by Bethanie Young
How can God, who loves by nature, allow or accept genuine evil? This is a question that many people ask, especially in times of tragedy—the hardest question of all. In his book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, Oord states, “Theology, science and philosophy explore both the minutiae and the big picture to make sense of reality. Big questions and our attempts to answer them are a big deal.” In the Celebrate Recovery ministry that I serve, the big questions come up all the time. Why doesn’t my mom love me? Why did God allow that man to rape me? If God is a loving God, then why was I molested day after day, year after year? These are the issues of the world today, and evil seems to be lurking in every corner.
Oord’s ideas about randomness and regularities help bring together the importance of God’s loving nature and God’s inability to change what has been put into motion by creation. This is discussed in the essential kenosis model. When God created humankind, God gave us free will, because God loved us. This free will has created a path for the world that God is not able to move or change without jeopardizing that freedom. I found this hard to grab hold of and run with at first, but freedom to love and seek relationship is what creation is all about. This is where, “the right combination of randomness and regularities makes the universe capable of existing, evolving, and developing novel forms of life,” starts to make sense, especially in an open and relational theology. “Believers are wise to say that God creates in and with the randomness and regularities of existence.”
It is important for us to understand that both evil and good are present in the world, interrelated by the choices we make. I have been stretched, and I have grown, as I consider this in light of the response to evil and its role in my life. Sometimes, I forget to think about the blessings, focusing entirely on negativity that has flowed in and around me. But, goodness cannot just happen. People have a responsibility to make good choices.
Celebrate Recovery can sometimes be overwhelming. As a leadership team, we took a huge hit when one of our most loved servants turned out to be a five-time child molester and rapist. He had been lying to us for eight years. It was a big shock to all—especially those closest to him. “To make sense of life, we need to account for both evil and good.” As leaders, we had to focus on the good that this man had brought to our lives and the lives that had been saved because of the work that God has done through him. The evil is present though, so we also have to respond to the hurt, loss, and pain of all who are affected by this situation. Essential kenosis gives us the ability to understand that these acts were not from God, nor allowed by God, but carried out through the choices of a created being. God is sorrowful for all who are involved. God’s heart—perhaps even God’s Spirit—is broken due to this loss and hurt.
However, God forgives because of the nature of love, and we are called to forgive as well. Oord’s description of uncontrolling love is very intriguing and makes sense. There is no other way to make sense out this kind of senseless evil, just like there is no way to make sense out of the stories in the first chapter of this text. The victims will never be the same. The world is a very scary place. In all of these stories, God was not able to act outside of divine love. “Divine love is uncontrolling, which means God cannot coerce.” No matter how evil or terrible the experience may be, God can persuade, but God cannot force someone or something to alter the path they are choosing.
The world is so full of negative actions that it can be difficult to see the good. This is where miracles play a role in our relationship with God. Oord defines what a miracle is in the last chapter of his book, and I believe that we need to grasp how simple a miracle can be, helping others to experience miracles anew. “Miracles may fill us with awe or astonishment. We may tremble in worship or shout ecstatically with joy. We may bow in silent reverence. Whatever our response, miracles indicate something unusual occurred.” This reminds me of the story of Elijah in I Kings. Elijah heard God in the whisper, not in the earthquake, the fire, or the loud noises all around him. I wonder how many times people seek God in the loud, obvious places instead of looking for the miracle where it is least expected.
The Uncontrolling Love of God has opened my eyes and mind to a new approach to evil and God’s role in evil. I believe that evil occurs because of the choices of creation. I also agree that God is unable to change the course of creation without going against God’s own nature of love and the freedom of choice that God gave humankind at the beginning. There are still many questions and Oord does admit, “Theology doesn’t have all of the answers.” This, however, does help in all that I do with Celebrate Recovery. And, it reminds me that no matter how you answer the hard questions, there will always be more that may not have answers, yet.