In the book God Can’t, Dr. Oord attempts to answer a question that has bedevilled both theologians and laypeople since the beginning, “why does God allow so much evil to exist if God is all knowing and all loving?”
The book starts with a series of stories, all of which punctuate how a certain view of God can cause a great deal of anguish. Then he transitions into the natural question, “how can this be if God is all loving?”
The answer, according to Dr. Oord, is in five parts: God can’t prevent evil, God feels our pain, God works to heal, God squeezes good out of bad, and God needs our cooperation.
Sensing the first one is going to be a stumbling block for many believers, Dr. Oord tackles the issue head on: ”do you think a loving mother would freely allow an infant to drown?” Full Stop. He challenges even the most ardent Calvinist to stop and think. What is the character of God? Ruthless or relational?
But can’t God just intervene and stop evil? Dr. Oord has an answer to this. God is a spirit and simply can’t physically intervene. Now, this to me seems like a strange answer given all the times God actually intervened in scripture (Exodus and the book of Acts, anyone?) not to mention the incarnation, but I digress.
Dr. Oord ends the chapter by coming back to the idea that God cannot stop evil alone; then he moves on to his next point, God feels our pain. You may have heard of the Golden Rule, but Dr. Oord does this one better in respect to God, the Crimson Rule, which states, “We should feel with others as we would have them feel for us.” Imagine if we had a national policy toward the poor that made this its foundational statement!
He goes on in chapter 2 to describe the five views that do not help us connect with God:
1) The brick wall view, God is there but unfeeling,
2) Eye in the Sky, God Is there but not involved,
3) CEO of the Universe, God only cares about the big picture and not the details,
4) Micro-manager, God is involved in everything that is going on, and
5) God the Clean Freak, God can’t really have a relationship with us because our sins make us unapproachable.
Dr. Oord reminds his readers that God is nothing like this and that when we practice actions that foster God’s divine love we can experience that love for ourselves.
In chapter 3 Dr. Oord takes on the question of God Healing, or as Dr. Ehrman, former evangelical and current biblical scholar states, ”If there is a God, he is not the kind of being I believed in as an Evangelical: a personal deity who has ultimate power over the world and intervenes in human affairs to implement his will among us.”
Dr. Oord tackles this question in a four-step process:
1) God is present in every part of Creation and is working for the well being of every part of creation.
2) God works alongside people and his creation to promote healing. Doctors, nurses, nutritionists, friends, and family all work with God to help promote healing.
3) Because of God’s uncontrolling power, God cannot heal singlehandedly. We, through our faith and those around us, help God enact God’s healing within us. And as the author points out, this does not mean that those who do not get healed do not have enough faith. Many times external factors may restrain God’s desire to heal.
4) Sometimes God’s healing must wait, and sometimes this healing does not come until we pass away to our new life with Christ in eternity.
In chapter 4 he uses the story of Joni Eareckson, a lady who was paralyzed from the neck down and yet overcame this to make great contributions to our world, to try to answer the following question, “Does God permit what he hates and punish those he loves?” Dr. Oord challenges Joni’s premise that God punished her because she was going down a sinful path by pointing out that God never wants evil things to happen to us.
God squeezes good out of Evil to promote good for us and his creation. So, for example, a tsunami recently hit Indonesia killing many hundreds of people. God neither ordered nor wanted this to happen. But once it did happen, he worked with many human agents to bring relief to those who are suffering. To reappropriate a quote from Genesis, when Joseph was speaking to his brothers who sold him into slavery, ”The tsunami harmed me, but God used it for good.”
As the author points out, ”God doesn’t want, cause or allow evil….but we can still be thankful in our suffering. We can thank God for giving us courage and patience.” Very good advice indeed.
In the fifth and final chapter, Dr. Oord expands on the concept that God cannot heal singlehandedly by introducing us to the concept of indispensable love synergy, the idea that what we do really matters to God, that God not only wants our cooperation but needs our cooperation and because, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, ”Love never forces its own way.” Our cooperation is vital to God bringing good into the world. As Dr. Oord puts it, ”The neediness of God is the neediness of love. The uncontrolling love of God empowers and inspires creatures to love, but it cannot force them.”
Many will find this book to be very disturbing. After all, the appeal of a tyrant is that everything is, or will be, under someone’s control. Many believers feel that God must control everything for everything to be secure. But there is a growing number of people, and by the number of people identifying themselves as having no religious affiliation more and more every year, that cannot abide with the idea of a God that controls everything and still allows so much senseless evil. For them, this is a way back to a more biblical view of the creator.
I still think Dr. Oord needs to refine how the supernatural appearances of God in the Bible correlate with the thought of an uncontrolling God, but this book is definitely a step in the right direction as to how to answer the question, ”why does God allow so much evil in our world?”
Reverend Omar Reyes
Priest in charge Parishes of Flowers Cove and Green Island
Anglican Church of Western Newfoundland