Out of God’s Control

Justin Taylor linked to this article by Dr. Roger Olson who claims that the Calvinist view of the Minneapolis bridge collapse distorts God’s character. Wow. Where to begin?

Olson says,

What a strange calamity. A modern, seemingly well-engineered bridge in a major metropolitan area collapsed in a moment without any forewarning of danger.

Something similar could happen to any of us anytime. Similar things do happen to us or people just like us–innocent bystanders passing through life are suddenly blindsided by some weird tragedy.

So where is God when seemingly pointless calamity strikes?

The question is constructive, but only if we answer it from the Bible. For example, Job thought God was in control when he was suddenly blindsided by calamity (loss of all his livestock and property) and tragedy (all of his children killed by a windstorm). Not only did Job understand God’s sovereignty, he worshiped the LORD and criticized his wife for her unwillingness to receive evil from God, even when his own health was taken without warning. Although Job had no clue of the purpose of this calamity, his response was not to question God’s control or His character.

Yet Olson criticizes John Piper (without using his name) for stating that God was in control of the bridge collapse. According to Olson, if God is in control of bad things, God’s character must be bad. For God’s character to be good, every bad thing must be out of God’s control. So Olson asks and answers,

But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, “OK, not my will then, but thine be done–for now.”

How about when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery? There is no doubt about the finitude and fallenness of his brothers. Their act was really evil and wicked. But God was not constrained by their sinfulness, and Joseph knew God was in control and trusted God’s character. The whole reason Joseph didn’t kill his brothers in retaliation (to their self-confessed transgression) was because he understood that what they meant for evil against him, God meant for good. Joseph wasn’t waiting for God’s will to be done later; he recognized sovereignty at work all along.

Somehow Olson expects that what will make us feel better about the bridge collapse and other calamities is to consider that God can sometimes help and that He willingly spends time on the bench for sake of the team.

God says, “Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that’s one of my self-limitations. I don’t want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world.”

I can promise you that if “making this a better world” depends on me, we’re in trouble. I have neither the inherent wisdom, power, or care to improve anything on this planet. What’s worse is that Olson says God doesn’t either. And even though God reveals Himself as sovereign over every historical and redemptive event, Olson concludes,

The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil.

The God of Olson scares me for Olson’s sake because I’m not sure how to distinguish his position from disbelief and/or defiance. God is not out of control, Olson is.