Did God Allow the Paris Attacks?

November 16th, 2015 / 23 Comments

Most theologians would say “yes.” I say “no.”

If current reports are correct, ISIS planned various attacks in Paris that killed more than 100 people and injured about 500. An attack occurred in Beirut, and other acts of terror have been committed. The death, pain, and suffering are immense.

Those like me who believe in God are wondering how we ought to think theologically about this. We’re wondering what we should do. What does love ask of us now?paris-attacks-2

I join those believers who offer heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of victims. These are dark days. Our hearts rightly go out to those in pain and grief.  And I’m pondering what more I can do to help.

But I’m also thinking about God.

Many believers will rightfully say God is present with all people in times of horror and tragedy. God suffers with victims and survivors. God consoles and suffers with those in pain.

I agree. But I don’t think that goes far enough.

Other believers will say God is angry when people choose violence in this way. They will say God opposes such terror-oriented activity. God hates injustice and evil.

I agree that God hates sin. But I don’t think that goes far enough.

Some believers will ask what proactive steps can be taken to prevent further attacks. A number of proposals will surface, I’m sure. Some may be wise; others not. God is calling us to act for the good.

I agree with those who say that we must find a way to respond in love to prevent more suffering. But I don’t think that goes far enough.

Too few believers will go so far as to ask this question: “Could God have stopped the Paris attacks?”

Too few believers will go so far as to ask this question: “Could God have stopped the Paris attacks?” Click To Tweet

Perhaps many believers will not ask this question, because the answer they have been told is not comforting. Most theologians in the past and present, after all, would say God allowed the Paris tragedies and other terrorist attacks. They believe God has the kind of power to prevent this unnecessary death and suffering. But according to most theologians, God permitted this pointless pain in Paris and elsewhere.

I disagree.

According to most theologians, God permitted the attacks in Paris and elsewhere. I disagree. Click To Tweet

A few theologians will say it is logically impossible for God to both give free will and not give free will. So in choosing to give free will to the ISIS terrorists, God was self-constrained.

But these same theologians will say that if God wanted to do so, God could interrupt the entities, agencies, molecules, and atoms involved in these events. These aspects of reality do not have full-blown freedom. So controlling them would not mean overriding freedom.

Many of these theologians would also say God could interrupt natural laws, if God saw fit. They believe God could intervene among entities and atoms and their law-like regularities in ways that would not involve taking away the free will of those who perpetrate evil.

For instance, this view says God could have jammed the rifles the terrorists used. It says God could have made the bombs fail to detonate. Or God could have controlled the weather or environment to thwart the attacks. In the minds of these theologians, God can control all parts of creation that don’t involve free will, if God so chose.

But if God can control non-free agents and entities, why didn’t God do so to prevent the Paris attacks?

The uncomfortable truth is that most theologians and Christians today and throughout history have said God permits genuine evil. God allows pointless suffering. And they appeal to mystery when asked questions like, “Did God allow the Paris attacks?” They say, “Don’t ask me, I’m not God!”

By contrast, I think theologians and Christians in general need to rethink God’s power. This means rethinking what it means to say God can control creatures and creation, whether these existing things have freedom or not.

In my new book, I’ve carefully laid out an argument that says God’s uncontrolling love prevents God from being able to stop genuine evil unilaterally. God is still almighty, I argue. God is omnipresent and loving too. God knows everything that can be known. But the uncontrolling God I describe should not be blamed for tragedies like those in Paris, because God cannot stop them acting alone.

The key to my answer is my claim that God’s self-giving, others-empowering love comes first in God’s nature. This means God must give freedom, agency, self-organization, being, or law-like regularities to creation. God cannot control free will creatures or creation.

Oord - Uncontrolling Love of God

I find comfort in believing that God could not have stopped the terrorist attacks. If a loving God could have prevented them, I think this God should have done so. But if divine love is such that God is metaphysically unable to thwart such attacks, I can without scruples maintain my faith in the steadfast love of God. My hope is that this uncontrolling love will one day winsomely win all creation to right relationship.

The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence is officially available at Amazon.com on December 6. I’m happy to say the book is selling phenomenally well already, sitting at # 1 on a couple Amazon lists already this month. Many early reviews are already available on the web. (Google my name and the book title to read some.) Of course, I encourage you to get a copy.

