Evil is Random, Even for God

November 5th, 2015 / 7 Comments

We all want to make sense of life. The stakes for Christians in the endeavor to make sense of life are as high as stakes can be.

I’ve been thinking for some time about two major questions in my quest to make sense of life. The first is familiar to just about everyone, at least in some form. Here’s the form I find most perplexing:

“If a loving and powerful God exists, why doesn’t this God prevent genuine evil?”

The vast majority of answers given to this question are unsatisfying. Most Christians I know ultimately appeal to mystery. This question perplexes billions of people. download

The second question is less common but I think equally perplexing:

“How can a loving and powerful God be providential if random and chance events occur?”

In my new book, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Intervarsity Press Academic), I propose answers to these questions. Theology, science, Scripture, and philosophy inform my answers. Unlike most Christians, I don’t appeal to mystery!

I’m happy that the book is now ranked #1 on two Amazon lists for new releases! Click the photo to watch a short video/trailer I made to introduce the book.

The Issues at Play

To get at my answers, I address a wide swath of issues that Christians normally consider aspects of God’s providence. I address the randomness and chance we encounter in the world. I claim that randomness is real, even for God.

I also acknowledge the rampant regularities of life, some of which have been called “the laws of nature.” Thinking carefully about God’s relationship to these law-like regularities is important for solving the problem of evil and the problem of randomness in relation to providence.

In my view, too few Christians take free will seriously when thinking about providence. I believe the freedom we experience in life is real, but limited. I’m a freewill theist.

I also think values are real. Some events are better than others. Good and evil are not simply a matter personal taste or individual perspective. A portion of my book addresses how we should define evil and why belief in God makes better sense than atheism. In this section, I also address the problem of good, which I think is an issue atheists cannot handle well.

Models of Providence

Of course, I’m not the first person to recommend a particular view of God’s action in relation to creation. A number of models of providence exist. It helps to get clear on these models if we can make progress in answering well the problem of evil and the problem of randomness.

I identify seven major models in my book, pointing out strengths and weaknesses of each. I think this part of the book is especially helpful for getting one’s head around the various ways to think about providence.

I’m an open and relational theologian. This form of theology comes in many varieties, but there are some common characteristics. People have come to embrace open and relational theologies from various paths. Some come primarily through their study of Scripture. Others by working out issues in the discipline of theology. Some come to open and relational theology through philosophical reflection. And others come as a consequences of their study of science.

God Allows Evil?

The most common answer to the problem of evil and the problem of randomness, even among many open and relational theologians, is that God allows evil and randomness. God could control it but chooses not to do so.

I don’t find the “God allows it” answer satisfying. God cannot be perfectly loving if God allows evil and permits random events that God would anticipate have negative consequences. We don’t think people are perfectly loving when they allow horrific evils they could have stopped. Why think that God is loving for doing the same?

Many who say God allows evil and permits randomness say God voluntarily self-limits. God could intervene to prevent evil. God could stop a random event that will likely have negative consequences. But for some mysterious reason, this voluntarily self-limited God doesn’t momentarily become un-self-limited to prevent genuine evil. The problem of evil is a problem for many open and relational theologies.

Oord - Uncontrolling Love of GodEssential Kenosis Model of Providence

I offer a new open and relational model of providence I call “essential kenosis.” It says God’s love is always self-giving, others-empowering. God must love because God’s nature is love.

Unlike many open and relational theologians, I believe God’s nature of self-giving, others-empowering love conditions and shapes God’s sovereignty. To put it in philosophical language, divine love is logically prior to divine power. This means that God’s self-limitation is involuntary, because God’s nature of love limits what God can do.

In short: God can’t prevent genuine evil by acting alone and God can’t stop random events that produce evil.

To put in biblical terms, I think the Apostle Paul was right when he said that God “cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). In other words, God’s nature comes before God’s choice, and God cannot do that which is ungodly. Teasing out the implications of this can make all the difference for answering well the perplexing questions of our time.

Of course, there are much more to this book than what I’m offering here.  I haven’t even mentioned my explanation of miracles, which gets a whole chapter in the book.

I hope you consider ordering The Uncontrolling Love of God and pondering my arguments!

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Comments

Mervyn Friberg

Tom, your thoughts here resonate well with this hospital chaplain. 20 years of work in a regional trauma hospital has allowed me to “see it all,” as they say, and has taught me that the old answers are often inadequate. But I have come away with a bold confidence in the love of God, a love that is bolder and more unfathomable than we can imagine. I look forward to reading your new book!


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Mervyn. Given what I know of you, I think you’ll like the book!


Todd Holden

The more I think through that God must love because God’s nature is love the more it resonates deeply within me. And the more I realize that it has for most of my life. It makes complete sense and it is my actually experience with God as well.

Initially I was having a tough time working through, “God’s self-limitation is involuntary, because God’s nature of love limits what God can do.” But again when I kept working it through it just makes sense and has been what I have always believed that indeed God is always God and can be depended upon to act in God’s true core nature, which is love. I grew up in a church where God was looked at in more determinist ways and as maybe you remember from class it caused me alot of struggles in my theology. But in the end the fact that God is love and always acts out of love deepens my own love for God and others.

