Making Sense of Love & Evil, Chance & Purpose

January 6th, 2014 / 5 Comments

I’m beginning a new book project! Thanks to a generous grant from the randomness and divine providence project, I’m offering a proposal for how we might best believe God acts providentially in our world.

Almost all of us want to make sense out of life. Most of our attempts to make sense of things address immediate questions: Why did she look at me? Why is it so cold? Why can’t my team win a championship? Why do I feel hungry? Why can’t I relax? What’s for dinner? Etc.

Most of us ask the big questions of life too. These questions and their answers make up the heart of the world’s various religions, the impetus for scientific endeavors, and the domain of philosophy. Big questions and our attempts to answer them are a big deal! The disciplines of theology, science, and philosophy explore both the minute particularities and the big picture in their attempts to make sense of reality.

Those of us who believe in God – and I am one – think fully adequate answers to the big questions of life involve God. This does not mean that science, philosophy, the humanities, arts, or other disciplines cannot contribute to our quest to answer well life’s biggest questions. Fully adequate answers involve them too.

The discipline of theology should not play the trump card in attempts to understand reality better. But if God’s presence and influence has the kind of far-reaching effects most believers like me think, theology cannot be set aside in discussions about the meaning of life.

And what an amazing life it seems to be!

Existence as we know it is abounding in information, values, mystery, and more. We experience love, joy, and happiness, along with evil, pain, and sadness. We act purposefully and intentionally to reach our goals, but we encounter randomness, chance, and luck as well. We seem to act freely much of our lives, but circumstances, opportunities, bodies, and environments limit our freedom. At one moment we may be in awe of the goodness and beauty of our lives, while in the next moment we get discouraged by the horror and ugliness we encounter. And most of the time, our lives are made up of the mundane, usual, and routine.

Making sense of life – in light of such wide-ranging diversity – is a daunting task. But it is a task we inevitably take up. In more or less sophisticated ways, we attempt to figure out how things work and what makes sense.  All of us are metaphysicians, in the broad sense.

This book explores the big picture with a special emphasis upon the randomness and evil we encounter in life. This does not mean that purpose, beauty, goodness, and love are ignored. They will not be. But in these pages I offer a theological vision of reality that takes seriously both purposiveness and randomness, both good and evil, both love and sin.

Those who believe in God have for millennia wrestled with what we often call the problem of evil question:

     Why doesn’t a good and powerful God prevent genuinely evil events?

In recent centuries, a different but related question has gained prominence:

     How can God act providentially if we live amongst randomness and chance?

In my book, I will propose a theologically, scientifically, and philosophically informed answer to these questions. In doing so, I face directly the realities of life, in their wide-ranging diversity.

I’m looking forward to this adventure!

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This looks fantastic! I’m excited to read your insight and reflections especially since these topics land so squarely in your wheelhouse.

Mark Winslow

I look forward to reading this – especially a reasoned approach to providence with strong Wesleyan underpinnings.  I also hope there is a strong interplay with science but mostly in the vein of seeking how a Christian can better comprehend how God acts (or does not act) in the world from the mundane/ubiquitous to the sensational.  Some writers have used uncertainty and randomness at the quantum level to propose God’s action but I don’t find this very satisfying – will be interesting to see if you step into these waters. Best to you in your writing!

Brent Dirks

In the words of my mentor, “Sounds interesting.” Jeremy is correct that this is in your realm and I should hope that you would continue to relate love to such an important subject. That is your trademark, one the Church is indebted to you for.

John Oord

I am looking forward to seeing how all of this is treated in light of prayer and the occurrence of “miracles” or the absence of “miracles” or “divine intervention”.  I always enjoy a little insight that you give on our runs.


This topic: a good God and an evil world is a thought provoking topic. There are 4 things to consider.
1) A finite mind and an infinite mind – We try to ‘figure out’ God. He has eternity in mind. Made in the image of God, we have an eternal spirit. Meaning we don’t ‘die’ when the body expires. So our loved ones who pass on aren’t lost. It’s never good bye, but see you later. The death of so many through genocide and sickness aren’t ‘gone.’ You see?
2) True love must have choice – God has an amazing trust with us, in that, He gives us free will. True love comes from the choosing to love. So there is a choice not to love. Socrates stated that evil is ignorance. If we really knew that to do good would benefit us then we wouldn’t do evil. As: ‘What we sow, we reap.’ This inspires the choice to forgive because ‘they know not what they do.’ Many are enticed by lust. Lust wants to get and love wants to give. We have the gift of a free will to choose love or not.
3) God is all knowing – If God knew Adam would sin then God is responsible for allowing sin. Considering free will God allows choice without domination. With Jonah God prepared a fish. In the next 5min. we can choose an infinite directions for our life. God is not ‘tripped up’ as it were; He is prepared. No matter what direction we take, He is prepared to ‘deal’ with us in wooing us to love Him. Therefore: all knowing how to deal with us but not dominating our choices.
4) God governs the affairs of man – His plans will not be deterred. He upset Saul’s plans on the Damascus Road. He distracted Moses’ shepherding with a burning bush. Talking donkeys, fish with coins, storms being stilled; God governs. In the scheme of humanity’s direction, God’s will be done. He sees the beginning and end of all things and His ending will come to pass. All who choose to be with Him – will be and He may ‘deter’ but not dominate our choices. No matter our choices God’s overall plans will happen.

So the problem of ‘good God and an evil world’ is not with God Himself, but us. Individually we choose. Wesley said he set himself on fire and people would come to see him burn. We can choose to effect ‘evil’ and infect the hearts of those around us. Or we may choose not to be too bothered with evil in the world. You see? It comes down to this – we are the ones responsible for evil. God is good anyway.

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