God reveals who he is.

He is the God who will never leave you in your sickness, never forsake you in your brokenness, for you have been washed into his body, blooded into his veins, grafted into the limbs of his flesh.

He is the God who goes with grieving spouses to the graveside, and will one day go with you as you are carried to the place of your burial, for he is the God who is the resurrection and the life, the one in whom we live, even though we die.

Jesus is the crucified and resurrected God who gave his cheek to those who struck him, his hands to those who pierced him, his ear to those who mocked him, his body and blood to those who crucified him. And in so doing, he secured absolution for us for the most evil acts imaginable. He reconciled us to the Father by building a bridge from him to us that’s constructed out of the wood and nails of his cross. He gave us something better than answers to our questions; he gave us life for our death, heaven for our hell, forgiveness for our sin.

These are the revealed things of God—his revealed gifts to us. These gifts are not only all that matters, they are also all that satisfies. Here is hope for the hurting. Here is adoption for the rejected. Here is the God you can see and taste and touch and smell—the God whose name is Jesus Christ.

To those of you who are hurting, know that there is a God who loves you, who has always loved you and always will. Jesus Christ will not answer all your questions, but he will give you all of himself. And in the end, that’s all any of us need.

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christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

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16 thoughts on “Don’t Tell Hurting People that God’s in Control

  1. Ray Hulett on said:

    Thank you so much for this! It is very appropriately timed for me and my family. We just lost my brother on Saturday, and the only hope is knowing Christ is his saviour and His given him life eternal 😀 The Lord’s Supper has become even more special for us now that we commune with him as one of the saints in glory 😀

  2. Philip Meyer on said:

    A much-needed correction to some well-meaning but wrong thinking. Thanks for applying the Gospel!

  3. S gibson on said:

    Love it love it!

    This is so on point and should be read monthly. So much like the sermon two weeks ago. Thank you Chad

  4. Norma Carey on said:

    Many years ago my sister died at age 27 (married with 9 month old son) and my Christian mother said to me back then, “Don’t ever tell me that this is God’s will” and since then I have appreciated sermons which remind us that God never willed death. We are the ones who screwed it up! So I agree and sometimes the first thing I say is that I am so sorry.

  5. Tim Stout on said:

    While I agree with much that was said, I think that Job’s trust in God and God’s final answer to Job fly in the face of this and makes me think that this may be a case of a good thing taken a little too far. The statement, “God is in control” can be said in a trite way that is just plain wrong, even if the fact is right. But when I went through a very difficult and painful time in my life, it was three facts that held me together. God is in control, God is good, and God loves me, so no matter how bad this looks, no matter how painful it may be, all is not lost, because the God who gave His Son on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins has not fallen off the throne.

  6. Larry on said:

    A MUCH MUCH MUCH needed correction to that hurtful law given to the despairing at the very hour they need the cross of Christ. I’ve seen this given, meant to help, and the dead blank stares that comes from the suffering after it is said, like punch in the gut. That blank stare like you just handed them a noose to put over their necks to “fix” their problems. Their vain attempt to be “in solidarity with you” in your suffering. When one is suffering, whatever the trial may be, the reality is you are alone in a room even if 100s are there. You may be laying dying or your beloved family member, but the truth is in 48 hours they’ll all be eating potato salad together.

    Thanks much Chad, not many preachers like this in the world today, not many at all and that is just the very sad fact. Fit’s perfectly with Luther’s theology of the cross as opposed to glory theology, the plague of protestantism. It really drives home Luthers “Christ is our only theology”.

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  8. Usually I hold off on comments,but this has got to be one of the worst,short sited,and ill conceived opinions I have read in a while. I think you went to far…as if these two are actually opposed to each other. Yes, it can be said and/or used in superficial ways,but let’s not throw out a fundamental truth,just because we rather people feel good and not know the God who is actually there.