Another point that seems to come out of this, for me, is that since God loves us, loves His creation, God cannot, and really will not ever force His love upon us in any way. It is freely available to all, but it is completely contrary to God’s nature to force Himself upon anyone for any reason. Again I think this comes back to our free will too.

So, yes it seems I simply must read your book as you continue to stimulate my thinking in caring thoughtful and loving ways!!

thanks brother I appreciate you!!


lige jeter

Tom, no doubt, whether sinner or saint at some point in their life encountered a situation that was unpleasant; the news could be you have cancer, an unforeseen divorce, financial problems, and a host of any number of unpleasant circumstances that might occur.

When bad things happen to good people (for most people), the normal question is to ask why? Some ask to understand and some to blame. Example in their search for answers, they sometimes blame God, rather than to trust God who is in control of all He created, nothing left to chance. You mentioned that you believe “that God’s self-limitation is involuntary, because God’s nature of love limits what God can do.” You also stated; “In short God can’t prevent genuine evil by acting alone and God can’t stop random events that produce evil.”

Unless I am taking the adjective “involuntary” out of context, meaning compelled against somebody’ will; it also means “uncontrollable” meaning not controlled. This limits God as Creator and ruler over everything He created. Secondly, you state, “God can’t stop random events that produce evil.” If this was true then if opens the idea that a superior being to God exists unless I am misunderstanding your statement. If you are referring to our freewill then you are partially right. God can stop any act but it would mean premature death of the sinner. Could you expound a little more on the subject.

In my opinion those statements do not support who God is in creation. In the Hebrew word Elohim, used in Jewish teaches to describe God in His creative and judgment role in the universe. In the Genesis account, we see God as the source of all things as He acts in nature creating something out of nothing according to His will including humankind.

The Hebraic word Adonay, reveals God another way foreseen in His association with humankind. This will affect how we view God concerning our relationship to Him. Here He is referred to as Lord, Master, or Owner in His revelation of Himself to humanity. His love, His mercy, and impartial judgment as the moral ruler of the universe confirm Him in his creation.

These viewpoints expressed in the two Hebraic words, Elohim (justice) and Adonay (mercy) conveys His exact nature found in Scripture. This is crucial in understanding the correct meaning as it applies to the Creator. For God to create the world by mercy alone Adonay without lawfulness, sin would prosper without cure. To create the same world by justice alone Elohim without mercy, then the world would cease to exist, as we know it. Both Adonay and Elohim together describe His justness and mercifulness. Examples of both of these were in the saving of Noah and his family before the flood. God’s impartial justice condemned the world of sin destroying the wicked, while His love, grace, and mercy to the righteous shut the door to the ark before the rain/flood.

2Ch 20:6 and said: “O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?”
De 4:39 “Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.”
Isa 45:6”That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting That there is none besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other;”
Isa 45:7 “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.”
Isa 45:12 “I have made the earth, And created man on it. I-My hands-stretched out the heavens, And all their host I have commanded.”
Jer 27:5”’I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are on the ground, by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and have given it to whom it seemed proper to Me.”
Jer 27:6 “And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant; and the beasts of the field I have also given him to serve him.”

I believe that Scripture like these gives us the best proof of who God is and what He is like. However, Jesus gives us the best example of who God is when He said it best in the gospel of John “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”


thomasjayoord

Thanks for your comments, Lige. I look forward to hearing more from you after you’ve had a chance to read the book.

Blessings,

Tom


lige jeter

Tom, I read several critiques’ of your book “The Uncontrolling Love of God” found them supportive of your theory as a plausible explanation for how God acts providentially amid randomness and freedom. On open theology, (God does not know the future), essential kenosis, (God takes risks and may not get what He wants), and randomness (God cannot stop evil events) are bold statements. These raises an important concern how humankind can put their trust in a God, who can be prevented by circumstances, from acting according to His will, or deliver what He promises? I respectfully disagree and in my opinion denies what God proclaims about Himself in Scripture. The following Scriptures in Isaiah do not support your hypothesis.

Isa 46:9 “Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me,”
Isa 46:10 “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,”
‘Isa 46:11 “Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.”
Isa 46:12 “Listen to Me, you stubborn-hearted, Who are far from righteousness”

Verse 12 was to the Babylonians, who were against God, believing that neither God nor any man could deliver out of their hand. History proved them wrong. This is as true today as then, sad but like the Babylonians, many today believe God is limited.


Bev Mitchell

Tom,
I’ve been thinking about what you say in your new book (and elsewhere) about power and love and believe that the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is a good way to consider the situation. It seems clear that Satan was offering complete control, a power trip; it’s all yours, do what you like thinking. Jesus rejected this and chose another path. In fact, he even said things in response to the temptation to the effect that this power-first approach is not God’s way. The other path that Jesus chose was revealed on the cross, and its amazing effectiveness was revealed by the resurrection. Assuming that Jesus was fully acting as God acts, as I think orthodox Christians are supposed to, it looks very much like love-first is God’s way. Why would it not also be his very nature, the centre of his being? Somehow we have to better imagine what perfect love might be capable of. Jesus and the gospel are good places to start. Our knowledge of, experience in and ability using, not to mention our faith in power makes it easy, even natural, to imagine a power-first model. Our rather poor track record in love with respect to all these areas makes love-first imagining harder. Perhaps this has something to do with sin. Your book encourages us to imagine harder.


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