The Tsarnaev brothers set off a bomb at the end of the Boston Marathon, dozens of innocent bystanders were either hurt or killed. Eliana Tova, an infant, is born with an extremely rare medical condition. Zamuda Sikujuwa was brutally raped during a village raid in Africa. Elie Wiesel was forced to watch a young boy hanged in a Nazi concentration camp. The world is full of evil. Sure there is much good and beauty in it, but at times it feels like the evil outweighs the goodness. So it makes sense when people wonder, Where is God in all of this?
If God is perfectly good, God will want to prevent genuine evils right? If God can control creatures or circumstances totally, God would be able to prevent genuine evils. Right? Yet evil, and what philosophers call, gratuitous evil, still exists. How can we reconcile this with our understanding of God’s power and God’s goodness? Thomas Jay Oord offers a solution in his new book, The Uncontrolling Love of God.
Various philosophers and theologians provide different models for thining about divine providence. One one end of the spectrum there is theological determinism and on the other end there is a form of Deism. Somewhere along the middle is the view that God is voluntarily self-limited. This is the sort of model that those like Clark Pinnock, William Hasker, and John Sanders advocate for. According to Oord what makes this view distinctive is that it places God’s power and authority as logically prior to his love. i.e. He could control, but his love compels him not to. The problem with this is that it fails to answer the crucial question – why doesn’t a powerful and loving God prevent evil. Oord provides what he takes to be a more compelling view:
God’s loving nature requires God to create a world with creatures God cannot control.
Much like mermaids cannot run marathons because a mermaid’s nature includes leglessness (Oord’s example not mine), God cannot create controllable creatures because nature is uncontrolling love.
One of the strengths of this book is that it certainly attempts to keep Scripture central. Oord provides scriptural arguments for his argument and potentially shows that it is at least not incompatible with certain parts of scripture. However there are certainly some shortcomings in this book. First, is that his “uncontrolling love” thesis isn’t compatible with classical theism. Those who want to hold to classical theism, with good reasons, will not be satisfied with this solution. Secondly, it seems to me that Oord gives too much weight to our intuitions about how love ought to function. It seems suspect to me to base our doctrine of God on something like “this is how we feel that love works.”
Despite these objections The Uncontrolling Love of God is a worthwhile read. It helps bring even more clarity to open-relational theologies. And in my opinion does a good job (though unintentionally) of showing that the open theologies of Sanders and the like don’t actually address the problem of evil. However, the solution that Oord provides to those problems aren’t entirely satisfying.