The Paris attacks were awful. While we ponder now how we ought to act, how to console those in grief, and how to affirm that God is with all who suffer, let us also take a moment to consider the possibility that God’s power is not controlling. Let us do some theology alongside our other God-inspired activities in response to tragedy.

A God who cannot control others entirely is not culpable for failing to prevent the Paris attacks. I believe in that God.

A God who cannot control others entirely should not be blamed for the Paris attacks. I believe in that God. Click To Tweet

 

(Click photo below to view video intro to The Uncontrolling Love of God)

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Comments

William Coker, Jr.

I agree & diagree. I do not believe that a understanding of God as able to act supernaturally, outside of the natural progression of nature, means that He must act against all evil or be held usable for the consequences. God has free will (which He also gave us) and how He acts is not arbitrary. I cannot fathom His mind not can I control Him, yet He has given me the right to ask Him to do anything, without guarantee that He will do as I ask, but as He wills. I trust Him and believe that He is at work in all things that His purpose be accomplished, while also understanding that He has self-limited His own sovereignty so that all things are not as He wills. This may sound like double-talk, but it isn’t; we just do not understand all of Hod’s nature and ways. To think that one has figured out God to make sense of Him is arrogant intellectualism, supreme Gnosticism. Im not accusing you of that as I am confident that your heart is to probe your own mind (and mine) for a deeper understanding of the unfathomable God who loves us and we serve. I look forward to reading your treatise.


Hans Deventer

To me, the question remains with what the Bible teaches us God can certainly do: raise people from the dead. History shows He can, but, He does so quite rarely, for reasons I don’t know. But I believe resurrection is the very heart of the gospel and indeed of our hope (read N.T. Wright). That being the case, I still don’t know why a God who can do this, doesn’t do it (yet). So I feel like I have to abandon my questions or my hope. That being the choice, I stick with my questions and look at the cross.


Steve Douglas

To clarify, in your view, was God also “metaphysically unable” to warn anyone of the impending attacks in such a way as to allow someone to prevent them? Or were all warnings He did give ignored? And if you’re tempted to say that such influence is tantamount to coercion, then the fact that Jesus sought to influence behavior by teaching also violated free will, it seems to me.

When my children are in danger, I have been known to intervene against their will to prevent harm from coming to them. I have a difficult time affirming that any decent parent on the planet can act in a way that’s better than God can manage to pull off not only in spite of but due to His reportedly almighty and perfectly loving nature.

Not trying to sound hostile–I would like to have such a neat answer as yours. But…well, does your book cover these questions on a way that you think I’d find satisfactory?


Did God Allow the Paris Attacks? – For The Love of Wisdom and The Wisdom of Love | Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin

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Tim Fink

I think that when mankind sinned, they basically said to God, “We want to do things on earth our way,” and God respected that, and has kept events in this world hands-off, apart from the accomplishment of certain divine plans related to redemption. I think God may want to do something, but he is looking for intercessors to ask him to come onto the scene of events.


lige jeter

Both “Good (God) and Evil (Satan),” exist in the world but they are not co-equal. God is all powerful, all knowing, all present, unlike Satan and his minions who are limited. In Matthew [8:29], the demons cry out “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” The demons knowing their power is limited cry out for mercy, and in verse, 31 “begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.” They chose wrong and perished.

Satan’s misconceived ambition to exalt himself and be like the most high miscarried; also, when tempting Jesus in the desert by offering Him the world if Jesus would worship him, both failed. We have another story of Satan after traveling to and fro trying to assert himself equal to God seen in the story of Job [2:3] “Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” By inciting God against Job Satan asserts his trivial power as if he can tempt God and that God should obey him.

Why God allowed this to happen, we will never fully understand. God does not have an entitlement program where a person believes they are entitled regardless of what they do. In Mt [5:45] God declares His impartiality “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Difficult to understand God sometimes suffers Satan to visit his people, like Job with calamities, while He sustains them by his grace as to silence the doubts about God of foolish men. Are those things still happening today; I personally believe they are? Satan is still going back and forth seeing whom he can devour. Some on a smaller scale, and others on a larger scale; has God not declared there will be wars and rumors of wars. As in any war, the innocent suffer. We will never understand the Paris attacks, only which was carried out by evil men.

