(In my rush to finish before heading off to church I forgot to wrap up my line of thinking.)
God can be known through both his negative and positive attributes. Talking about God’s negative attributes is not talking about God’s “bad traits” rather it is explaining something about God in a way that says what he does not have in order to say something about what he does have as an attribute. For example, I have already said that he is eternal and by this we mean that he does not have a beginning or an end. God is also is omniscient—there is nothing that he does not know. God is also omnipotent—there is nothing that God cannot do. God is also fully sovereign over all things. There is nothing that God does not rule over. He sees all things and is ultimately in control of all things. God’s rule and control over the universe is also combined with his intimate relationship with creation. It is this combination that gives us what is called God’s providence; his maintaining and controlling of his plan for humanity and all of creation.
Yet it is very easy for me to forget that God is ultimately in control of everything that happens.
When it comes to the idea of God being in control there are two ends of the spectrum. The first end is that God has strictly determined everything (and I mean everything) that has or ever will happen. If this were the case then, among many other issues, all of our life experiences would be at best a mere illusion and at worst a deception. We either only have the perception of being in control of our decisions or God is deceiving us into believing we have control over them. Neither of these options fit into what we experience in life or what we read in the Scriptures.
The opposite end of the spectrum is that God is not in control at all. He merely set things in action and is sitting back to see what is going to happen. Each and every thing that happens is a surprise to both us and God. If this is the case then things like prayer are completely pointless in that God doesn’t intervene and everything is controlled by mere chance. Again, I don’t see this fitting into what we experience in life or read in the Scriptures.
That God is ultimately in control lands somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum. He is in control but also allows us the freedom to make choices. God being ultimately in control does not mean that God is a puppet master pulling all the strings. It is good to remember that there is a difference between what God predestines to happen and what God allows to happen. There are certain things that God allows to happen that we just do not understand.
Why does God allow so much evil and suffering in the world? This question leads to one of the most difficult questions that Christians face: The Problem of Evil. Of course, as Brett Kunkle points out, the problem of evil is not just a difficult question for Christians but it is a difficult question for everyone.
The best we can say is that any suffering and evil that we encounter in the world is allowed by God for reasons that are beyond us. Yet in the overall scheme of life, Jesus Christ provides us the ultimate comfort. While in this life what he provides is the salve to get us through, ultimately and eternally he provides the cure for our suffering. One day Christ will return and set all things right.
For further reading/viewing on suffering and the problem of evil consider:
Lee Strobel’s video Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?
William Lane Craig’s video Do Pain and Suffering Disprove God’s Existence?
Peter Kreeft’s article Suffering