The problem of saying that God’s in control (even when you have cancer)

I was diagnosed with cancer a few days ago.  It reminded me that Christians often say, “God’s in control”.  But some problems go along with saying that.  Like – just how much control?  And then there’s the issue of saying it – versus actually believing it.  And on top of all that, when we say God’s in control, do we actually live like it?

The problem of saying that God's in controlThe cancer should be treatable, but there’s no such thing as a guarantee with something like that.  Either way though, it’s something that makes you think about what you believe.  At least it got me to thinking.

Why write this?

A couple years ago I had a staph infection that got so bad my doctor told me I “beat the reaper”.   After a misdiagnosis by me and then by urgent care, I ended up in the hospital for a week, followed by a month with an antibiotic pump going into me plus a drain coming out for the remaining infection that couldn’t be removed by surgery.

That was the most peaceful week of my life.  I wrote that up as well.  You can read about it in God – is it time for me to go home?

So why write this?

It’s good to evaluate what we believe.  You know – is it really based on the Bible?  Do we still believe it?  Do we, or did we ever, live like the way we claim to believe we should?

But on some occasions, like this, we’re almost forced to do that.  So this is my evaluation.  Of me.  What I believe.  But also why I believe it.  Looking back a bit.  And ultimately, looking forward – at what I’m looking forward to.

The question this time – if God is in control, what’s happening here?  If you’re a Christian, it’s either an invitation or a challenge – your choice of how to view it – to follow along and examine what you believe.  Does what you say line up with what you really believe?  And ultimately, do you live like it?

Your own life won’t be like mine.  And the things you’ll look at won’t match up with my list either.  But it’s something to consider.  Not a blueprint, but more of a process?  I hope it helps you the next time you evaluate your own faith.

What do we mean when we say that God’s in control?

If you’re not Christian, maybe that sounds odd to you.  Like God’s in control means He’s in control.  Or maybe you don’t even believe in God.  Sorry, not going with the second one today.  This is about how much control we think God exercises.

I’ve already done a series on this question, so if you’d like to check out the details behind what I’m about to write, I encourage you to check it out.  It’s at Predestiny versus Free Will.

At one extreme is the belief that God is literally in control of everything.  A puppet master, pulling everyone’s strings.  Everything we think, say and do is controlled by God.  The concern here is that if we believe in this extreme view, then we make God the author of evil.  If God is in control to the point where He makes everything happen, then He also makes evil happen.

At the other extreme is the belief that we have free will for everything.  God is just an observer.  He never does anything but watch, wait and see what happens.  The concern with this view is that God’s just a passive observer, never getting involved in anything that happens.

Is our definition of “God’s in control” actually in the Bible?

Neither of these extreme views is actually Biblical.  On the other hand, to some extent both free will and predestiny are Biblical.  Different denominations teach one of the other.  To me, it makes more sense that God can and does use both methods.  That’s the final view of the series.

There are many of the Old Testament heroes, such as Moses, Jonah and Gideon who clearly did not want to take on the task God had for them.  But God just as clearly wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer.  God’s mind was made up and these people did end up doing what He wanted them to do.

On the other hand, the rest of us are free to live our lives.  When opportunities come up to love God, to do something for Him – we can either say yes or no.

Ultimately, it comes down to God’s love.  He loves us, yes.  However, He also wants us to love Him.  And because of that love, if we want to live our lives without Him – God will allow us to do just that.

So why does God “force” some people to do certain things?  We need to remember, God also knows everything that’s going to happen.  This foreknowledge is a basic part of what a Christian believes.  (Should believe.)  So when it comes to predetermining that someone’s going to fulfill a certain task, why would God do anything other than choose someone He already knows has a deep love for Him?

If God is in control, where does evil come from?

The details are in The “knowledge of evil” versus “actual evil” , but here’s the Reader’s Digest version.  There’s a really fine line between God creating evil and God having knowledge of evil.  Genesis tells us that God’s creation of our “world / universe” was perfect at one point.

Ge 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. …

Ge 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

Yes, I left out a lot of stuff.  I don’t want to get into the issues people have with the “six day” creation in the English Bible.  It really shouldn’t take anyone away from this topic.  For those of you that might be interested in why I put “six day” in quotes and why I specified the English Bible, I invite you to check out Scientists “agree” – God was right – again.