This does not mean that God has lost control, humankind will never understand the spirit world that we cannot fully see nor can know the why’s, where, or how’s of it. The scenes played out on the screen of life between Good and Evil is beyond our finite comprehension and is too complex to determine the outcome other than what the Bible has already provided about humankind. The Scripture reveals enough about our Creator, (His justice, mercy, grace, love, judgment, punishment, and wrath), Creation (Adam and Eve, free will, fall from grace, need of salvation, salvation provided, and our eternal destiny) based upon our choice. To dissect God and put Him in a test tube as some are intellectually doing today is misleading.


thomasjayoord

Thanks for your good response, Steve. I like the way your thinking is taking you, because my thought journey is similar.

I don’t think God can provide crystal clear, unambiguous warnings. To do so would require total control. But I do think God communicates through intuitions, nudges, human conscience, etc., all of which do not involve overriding free will.

I agree with you that IF God could provide such crystal clear forewarnings just prior to the Paris attacks, God should have done so. So I like your parenting analogy, although I don’t think God has a localized body like humans do that we can see, taste, hear, etc. (I also don’t think God has foreknowledge, but that’s a secondary issue, because I do think God could have anticipated the attacks sometime prior to their occurring.)

My book does cover this material, although it doesn’t dive as deeply into the issues of revelation that your post emphasizes. But someone like you can see the implications of my proposal about uncontrolling power as it relates to divine revelation. And you will likely see how what I write in the paragraph above is entailed in my book’s proposals.

I can only hope you’ll find my ideas satisfactory, of course.

Thanks again for your honest and good questions.


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Lige. As I read your post, you are appealing to mystery in a way that I find offers no real solution to the problem of evil. But I appreciate your response.


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Tim. I’d want to develop the “intercessors” theme you mention in a way that says our cooperation with God is essential to overcoming evil in the world.


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Hans. I always appreciate our dialogue. And I appreciate your friendship even more!


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Bill. As I read your post, you seem to be appealing to mystery. As you’ll read in the book, I don’t find appeals to mystery satisfying. And I feel compelled to propose a solution. Whether you like that solution, of course, remains to be seen! Thanks.


Bev Mitchell

“A God who cannot control others”
“A God who chooses not to get involved, but could”
“A God who renders certain everything, including whatever we do”

Interesting choices. We might refuse to accept the third view because we suspect it may describe abilities we wish we had better than it describes the God we see in Christ. The second seems to be true from experience, but we do this kind of thing too often as well, so it still describes us. Again, are we looking in the mirror? In both these cases, we are playing the mystery card in essentially the same place. We still see horror and say God must know what he’s doing. Yet, it may well be the best we can do to accept that we can’t know, so we just let God decide. (It is puzzling that the proponents of the second and third view seem to think that there is a great difference between their views.)

While personally still thinking about the first view that flows from essential kenosis, I am sure that the God we see in Christ is not upset with us should we think that views two and three either seem too human, or too much like pious giving up. Interestingly, the first view, is also human-like, for we truly cannot control much that we would very much like to control. But, the reason we cannot control things is sheer inability, while in essential kenosis, the reason God cannot control things is due to the logical restraint of perfect love.

Is a logical argument sufficient to move the mystery goal post?

I’m completely on board with accepting that God’s perfect love is the very centre of who God is. I also agree that we should try much harder to imagine that perfect love can accomplish all of what God wants to accomplish. But because, in my opinion, rigorous application of logic has failed us so miserably by producing the deterministic, “rendering certain” view of God, I am currently cautious about relying on logic to go as far as saying God cannot control others because of the demands of perfect love. Though it is a rigorously logical view (says this amateur philosopher).

Yet, we need to think about these things. As we learn more and more about the universe in which we find ourselves, and with the exciting rate of expansion of our knowledge of that universe, orthodox, Jesus centred christianity will have to be much sharper than in the past at responding to much improved scientific understanding.

Many orthodox Christians may not yet see a big connection between how we think about God and the established facts of science, but it is profound and grand. A realist (as opposed to a nominalist) approach demands that it all add up. A realist cannot sweep truth from any source under the rug. So we need new, bold and love-centered thoughts to chew on.

