By Thomas Jay Oord
The news is devastating. Our planet is on a crash course with wide-scale death and degradation. The poorest of people and the most vulnerable of species are getting hit the hardest. It isn’t a pretty picture!
Does God care?
If God loves all creation, why doesn’t God stop the devastation? Where is God when the planet suffers?
As a theologian, I think about the issues that matter. Climate change and environmental degradation are some of the most important. I ask questions about God in light of those issues, and I seek believable answers.
In my new book, God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils, I make a big claim. I say that God simply can’t prevent evil singlehandedly.
Some people think God won’t prevent evil. They say God is sitting back, not intervening, and allowing people to use their free will rightly or wrongly. In their view, God could singly halt hurt and horrors. But God has decided to be voluntarily self-limited.
Their God has a hands-off policy.
I think the “God won’t” view makes little sense. A truly loving God would prevent rape, for instance, if able. God would single-handedly protect vulnerable people, vulnerable species, and a vulnerable planet… if it were possible single-handedly. If preventing evil were possible for God to do alone, a loving God would prevent it.
A perfect lover prevents preventable evil.
In my view, love comes first in God’s nature. To put it another way, God is first and foremost loving. This love is self-giving and others-empowering. Consequently, divine love is essentially uncontrolling.
Because God loves everyone and everything, God can’t control anyone or anything. Therefore, God cannot stop singlehandedly the evils that free creatures, other agents, randomness, and creaturely forces cause.
Many who think about the problem of evil emphasize our own roles and responsibilities to overcome evil. But they don’t rethink the conventional view of God’s power. “Instead of worrying why an omnipotent God doesn’t stop evil,” they say, “we just need to work to make the world a better place.”
I agree we have a responsibility. But I also think we must rethinkg God’s power.
If an omnipotent God caused or allowed the death, degradation, and extinction we’re seeing, one could understandably think God wanted these evils. If a God who can control didn’t want this harm and hurting, that omnipotent God could have stopped these evils. Besides, it’s hard to feel motivated to work against the evils God allegedly allowed and could prevent all alone!
I think there’s a better way to think about God and climate change.
This better way says God needs creaturely cooperation to bring about well-being in the world. It says God depends upon our responses for love to reign. It says God can’t prevent ecological devastation alone; God needs help from us and others.
I recognize saying, “God can’t,” will alarm some people. To many, overpowering sovereignty is the core of their view of God. Some may have sang a song I did as a boy: “My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing that He cannot do!”
But thinking God can do anything presents huge problems! Thinking God can single-handedly prevent evil inclines survivors and victims of horrendous evil to believe God wanted their suffering. It also discourages us from taking climate change and environmental degradation seriously.
The God who can fix things alone doesn’t need our help. By contrast, a God of uncontrolling love needs our help to fix the problems of our lives and planet.
We need a revolution. And this revolution is not just social and political. It’s spiritual and religious too. This revolution believes creation and all creatures are intrinsically valuable. And for those like me who believe God is active and present throughout the universe, it’s a revolution that emphasizes God’s uncontrolling love for all creatures, great and small.
The divine love of which I’m speaking not only seeks our cooperation to make the world a better place. It requires it!
Thomas Jay Oord is the author of the Best Seller, God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils and more than 20 other books. He serves as Religions Consultant for the Institute for Ecological Civilization. For more on Oord, see his website: thomasjayoord.com
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