So things were perfect.  Then, something happened.  You probably remember this:

The Fall of Man

Ge 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Ge 3:2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

Ge 3:4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Check out that last part again – you will be like God, knowing good and evil.  Have you ever considered it from a point of view other than just focusing in on “you will be like God“?  In other words, looking at “ your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil“.  Remember, the devil mixes some lies in with truth.

So let’s look at that knowing good and evil part.

“But God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and ye will be like God, knowing good and evil.” That is to say, it is not because the fruit of the tree will injure you that God has forbidden you to eat it, but from ill-will and envy, because He does not wish you to be like Himself. “A truly satanic double entendre, in which a certain agreement between truth and untruth is secured!” By eating the fruit, man did obtain the knowledge of good and evil, and in this respect became like God (vv. 7 and 22).

This was the truth which covered the falsehood “ye shall not die,” and turned the whole statement into a lie, exhibiting its author as the father of lies, who abides not in the truth (John 8:44). For the knowledge of good and evil, which man obtains by going into evil, is as far removed from the true likeness of God, which he would have attained by avoiding it, as the imaginary liberty of a sinner, which leads into bondage to sin and ends in death, is from the true liberty of a life of fellowship with God.  [1]Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 1, pp. 59–60). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Yes, God knows about good and evil.  However, that doesn’t mean God actually does evil things.  His creation was very good.  Perfect.  Until Satan arrives on the scene.  BTW – Satan himself was, at one time, perfect.  Apparently, the angels also knew about good and evil – and had the capability to do evil.  As their leader, Satan took 1/3 of the angels with him when he rebelled against God.

So Satan tries to do the same thing with Adam and Eve.  And succeeds.  Therefore, we all know about good and evil – and have the capability to do evil.

And so there’s a fine line between the knowledge of good and evil versus actually doing evil.  God creates things that are good.  Satan creates nothing, but does corrupt God’s good creations so they become evil.  Because of the fall, we have the same ability – we cannot create something from nothing, but we certainly can corrupt things and do evil.

That’s a basic part of the foundation of Christianity.  If we believe God does evil things, then we really need to go back and revisit the Bible and our beliefs.  God allows evil things to happen, but does not do evil.

The Old Testament – note on evil

Regarding the Old Testament times, we need to remember a few things.  First of all, it’s thousands of years ago.  Among other things, it’s also about God teaching His creation – us – to be civilized.  Just look at The Law.  It’s full of things that we generally accept as part of being civilized.

Also, when we look at the Hebrew text from the times when the Old Testament seems to say that God does evil things, we need to be cognizant of two things.  First – it’s about justice.  Yes, God is love.  But God is also just.  Allowing evil to take place with no justice really isn’t love.  Second, there are times when the English translations say God made something happen.  But, the Hebrew text indicates that God allowed things to happen.

So yes, there are some fine lines in there, but unless we want to make God the author of evil, we need to pay attention to them.  The reality is that if we don’t do that, if we proceed to judge God based on what we think rather than what He said – then we are calling Him a liar.  A strong statement, but I believe that’s what it comes down to.

One final thought here.  We are influenced by Satan, just as Adam and Eve are.  No – we won’t see a serpent or a guy all dressed in red with horns and a pitchfork.  But again, as a Christian, good and evil do exist.  And they are explained in the Bible.  God’s word.  If we refuse to accept it, then are we really Christian?

I’m not saying to accept any of this blindly.  By all means, study it.  Do research.  Examine things.  Draw conclusions.  Own your faith.  I’ve done a lot of that.  Many many years.  And the more I do it, the deeper I go, the more the Bible actually makes sense.  The level of consistency, integration across thousands of years, and even the things we continue to learn about history and science is amazing.  I believe it takes more faith to disbelieve than it does to believe.

So, let’s move on.

God’s control – where are we so far?

As far as the actual control part, I’m somewhere in the middle.  I don’t believe God’s a puppet master.  I also don’t believe He’s just out there somewhere, watching and waiting to see what happens to His creation.

Finally, I also don’t believe that God does evil things.  However, He does allow evil things to happen.

That begs one really huge question.

Why does God allow evil?

There actually are some passages in the Bible that speak to why evil things are allowed to happen.  As I pointed out above, the Old Testament is partly about God teaching His creation to be “civilized”.  Because of that, I’m going to stay mostly in the New Testament.  I prefer to reference it as the New Covenant.  The Old Testament Law was very much about don’t do this and don’t do that.  However, in the New Testament, very much the same things were stated as do this and this.

I say very much the same because some things aren’t included anymore,  Things like the prohibitions on what to eat.

