God Is in Control? Refining the Words of Comfort We Give
I suggest that we stop saying, “God is in control.”
Now, before you get yourself into a tizzy and shout, “HERETIC!! BUUUURN HER!,” give me a chance to explain.
It seems everywhere I turn, I hear Christians comforting themselves and others with the simple phrase, “God is in control.” They mean well—I know they do—but it usually ends up being a conversation stopper. Everyone sighs and walks away with no deeper thought of what’s really going on.
With it being said and sung in Christian circles so often, people must be quoting Scripture, right? Not true. “God is in control” is found nowhere in the biblical text.
At the risk of dating myself, allow me to hypothesize where this phrase came from. In 1994, a catchy worship song swept Christian culture and filled our vocabulary. “God is in Control” by Twila Paris popularized the statement. I bet some of you are humming it right now.
What is biblical, but less popular and quite difficult to sing along with, is, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19, ESV).
“They mean well—I know they do—but ‘God is in control’ usually ends up being a conversation stopper.”
The evil one is in control?! What do we do with that? I don’t foresee chart-busting songs coming from that verse.
A Not-So-Hypothetical Conversation
For people like me who have been through tragedy, and for others who have suffered abuse and worse, hearing “God is in control” is actually cringeworthy. If we were to express our feelings, a conversation could go like this:
“You’re telling me that God is in control of unthinkable atrocities?”
“No. Of course not!”
“But you just said God is in control, and it sounds as if you’re saying He’s in control of everything and everyone—even the unjust and evil things.”
“Well, I didn’t mean that. I mean God is sovereign. He gives humans free will, and they sometimes make horrible choices that hurt others. And then there are accidents and mistakes. Or the enemy gets involved. It’s nuanced.”
“I get it. But can you see how blithely saying ‘God is in control’ can do more damage than good? How does saying this do anything to convince the unbelieving? If we tell them our God is in control of this messed up world, they will want nothing to do with our messed up God. And honestly, would you tell a starving, abused child or a girl trapped in a brothel that God is in control? It makes me sick to think of saying that to them.”
“Would you tell a starving, abused child or a girl trapped in a brothel that God is in control?”
“Hmmm. Point taken. Maybe I can change my phrasing to be more thoughtful.”
What would you suggest this person say?
A Better Approach
I suggest that there is no perfect thing to say, but I have some ideas. Depending on the situation, some phrases might be:
- God knows what it’s like to suffer. He cares and He is with you.
- God is greater than we know and He will work this out.
- God is faithful to His promises.
- Satan will pay for what he has done to you because God wins in the end.
Still with me? I’m going to go a little further and suggest that telling others “God is in control” is not sharing the gospel. Jesus didn’t say, “Take heart, I am in control of everything that goes on in the world.” He said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV). Our Savior isn’t taking responsibility for the trouble. He is offering His peace and promising that He would make it right in the end because of what He was to accomplish through his death and resurrection.
“He is offering His peace and promising that He would make it right in the end because of what He was to accomplish through his death and resurrection.”
Until the day of his return, we have His presence and the promise He is working all things for the good of those who love Him. For the disciple of Jesus, these are biblical truths that bring comfort.
Back to Twila.
The other lines of her chorus I appreciate and agree with:
We believe that His children will not be forsaken
We will choose to remember and never be shaken
There is no power above or beside Him
Friends, God is sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful, and has authority (is in charge). But is He actively in control of everything? He clearly gave up some of that control in the garden when He gave Adam and Eve the freedom of choice.
An Oversimplification of Sovereignty
Here’s another way to think about it: If you coach a team, are you in control—or in charge? Do you control what your players do? You give them all the plays, the rules, and strategies for how to win the game, but after that, the ball is in their court. Free will belongs to them. They will do as they choose.
Many Christians simplify the definition of God’s sovereignty by saying, “God is in control.” But it is so much more! Sovereignty and control are not interchangeable words. Even in the thesaurus, they are not replacements for one another.
“Many Christians simplify the definition of God’s sovereignty by saying, ‘God is in control.'”
Sovereignty is a concept that is beyond my comprehension. Yes, I studied the sovereignty of God in Bible college. Yes, my husband earned an M. Div and a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible. And yet we sit with this mystery together. No Christian, no matter how educated, holds the monopoly on God’s will and ways. He cannot be figured out. My finite mind can never fully comprehend how He works.
Control Isn’t Godly
After one of our rare but very real marital conflicts, I woke early. I couldn’t sleep because I was feeling convicted of trying to control my husband and control outcomes. With sincerity, I repented. One confession I said to God was, “I am sorry for trying to take your place.” But like a rock in my stomach, that didn’t sit right.