Note: I’ve read and reviewed Tom’s new book and recommend that you read it carefully as well. Some of the thoughtful comments here might well be answered to your satisfaction, others, perhaps not. For those commenters using lots of Scripture to build your case, you will be glad to hear that Tom uses lots of Scripture in building his case as well. That’s as it should be, of course. You can find my review by following the instructions Tom gives. In this comment you have more of my personal position. In the review I just try hard to give you a good idea of what you will find in the book. I also try hard not to be a spoiler, so you will ultimately have to read the book 🙂


David Troxler

Tom, in chapter 6 of your book, as you explore what you term as essential kenosis, you discuss the self-limiting of God and related matters.

Over the course of ministry, I have suggested that the “ultimate demonstration of omnipotent force is the self-constraint thereof.” With you, I believe love is the essential component (only component?) of God’s creative and sustaining nature and that which authors self-constraint. However, I’d like your take on the way I worded it. It, I think, differs a bit from your chapter’s argument, as I want to make it understood that love is the power behind the power.

Insofar as having all power, knowledge and presence is concerned, the incarnation of Christ, the kenosis of Phil. 2 demonstrates the constraint of divinity into bodily form. The ever-present aspect of God was limited in the humanity of Christ. As to power, some have postulated poetically about Christ having the ability to call 10,000 angels to destroy the world, it was the action of love through the Cross and Resurrection which set aside any thought of coercively setting aside the very idea of Christ’s death. Again, at least in the response of Christ in Acts 1 to the disciples’ inquiry about Israel’s restoration, Jesus, the resurrected and human Jesus, does not possess that knowledge, ascribing it solely to the Father.

Moving back however to your original intent of the blog- God, in not stopping the acts of terror or, as you indicate, not even giving assent to them, is quite in line with the passages in Jeremiah, where through the prophet on at least three occasions, God declares a particular heinous act never even entered his mind (the burning of children in the fire of sacrifice, etc). A God who is omniscient would have that knowledge well in hand. Instead, in reply to one of those actions, God offers this reply: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.” (Jer. 35:40-41 NIV)

It is out of love as understood in the promise of good, redemption and rejoicing in these verses, that helps us understand, even though God’s power to destroy the evil doers (and that after the fact), God is constrained by that love to respond differently. In fact, God optimistically seeks to inspire them (us)! A coercive God would not have to inspire, but command.


Hans Deventer

You’re welcome, Tom. Like you, I cherish our friendship the most and hence I’ll be sure to buy and read your book. I know you’re very serious about this and so am I. I really want to find a way to remain hopeful about God doing something new, and yet would love to know how love hasn’t done that yet.


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lige jeter

Tom, I would like to go back to the story of Job for a moment. Let’s remove the conversation between Satan and God. What we have left is the atrocities that happened to Job with no explanation. Century’s later, theologians are discussing what God knows or does not know; what He allows or will not allow; random acts of evil and His power and limited power. A theory develops that God does not know the future; God cannot stop random acts of evil; God is limited in what He can do.

When we insert the conversation as recorded between God and Satan, the picture changes. Here God gives us an insight into the spiritual world, giving humankind first-hand knowledge that when things occur that we do not understand, we are reminded that God is still in control. God knows exactly what is going on; He limited Satan in his power over Job. Job’s faith in God nor his integrity wavered as should ours, even when we do not understand what is going on in the world. I am reminded that God does not have to give an account to me as if He is being judged for His actions.


Bruce Clark

How we view God must affect the way we approach life and how we relate to others. I ask myself if we hold a classical Theistic view of God and couple that with passages of scripture which endorse a violent dictatorial god how far removed are we in spirit from those who, like the perpetrators of the recent horrific events in Paris do such things in the name of their god. This not just a wake up call to the Muslim faith but to all those, Christians included, who hold tenaciously to a God who rules unilaterally and whose book endorses violence in any shape or form. If there ever is a time to renew our Theological view of God it is now. Thank you Tom for having the courage to challenge traditional views of God which at their best do nothing to solve the problem of violence and at their worst exacerbate it. As we weep with God over Paris may the resultant love bind us together, break down separation and ultimately prove that persuasive love at its weakest is greater than coercive power for all its assertiveness.


Todd Holden

I’m still wondering how we best explain how freewill fits in with this discussion. For God to intervene in the Paris attacks God would have had to violate the freewill of the those who perpetrated the attacks. God would have had to exert or coerce people’s behavior in this regard.

