“God is in control of everything,” responded the seminarian. Once a year, seminary students, seeking ordination in the denomination in which I am ordained (the Reformed Church in America), are required to prove their proficiency in subjects ranging from the sacraments, church history, worship, and theology, among other topics. This seminarian, like the two students with him, knew his stuff and ably answered a host of questions posed during the two and a half hour examination. It was during the theology exam when the question was raised: “What theological truth do you hold most dearly?” The graduating senior answered without pause or hesitation: “The truth that God is in control of everything.”
This is a photo of the 30-yard dumpster behind the house we’re rehabbing, the place we hope one day to inhabit. In three days, I filled the dumpster to the top with 6,000 pounds of this-old-house crap. The bulk of it was wall and ceiling plaster, a gross toilet, a rusted tub, seven rooms of carpet and padding, cement blocks, three ceiling fans, splintered 2×4 studs of walls I ripped out, kitchen counters, decrepit cabinets, linoleum, and basement junk.
For the effort, I shed six pounds, a weight loss offset by the fact that I drank nearly two bottles of wine to regain my resolve to go back the second and third day. Dumpsters contain life’s messes – the throwaways, the broken, the discarded, the useless debris.
The seminarian’s claim that God is in control of everything grabbed my attention. I’ve heard it said many times before, but never as confidently as when this twenty-something graduate stated it again. His voice indicated no doubt or reservation. God is in control of everything!
My mind meandered. Was evangelist Pat Robertson right a few years back when he boasted that God altered a hurricane’s path away from Virginia Beach into the Atlantic waters? Does God wield control over one woman’s breast cancer but withhold that same control from another? Is it God or Boko Haram who controls the life and death fate of 200 Nigerian school girls? I’ve known more than a few parishioners who claimed that it was God’s control of things that got them a prime parking spot at the local mall. Really? Isn’t God busy enough trying to figure out a peace plan the Middle East? In my own stumbling attempts to describe the ways of God, I’ve come to regard “control” as a useless theological word.
A dumpster is a massive container into which is thrown life’s unwanted goods. When I walk inside a dumpster’s mess, I’m less apt to think of God’s control over our lives as I am of God’s presence in our lives, messy as they often are. On my worst days, when I’m unable to make sense of what’s happening, what I really crave is not divine control that orders and re-orders events, but a transcendent presence that reminds me, regardless of all else, I am not alone. Never have been and never will be. Sometimes it takes a 30-yard, steel garbage can to make that point.