I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart, and then I understood. I wasn’t behaving like God, I was behaving more like Satan! He is the one who tries to control and manipulate people. Demons possess people, working to take away their control, overriding their free will. On the flip-side, the Father gives us freedom and the power to choose. Free will is an astounding gift! We get to invite the Holy Spirit to fill us. Then we use our will to cooperate with His direction, counsel, and power.
God is in control? “We get to invite the Holy Spirit to fill us. Then we use our will to cooperate with His direction, counsel, and power.”
God does not want to control us, as if we were robots. He wants to grow us and train us, as His children. He wants to fill us so we operate out of fullness. The Bible instructs: “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18, ESV). Drunkenness controls. God fills.
Besides world dictators, does anyone want to be known as controlling?
Why would God want to be known as controlling?
Let’s stop giving him a reputation He isn’t asking for.
Our Tragedies, God’s Faithfulness
If the “God is in control” statement pops out of your mouth, please at least give qualifiers, especially when you’re talking to someone who has suffered through some stuff.
Like me. I’ve been through some stuff.
In June 2018, just two months before our daughter’s body was killed in a non-reckless car accident, well-respected leaders gave us a prophecy at a pastor’s retreat. I understand that not everyone in the Renew.org Network holds to my view of how the Holy Spirit works, but here’s our story. This godly couple has been in ministry for over forty years. They sought the Lord for weeks before the event, carrying a 4×6 card with our names on it. Every time they sensed a word from the Holy Spirit, they added to the note.
As we stood before them, with cameras recording, they spoke words we did not comprehend at the moment but clearly understood two months later. Their words spoke of a coming attack from the evil one on our daughter—but that God was going to right the wrong and bring about good from it.
“If the ‘God is in control’ statement pops out of your mouth, please at least give qualifiers.”
Through this couple, God wanted us to know that Satan was coming at our daughter. Our adversary is the one who destroyed her precious earthly body. God didn’t kill her. He rescued her soul and spirit, taking her home to Himself. Then, in His loving sovereignty, He has been righting the wrongs ever since.
Graham Cooke offers the best synopsis of sovereignty I have heard so far: “God allows in his wisdom what He could prevent by His power.” What our Father allows is always accompanied with a promise. Romans 8:28 (ESV) says, “…for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This verse cannot be overstated. It has been true in our lives because God is faithful.
Sowing Seeds, Sewing Scarves
John 12:24 (ESV) says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Our Kayla was a precious grain of wheat. Her passing continues to bear fruit. It started with twenty-three people choosing to be baptized at her memorial service plus many more recommitting their lives to Christ. The ripple effects continue to this day. Our daughter wrote in her journal that she wanted to be the epicenter of a Jesus earthquake. And her Beloved fulfilled the desire of her heart.
Two years later, God enabled me to write a book titled She Had No Regrets: The Life of a Girl Who Knew Who She Was. Kayla was a passionate disciple of Jesus, and the way she lived leads people closer to Christ. I encourage you to check it out, especially if you care for a young person who could benefit from seeing how it is possible to live devoted to Christ in our culture.
At a special event, I was worshiping with my church family. One song we sang was the triumphant version of “It is Well” that we played at Kayla’s memorial service. I closed my eyes and had to stop singing when my thoughts went back to those moments. In my mind’s eye, I was surprised to see Jesus sitting next to the flower adorned table on which a bronze box held Kayla’s ashes.
There He was, calmly knitting—knitting, of all things! At my daughter’s funeral?!
Yet, instantly, deep in my soul, I discerned what it meant.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Kayla was a knitter. As a fifteen-year-old, she received a free gallon-sized bag of scrap material from a knitting shop. She tied every piece together to make a ball of yarn, which she then turned into a crazy-long scarf. Some pieces were ugly, but she included them all and made it beautiful—because she was beautiful. She celebrated that scarf, wore it with joy, and adored her creation.
When I saw Jesus knitting, it reminded me that He is turning the awful strands of our lives into something lovely. He makes it possible for you and me to experience joy and peace despite the world being out-of-control.
That’s our sovereign, faithful, redemptive God.
 My husband, the senior pastor of LifeSpring Community Christian Church delivered a message in which he shared the clip of this powerful moment. You can see it HERE.
 The book contains scanned images of Kayla’s journal entries, photos, artwork, and quotes. It’s a highly visual memoir with application to the reader at the end of every chapter. It also presents the gospel in the epilogue.
 You can view her delight in the scarf HERE between minutes 1:17-2:30.