So it seems that we need to be thinking about more than just if God could have intervened or if God has the power to have changed events. I think we can rightly begin with the fact that God is a loving God, in fact I believe that we can rightly affirm that God is love. So since God is love, God will not, does not break with His conviction that our free will is crucially important to our identity as a human as well as crucially important to how we interact with God and how God interacts with God’s creation.

I struggle with how we adequately explain the dynamic of freewill in regard to our understanding the God who is love and always acts out of love which is at the core of God’s character.


lige jeter

I believe, there is a growing mistaken belief about “God is love” advocating God’s self-limitation is involuntary, because His nature of love limits what He can do; God can’t prevent genuine evil by acting alone; and God can’t stop random events that produce evil. Those self-described restrictions of God best apply to the human race rather than our Creator. Some today wish to diminish God’s power by applying His love and neglect His Justice, Mercy, Judgment, Forgiveness, Punishment, and Wrath. He is not some milk toast God or doting grandfather up in heaven wringing His hands powerless to do anything as some would portray.

I would like to propose the same question that God asked Jeremiah [32:27] “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” Here God is repeating the words of Jeremiah spoken in verse 17, confirming Jeremiahs own words about Himself. In verse 28 God declares His intention concerning Israel. “Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it.” Here God punishes the Jews for their sins, and in the following verses declare that He will restore the state when He pleases so their lands and houses shall be possessed in safety.

In the book of Luke chapter 1, we have the story of the angel visiting Mary telling her of her miraculous conception. The angel also tells her of her cousin Elizabeth who also conceived a son in old age. In Luke [1:37] declares a truth about God to reaffirm any doubts about God. [37] “For with God nothing will be impossible.” I cannot name one.

Jesus Himself declares that nothing happens without God’s knowledge and that His providence extends to the smallest minutest things and is continually under His care. Nothing happens without His will or permission. Jesus uses the example of the sparrow to teach this truth about God’s care of us. Matthew [10:29-31] “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. (30) But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (31) Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Humankind is not free to do whatever they please, anytime they please. There is a confusion of humankind’s freewill being limitless. The Hebrew word formed “vayyitzer” is written with two “yods;” man was created with a “Yetzer Tob and a Yetzer Ra” interpreted means capable of doing both good and evil having freewill to choose. They can obey God’s law or reject it. Nowhere in Scripture does it support a limitless freewill above God’s power as witnessed in Scripture by His Justice, Mercy, Punishment, Forgiveness, Wrath, etc. God has set boundaries that even they cannot cross as spoken by Jeremiah [32:27] “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?”


Samuel H. Bess

Thank you, all of you, for providing me with your dialogue and your self-positions and/or projections into this discussion.
Hardly ever does one within the context of adult church community find this material being shared with the community.
Many of us are woefully unprepared to cope with the events and calamities of our days. A current understanding of
practical Christianity begs to be brought to the fore. Six decades of adult education in our churches does not come close
to the preparation we need to begin to speak up for the reasons why we believe. It is as if it all ended at Catechism’s demise
because there is no further plan to advance a greater agenda to the regular attenders in their deeper understanding of their relationship with the God of our creation. Theology seems to be a dirty word among most traditionals as if that world was meant only for the folks in seminaries, or those who have a D.Min, Remember the advertising: “….E F Hutton listens!?” We down here are needing answers. We also need to be smart as foxes. Jesus responded to Satan, “…It is written….”


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Steve Jones

Eighty-four more have been murdered in France during Bastille Day activities, part of a yearly celebration of the country’s independence. Created in his image, the Lord is within each of us. Our sense of love, evidenced by mortal emotional and physiological symptoms, surfaces for all to witness on a daily basis. We see and feel tears, we see and feel the tremble of joy between a mother and a newborn, we see and feel the unwavering commitment between family members and all of this is due to and is inherent to those that live with their creator and his love. What we tend to deny is the result of not accepting God in our lives and the destructive capabilities of those who, for whatever reason, choose to or feel they are forced to destroy God’s inherent blessings of love from within. We can no longer deny the reality and capability of evil within the mortal fabric of a distressed demographic. Just as God is among us, evil is a reality we must respect in order to prevent it from tipping the scales to its advantage. God BE With US All…


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