With that in mind though, I do want to bring up one Old Testament book.  Job.

God’s in control – Job.

There’s a great book by Mike Mason, called The Gospel According to Job.  If you’ve never thought of Job that way, it’s a really good read.

Job – the troubles he had

Anyway, remember that all sorts of things happened to Job.

Job’s First Test

Job 1:13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

Job 1:16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

Job 1:17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

Job 1:18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

And later on –

Job’s Second Test

Job 2:7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.

I wonder how we’d feel if that happened to us.  I know I’ve had things way less extreme than that and I was really upset.  Mad at God.  Not anymore, but at some point is it a reasonable response.  The thing is – God’s not surprised by it.  And He can handle it.

But look how Job responded.

Job – how he responded

To the first set of problems –

Job 1:20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Yeah.  Praising God and worshiping.  Again – how many of us do that, no matter how long we’ve been Christians?

And to the second one –

Job 2:8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

Job 2:9 His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Job 2:10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

How’s that?  Job’s wife says to curse God and die.  But Job asks how can he accept the good things from God, but be mad at the troubles that come?

Job – why his troubles came

The first set –

Job 1:6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

Job 1:8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

Job 1:9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job 1:12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

As was brought up earlier – God does not do the evil deeds.  However, He does allow them to happen.

Some thoughts on the source of evil

I know, at this point, some of you are not happy with me.  Asking questions like ones I’ve already received.  Such as, how can you even want a God that allows things like that to happen?

You know what?  It’s not easy.  For many years I was really mad at Him.  But ultimately, the simple truth is that Job is right.  There’s no good reason for anyone with an open mind to reject the fact that God does exist.  Historical evidence more and more points to the places, people and events in the Bible are true.  More and more, even science is showing that the things in the Bible are true.  That is, if we get away from common, but false, perceptions about what the Bible says.  If we go back to the original Hebrew words, context and culture – rather than try to impose ours on things that happened thousands of years ago.

And once we realize that, how do we just ignore what Job asks?  How can we happily take the good stuff – and get so mad at God for the bad stuff?  Especially when we realize that line between the knowledge of good and evil versus actually doing evil is real.  Especially when we realize that we humans can only tell the difference between love and hate when we’ve experienced both of them.  And when we realize we can only tell the difference between good and evil when we’ve experienced both of them.

Let’s move on to Job’s second set of troubles.

Job 2:1 On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

Job 2:3 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

Job 2:4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job 2:6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

Job – some things to note

Satan can only do things within the limits God places on him.  That’s evidence of God’s control over Satan.  As to why God allows Satan to anything at all – that’s coming.

Even before that, Satan has to ask permission.  More on that is also coming shortly.

In this case, God actually brought up Job.  I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t consider myself anywhere near as blameless and upright as Job.  Does that mean I won’t have trouble?  Actually, the answer is pretty obvious.  I’ve got trouble.  If you think you’ve never had troubles, then you’re in denial.  We all have them.  We’ll see other reasons shortly as well.

So why bring up Job at all?  It’s because of the response he had to the things that happened to him.  Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?  This question is critical to all of us who consider ourselves to be Christians.  Followers of Christ.  Not just someone who says some special words and thinks there done.  (See Pop Tart Christians for more on that.)  No, I’m talking people who really want to try to live as Jesus taught.  (see  for Are we supposed to Believe God, Believe in God or Follow God? more on that one.)

God’s in control – the New Covenant

So let’s move into the New Testament.

Stuff happens.  Even bad things.

We can Google something like “what does the Bible say about when bad things happen?”  Most of what we get back is more along the lines of “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Ultimately, the answer has to be that bad things happen to everybody, because this is a fallen world.  Things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.  Not the way God intended.  And the Bible tells us it goes back to The Fall.

Earlier we looked at Job, and saw how his problems got started.

But in the New Testament, we read things like when Jesus told His disciples, In this world you will have trouble.

We don’t really want to hear about the devil these days, but it’s hard to really understand the message of Jesus without doing exactly that.

Jesus’ teaching reflects the existence of the devil as an active enemy. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the evil one in Jesus’ parable snatches away the seed that falls along the path (Matt 13:19; Mark 4:15). In other words, part of the devil’s work is to cause a person to neglect the message of the kingdom of God. Wicked people are called followers or children of the devil (John 8:44; Acts 13:10; Rev 2:9; 3:9; 1 John 3:8).  [2]Seal, D. (2016). Satan. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

It seems like most of what I’ve read talks about Satan accusing Christians before God.  But let’s get real for a moment.  Do we really think Satan’s going to wait until someone becomes a Christian before going after them?  That’s not what I’d do.  I’d be out there trying to prevent people from becoming Christian in the first place.  So it’s not just bad things happen to good people.  Bad things happen to bad people too.

