Why does God allow evil?
Is evil only apparent?
Does God suffer with us?
Does evil enable us to grow spiritually?
Has God voluntarily limit God’s powers to enable free will and free process?
Are God’s ways “better than our ways?”
Does the nature of God make stopping evil impossible?
These are the types of questions friend Tom Oord addresses in his recent book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. Long known as the foremost scholar of the theology of love (and one who lives what he preaches), Tom’s book is a multi-disciplinary study of the problem of evil from the perspective of open and relational theology.
To promote the book, Tom is hosting a blog tour of sorts and I will be contributing a short post later in the month on how the concept of God’s uncontrolling love can more broadly influence the science and religion discussion. The blogs will eventually be compiled into a volume of essays that will serve as a companion to Tom’s book.
I highly, highly recommend reading the book and can’t think of a better example of a book title EXACTLY matching the thesis put forth in the book. (Whoever came up with that title deserves a raise.) In sum, Tom says that God’s love is preeminent and that it logically (ontologically, if you will) precedes all of God’s other attributes. God’s love comes before the power of God and other attributes and it is given to all creatures freely. Some choose to resist it while others choose to accept it and partner with God to further God’s love in the world. Most importantly, though, because of this primacy of love, “God cannot unilaterally prevent genuine evil.”
Tom has anticipated the responses you would expect to this controversial thesis (well, controversial to Evangelicals, not so much to Christianity, in general) and addresses most, if not all, of them throughout the book.
I am no theologian, and perhaps because of this what I found most interesting was this meta-reflection on the ordering of God’s attributes. Surely, God is love, God is all-powerful, God is relational, God is all-knowing, etc. But what happens when one of these attributes is in competition with another? Is this another one of those “divine mysteries?” I share Tom’s conviction that throwing up our hands ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and saying it’s something we will never know or only know when we get to heaven is a cop out and possibly detrimental to the faith, especially to those who struggle with doubt.
What Tom does brilliantly is reveal to us that we usually put God’s sovereignty first and then assume all of the other attributes follow along. For some this may be a cognitive decision but for others we may be doing it without stopping to thinking about why we are doing it. No doubt, lying behind all of the concerns that folks will have with the book is the idea that God’s power or sovereignty is in some way compromised because it does not come “first,” but I hope these people also stop to to wrestle with Tom’s reasons for starting with love.
What do others think? Do you think of God’s attributes as mutually inclusive? Can aspects of God’s nature come before others? If so, what is your ordering and the rationale you use to justify it?