  9. Tim Stout on said:

    As I thought more about this, I remembered Psalm 44, a psalm of the Sons of Korah. It begins with 8 verses of praises to God for His gracious and powerful acts in the past on behalf of His people, admitting that everything they have and are has been a gift from His all-powerful hand. But then it takes a hard turn, because the people have just been defeated badly by their enemies, and God did not even send them a prophet warning them of their sin. In fact, they did not know of any national sin that called for this apparent abandonment at the hands of God. They wail and complain bitterly, not that God was not in control, but that they know He is in control, and He allowed this to happen anyway. They accuse God of sleeping, of ignoring their pleas, of allowing their enemies not only to defeat them, but to gloat over the victory. It includes that wonderful gem quoted by St. Paul in Romans 8, “Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

    Paul takes this to mean not that God was not in control of the suffering, but that He most certainly was, and He is using it to make His saints Christ-like. They are being identified with the suffering and death of Jesus, whose suffering and death they took on when they were baptized. It is not just Jesus’ righteousness and worthiness we put on, but also His lowliness, suffering, rejection by men, sorrow and the like.

    Besides, if God is not in control when bad things happen, why bother to pray to Him afterward. He wasn’t in control enough to keep the tornado from hitting the church, so how can we expect Him to be in control enough to help us after the fact. But, as St. Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18) I’ll take a God in control who destroyed my church building for reasons known only to Him, but who is also willing and able to hear and answer my prayers for restoration after the fact, to a powerless god who sits with my wringing his hands as a cry alone any day. We do not know why bad things happen, and we are not to try to figure it out, we are simply to trust the One who gave us all good things, and know that He knows what He is doing, even when it looks like He went to sleep on the job.

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  11. elizabethknaus on said:

    This simplifies things. — peace

  12. larry on said:

    The problem is not “God is in control” but that it is mostly meant and said so very casually said in the light of theologies of glory and not the theology of the cross, which is what Paul and the Psalms and for that matter how the entire scriptures mean when “God is in control”. “I am baptized” is a statement of God is in control via the theology of the cross. Without that, theology of the cross, “God is in control” via theologies of glory (the by far used meaning of the statement, especially among the enthusiast, is little more than anything one could get from even Islam. God is in control apart from Word and sacrament, the incarnate One, is to be avoided because it begets the blind speculation of fallen man, even using “bible” terms or “Christian lingo”. God is control hidden deeply in the suffering, and the suffering only has a faithed reality when it is the revealed God “if you have seen Me you have seen the Father”. Any other mediation of God, even biblically distilled is shear idolatry.

    Luther put it this way that the God in hidden majesty – to be avoided because it leads to speculation which pure idolatry honing the true God by a work of the mind (idea) and blaspheme and is in fact original sin (enthusiasm) of the true God – we are not to seek out or attempt comfort in. Rather only God hidden in the second way where He is not expected to be found in suffering and weakness, i.e. the incarnate revelatory God Christ, but yet is there for us savingly to forgive us no matter what befalls us is our only and true comfort and assurance. Hence God is in control by hiding under not being in control – yet here He is for us and here alone.

    Thus, if say a loved one child, spouse, family member, etc…were stricken dead suddenly by some meaningless tragedy, “God in control” in the first way is shear and pure uncomforting law (death, devil and hell). God in control, by not being control but in the weakness of suffering and cross with and for us, forgiving us, is our only comfort and certainty. This, the later, is the cry in all the Scriptures OT and NT and no other way is God being so referenced when cried out to and prayed to but in and through the suffering promised Seed.

    As Regin Prenter puts it it is the difference in a speculative God, even of the true God, even with scriptural information, even with the bible who is an ideal and idea or law (dead letter) of our mind that we construct from said content which is nothing but a dead letter, law, death, the devil and hell, versus the revealed God in preached Word of absolution, and sacraments in which God is truly and really present for us forgiving us and thus comforting us in all affliction, trial or trouble. This and only this is the God we pray to. All other prayers, even to the biblical God, are idolatrous prayers.