And then there’s the folks we call “collateral damage”.  It’s supposed to be a softer way of talking about whose who were killed or injured in the process of doing something that was supposedly for the larger good.  Whatever that means, it’s still true that it was quite bad for some.  Looking at this from Satan’s point of view, it’s bad things happening to people other than some specific target of his accusations.  But for him, the more the better.

That brings us to the inevitable question of, why does God allow bad things to happen?  And no, I’m not going to add the “to good people”.  It’s just why does God allow bad things to happen.

There are consequences to the things we do

People do bad things.  That one’s pretty straightforward.

You may argue about things like global warming and changing weather patterns, but the truth is people have been dying from various kinds of storms for as long as there have been people and storms.  Or lack of such things, coming from droughts and famines.

Building collapse.  Car and truck accidents happen.  People get sick.  Nothing in this world is perfect.  There’s what we called planned obsolescence in everything.  Even in our bodies.  Remember this, from just before the flood in Genesis?

Ge 6:1 When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

All of these things will be “fixed” in the next life.  The eternal life.  But for now, things like cancer are part of life.  They happen.

When problems come, do we ask the wrong questions?

As I learned, finally, some years ago, I think we ask the wrong questions when things go wrong.  Rather than ask why is this happening to me – we should be asking something like what do You (God) want me to learn from this?  Or how do You want me to bring glory to you from this?

Of course, a non-Christian isn’t like to ask these kinds of questions.  But as Christians, we should.  We really should.

God’s in control – and Jesus told us we’d have troubles

As Christians, we claim to believe God’s in control.  And we should know that Jesus told us we’d have troubles in this world.  In fact, troubles every day.

Do Not Worry – Matthew

6:25-33 pp — Lk 12:22-31

Mt 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

Mt 6:28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Each day has enough trouble of its own.

If we were to complain to God about every bad thing that happens, that’s all we’d do!  And you know what?  Too many of us do just that. I used to do that.  It’s not helpful.

There’s a passage in Isiah about that.  A prophecy of a future time.  But we can begin to have some of these things.  Now.  Right now.

The Parable of the Sower – Matthew

13:1-15 pp — Mk 4:1-12; Lk 8:4-10
13:16, 17 pp — Lk 10:23, 24
13:18-23 pp — Mk 4:13-20; Lk 8:11-15

Mt 13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

Mt 13:10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

Mt 13:11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Mt 13:14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

Mt 13:15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Mt 13:18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

The blind will see

Isa 29:18 In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,and out of gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind will see.

As part of the The Parable of the Sower, Jesus said this to His disciples:

Mt 13:10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

Mt 13:11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Mt 13:14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

Mt 13:15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Yes, as followers of Jesus, disciples of Jesus, we can begin to see now.  In this life.  But it’s not going to happen if we complain about what God’s supposedly doing to us, rather than asking what we should be seeing and learning from things that happen to us.

The humble will rejoice

Isa 29:19 Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD;
the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

Yes, we do need to be humble.  Consider this:

Ro 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

It does take humility, among other things, to realize that God does have a reason for the things He allows to happen to us.  And that sometimes we’ll consider them bad – even though, as Christians, we should be aware of this passage.  We have to be humble enough to accept it, believe it and live by it.  Only then, when we stop complaining about what God did to us, can we begin to learn what He wants us to learn.  Complaining really does put us in a position where we think we’re above God.  Like – how dare you do this to ME!  But we should know, believe and live like it’s exactly the other way around.

Even things God will do later can be comforting now

Isa 29:20 The ruthless will vanish,
the mockers will disappear,
and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down—

Isa 29:21 those who with a word make a man out to be guilty,
who ensnare the defender in court
and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice.

Sorry, but these last two passages really are for later.  The difference can be though – believing that these promises will allow us to live differently.  Instead of complaining, we’ll recognize something.

Love – Romans

Ro 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Ro 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Ro 12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Ro 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

If we don’t even try to live like this, we won’t have eyes to see.  And we won’t learn anything from our troubles either.  We’ll just be too busy complaining.