  13. jamesswan1 on said:

    Mr. Bird, I would like your opinion on the following if you have a moment. If I come across a person going through a severe hardship, would quoting Romans 8:28-30 be pointing that person to the hidden God or the revealed God?

    • Larry on said:

      I’m not Chad but I’ll take shot:

      The revealed God because the entire context of Romans is about Jesus Christ (the revealed God), as well as Paul explicitly states this in Romans “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is REVEALED—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”” and again in Chapter 10 “And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I REVEALED myself to those who did not ask for me.”

      Also “called” in Romans 8:28-30 is referring to Baptism back in chapter 6 because when we are baptized by God using the pastor’s hand and mouth, when we are baptized our names are called out “I baptize you (name), in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

      In short it is not an isolated text but a text rooted in the entire epistle speaking of Jesus Christ and what He has done “for me/you”, to which the sacraments such as baptism (Rom. 6) is pointing us. And Romans is rooted in the entire NT cannon which is all about the revealed God (Jesus Christ). Thus these very verses are GREAT comfort of the revealed God, Christ, to the Christian. To the unbelieving speculator, they offer no comfort whatsoever but condemnation because they then become the work of idol speculations about God [e.g. how do I know I’m saved or elect outside of the word and sacraments, goes the speculation]. When we thus speculate even in scripture about God nude or in majesty then we have the hidden God in the condemning way. Thus, Luther well states take Christ out of the scriptures and you have nothing different from the Koran.

      The Gospel doesn’t take away the hardship or suffering, it says in spite of you have this hope Christ for you and the resurrection. The mistake most people make in suffering and anfechtungen is to try to take it away or make it better by saying “God’s (undiscerned) is in control”. The devil uses this in the conscience, then, as a condemning law (why is it happening…to me, goes the conscience). An example of this is Job and his “friends” counseling him on why he was suffering and that god was in control. People miss this and ignore Luther’s warning here for Job is about Christ too and not just a naked god in majesty hidden. In such the devil is always active in the conscience even if the person meant well using such ways of speaking about God in such generic terms for creating a law in the mind for suffering person who must suffer to hear being asked internally “why”. There is no greater law and condemnation than this kind of “nice” law as Steven Paulson points out. No greater law than the opened ended “god is in control” for he is also in control of condemning. Thus, the Gospel (forgives me) cures this, not by alleviating the suffering, but by taking ‘out of play’ any judgment on the why since it is irrefutable in Word and Sacrament that Christ has not just died and forgiven, but for me – even though in this suffering today I suffer. People forget the law affects the person not just in publication on stone but in the reality of life “going on”, “Why did God take my dad, why did I loose my job, why did so and so die so abruptly, why did that leaf rustle next to me”. The effects of the fall and law are far more than just simple publication but in real reality. Hence why Christ alone bears up the suffering for the believer and not just “god” in the general since. But people are ashamed of speaking of Christ, much easier to speak of “god” in the general, even out of the bible.

    • Tim Stout on said:

      That is certainly the revealed God, as it is part of His revelation. However, the promise is conditional. “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Just bring those words to a suffering Christian and you may bring them to wonder, “do I not love God enough, am I not called.” So, either show them that they are called and do love God first, as Paul did, or quote some other verse out of context. I prefer Rom. 8:18-21.

      The most important lesson is, saying things like, “God is in control,” or, “All things work together for good,” and thinking you have provided real comfort is almost like saying, “How are you?” and not sticking around for the answer and thinking you have connected in conversation. But we lived in a “Tweet” society long before they invented Twitter.

  14. I like this. I’ve tried to stop using this phrase in these situations and to instead replace it with “God is faithful”. We don’t know why a bad thing has happened but we know that God is faithful even in the midst of the worst situations that happen in our lives. It avoids portraying God as either weak for not being able to stop the disaster or evil for causing it to happen. The entirety of Scripture is a testament to God’s faithfulness.

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