Something else just occurred to me.  Something we do that should really make us want to stop doing it.

Jesus’ teaching reflects the existence of the devil as an active enemy. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the evil one in Jesus’ parable snatches away the seed that falls along the path (Matt 13:19; Mark 4:15). In other words, part of the devil’s work is to cause a person to neglect the message of the kingdom of God. Wicked people are called followers or children of the devil (John 8:44; Acts 13:10; Rev 2:9; 3:9; 1 John 3:8).  [3]Seal, D. (2016). Satan. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Yeah.  When we’re busy complaining to God about what other people are doing, especially doing to us, we’re copying Satan.  While Satan’s standing before God accusing us, we’re busy “down here” complaining about the same people and events that Satan is.  But maybe even worse, Satan is complaining about the very fact that we’re complaining to God, rather than living life the way Jesus taught us.

How awful is that?  Talk about not seeing and certainly not learning!

How the greatest commandment fits in

Isa 29:22 Therefore this is what the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, says to the house of Jacob:
“No longer will Jacob be ashamed;
no longer will their faces grow pale.

Isa 29:23 When they see among them their children,
the work of my hands,
they will keep my name holy;
they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob,
and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

Yes, we can and should do these things now.  At least, try as best we can.  Jesus pointed that out as well.  In a really big way.

The Greatest Commandment

22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31

Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

When we live out those two greatest commandments, we are not only seeing but doing the work of God.  And we are acknowledging His holiness.

Understanding and instruction from God

Isa 29:24 Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding;
those who complain will accept instruction.”

As I said, when we live out the things in the Bible that come with being the Christian we claim to be, we are in a position of being able to see more and more, as we accept more and more instruction.

God’s in control – seeing and accepting instruction

This brings us to the culmination, and the hardest part of saying that God’s in control.

Now we run into passages like:

Trials and Temptations

Jas 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Jas 1:9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Jas 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Jas 1:16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Normally I’d include comments in the middle of a passage.  But since this is really the heart of the matter, I wanted you to read the whole thing first.

Do you remember earlier when I wrote about being in the hospital with that staph infection?  At the very least, the doctors expected at least partial kidney failure and some liver issues.  A few days after the events described in God – is it time for me to go home? my blood tests for both were totally back to normal.  Even though it would take another month to get rid of the infection.  That was an amazing week.

God’s in control, of another trouble

Now, it’s cancer.  It’s relatively early and “contained”, but not contained in the normal fashion.

I’ve been writing for about ten years now.  Sometimes I feel like it would be nice to hear back from more people than I do.  It’s not necessary though, because then I might feel it’s more about me than about God.  So it’s not a big deal.

I just pray that people read it.  I put on a counter shortly after that hospital stay, almost three years ago.  Later this week or maybe next week, it should go over 600,000 page views.  From 199 different countries.  That’s why I keep doing this.  Somebody’s reading stuff.  Hopefully it really does help people grow closer to Jesus.  It’s like my part of doing the Great Commission.

Now, with prostate cancer, it’s something lots of guys get.  One in seven, according to something I read about it.  Yes, it’s early enough that it should be treatable.  But it’s still the “c” word.  And like I said, for those of you that know about it, or will find out, it’s in a zone that it doesn’t normally show up in.  So there’s always questions.

And there’s always, with any type of cancer or other medical problem it that magnitude, more than enough opportunities to get mad at God.  For instance, “why did You give this to me!?”

So after everything else you’ve read, the final piece is to go through what James wrote about Trials and Temptations, from my point of view, going through this latest trial.  With the temptation to be mad at God for putting me through it, rather than asking what He has for me to learn from it.

Trials and Temptations

Jas 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,

Yes, James really wrote that.  But it isn’t some masochistic joy about being happy in the traditional sense because I’ve got cancer.  At first glance, it does appear to be exactly that.

5479 χαρά [chara /khar·ah/] n f. From 5463; TDNT 9:359; TDNTA 1298; GK 5915; 59 occurrences; AV translates as “joy” 51 times, “gladness” three times, “joyful” once, “joyous” once, “joyfulness” once, “joyfully + 3326” once, and “greatly” once. 1 joy, gladness. 1A the joy received from you. 1B the cause or occasion of joy. 1B1 of persons who are one’s joy.  [4]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

If I stopped there, I’d be mad.  Like why should I be happy about this?  It’s weird.

But I’ve learned not to stop there.  Things like context and culture need to be considered.

For culture, this is Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

Originally, it was written to the twelve tribes of Israel, scattered around various parts of the known world at that time, giving them the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was exciting stuff.  Things the Apostles were willing to die for.  And in fact, all but one died a horrible death for doing exactly what James was doing.

For me, it’s writing to aid in what Jesus commanded us to do – Mt 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  No – I’m not going to baptize you.  But maybe something you read here will help you reach that decision.

The context of the word includes the cause or occasion of joy.  Which is the things I just wrote about.  And in this context, with the way the Christian culture is supposed to be, this is cause for joy.  It’s an opportunity to learn more.  And maybe, because of what’s happening, it will have even more readers and more of an impact.  In fact, to not write this feel like passing on, maybe even wasting, an opportunity to do more for Jesus.

3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Isn’t that the truth.  Yes, it’s a choice between continuing on, hopefully even stronger than previously – or giving up.  I feel like I’ve done more than my share of getting mad and giving up.  Don’t want to go backwards.  Perseverance is the only way I want to proceed.

4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

Why would I not ask for more wisdom?  And why would I think I’m finished?  I was thinking earlier today, anyone who’s happy with this life and wants Heaven to be just like this – they’re maybe not going to see Heaven.  God Himself told us this is a fallen world.  He’s going to make things right in the next life.  Why would we not want that?  And who would think we’re perfect and ready for it now?  Not me.

6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

believe and not doubt. That’s tricky.  Believe – yes.  But along the way, in the proper context and intent, doubt is part of how we learn.  As usual, the key is knowing what the original Greek word used by James actually meant at that time.

1252 διακρίνω [diakrino /dee·ak·ree·no/] v. From 1223 and 2919; TDNT 3:946; TDNTA 469; GK 1359; 19 occurrences; AV translates as “doubt” five times, “judge” three times, “discern” twice, “contend” twice, “waver” twice, and translated miscellaneously five times. 1 to separate, make a distinction, discriminate, to prefer. 2 to learn by discrimination, to try, decide. 2A to determine, give judgment, decide a dispute. 3 to withdraw from one, desert. 4 to separate one’s self in a hostile spirit, to oppose, strive with dispute, contend. 5 to be at variance with one’s self, hesitate, doubt.  [5]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Jas 1:9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

Jas 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

This one’s big.  Having failed to persevere before, I can’t stand the thought of failing now.  Getting another chance is part of forgiveness.  But it’s still amazing to me that it’s offered to all of us.

Jas 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that.  To me it used to be about either punishment or something I didn’t think I deserve.  Any of those things are a far cry from looking at it as a learning experience.  A chance to get better.  To strengthen my faith.  Even to do more.

Jas 1:16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Most of you to look at a chance to see better and learn more, outside of this context of cancer or other trials, is perfectly normal.  So why has it been so hard to look at trials in the same way?  It’s something so many Christians, myself included, try to avoid.  Even deny that they’re happening.  But when we do that, aren’t we also denying an offer from God to improve our relationship with Him?

Praise God.  God is good.

One final thought on The problem of saying that God’s in control.

If my biopsy had come back negative, people would say things like Praise God – and God is good.  Same thing for all of you as well.

But how often, when they come back negative or when other bad things happen do people say those same words?  Have you ever heard, Praise God, the biopsy was positive?  Or God is good, that person is really having a hard time with __ (fill in the blank)__?  I’m guessing never.

But why not?  If we, as Christians, really believe the things the Bible says about troubles, trials, and the like, why do we consider them bad?  Do we realize that we’re saying it’s bad to have Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything?  

I honestly don’t think we believe that’s a bad thing.  I think we just don’t realize the full extent of what we’re saying.

If you’d like to read more on that thought, I invite you to read something I wrote back in February 2017 – If you want to walk on water … expect a storm.  It’s the first of a two-part series.

Conclusion – The problem of saying that God’s in control (even when you have cancer)

After all that, there’s really only one conclusion I can reach.  Our life is really a journey of faith.  Faith in God – or faith in something else.  Even faith in nothing is something else, as in something other than God.

It’s been, to put it mildly, a rocky road.  Lots of ups and downs.

But if I look at the last few years, the culmination of everything up to that point, it’s been good.  Praise God – for the ups and the learning moments.  Through the Holy Spirit, I’ve been able to do this writing for these past ten years.  And at church, I’ve been blessed with this awesome group in the Bible Study I lead.

So with all that so far, I can’t wait to see what comes next.


Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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