by Omar Reyes
Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. – Jean Jacques Rousseau
What does it mean to be free? This is a question that both philosophers and theologians have been asking for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the answer has been in the hands of those who have power. More unfortunately, especially if you belong to a minority group, the question of freedom has, until recently, never been in your hands.
Compounding the problem is how the church, especially in America, has shaped a vision of God from a loving, caring creator to a tyrant whose only will is to please himself. Fortunately, theologians like Dr. Thomas Oord have striven to recover the Bible’s original view of God by reintroducing us to the concept of the uncontrolling love of God. But before we examine this concept and how it helps the minority community, let’s look at how this image of God has been distorted and why this has been especially destructive to the minority community in America.
It is important to realize the Church has not always viewed God as all-controlling. In fact here is a quote from one early church father:
St. Clement of Alexandria (c 150-215 CE):
“We have heard from the Scriptures that self-determining choice and refusal have been given by the Lord to men. Therefore, we rest in the infallible criterion of faith, manifesting a willing spirit, since we have chosen life.”
This is how the Early Church viewed the relationship between God and Man: freedom. Freedom to be everything God wants us to be, but also freedom to go against our better natures. The church fathers saw in the biblical witness every man and woman freed by God-given decree, so something like slavery went against the very nature of God’s created order. Then came St Augustine.
Augustine believed in the supremacy of God over all things, which differed from many church theologians before him who believed humanity had freedom in cooperating with God and God’s plan of redemption. This relationship was called synergism.
Augustine had a monergistic view with God as the only active agent, relegating humans, collectively and individually, as only tools and instruments of Gods’ grace or wrath.
It’s this change in how theologians viewed God’s relationship with man that eventually led to the Reformation and laid the foundations for the defense of both slavery and segregation within our own country. Consider this quote defending segregation:
Now, what is the matter? There is an effort today to disturb the established order. Wait a minute. Listen, I am talking straight to you. White folks and colored folks, you listen to me. You cannot run over God’s plan and God’s established order without having trouble. God never meant to have one race. It was not His purpose at all. God has a purpose for each race. God Almighty may have overruled and permitted the slaves to come over to America so that the colored people could be the great missionaries to the Africans. They could have been. The white people in America would have helped pay their way over there. But the hundred and hundred they could have gone back to Africa and got the Africans converted after the slavery days were over.
Is Segregation Scriptural?, sermon by Bob Jones Sr, 1960
Now consider this quote in light of how most reformed theology views the providence of God. If God is truly and totally in control, how can you avoid saying both slavery and segregation are not part of Gods’ manifest plan? And even if you grant, as Dr. Oord pointed out when explaining Dr John Sanders’ view of open and relational theology,
“God cannot be blamed for the actual evil of the creatures, since God did not intend it.”
It’s a bypass that leads us to the exact same highway: God could have stopped evil , but chose not to . When I read this , it stands in stark opposition to not only the nature of God, but the narrative of Scripture. Consider how God demands Justice from his people
In the book of Amos 5: 14-15:
“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live;
and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said. Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”
The twin pillars of God’s universe are Love and Justice; these pillars uphold God’s greatest creation, humanity. Far from existing solely for God’s good pleasure, Scripture shows us we are involved in a passionate and uncontrolling love affair with our creator. This love affair can only be real if there is true freedom. Evil cannot be wished on the loved one, or allowed if it is within our power to prevent. This is why the idea of the Essential Kenosis is so much closer to the Bible’s picture of God. Essential Kenosis…
“affirms God’s pervasive influence but denies that God can control others. Because God providentially gives freedom to creatures complex enough to express it, God gives freedom that creatures use for good or evil (or morally neutral) activities. God acts as a necessary, though partial, cause for all creaturely activity.”
To a person of color, this is a God whom we always knew existed. God walks with us, talks with us, and suffers with us. God sees when we can’t breathe and mourns when our loved ones are gunned down senselessly. Most importantly, God is not responsible for the evil befalling our communities, wanting instead to work with us to bring true peace and healing through Christ, true sabbath rest. By introducing us to this uncontrolling Love, Dr Oord has shown the minority community they were right all along. God is not the God of the slave owners and slave traders. He is not the God of the segregationist or the white nationalist. God does not have a secret plan to make unimaginable suffering better. God is right here with us, wanting us to use our salvation to bring wholeness to an often broken world. The church is no mere Ark of Safety; it’s a diving board launching us into a world needing God so desperately.
So while many of my friends see this theology and lament how small it makes God, I retort. Rather than making God small, it makes God’s infinite nature immanently accessible: God with us.
The Rev Omar Reyes was Born in Brooklyn New York to immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He came to faith in Christ while in High School and graduated in 1984. After enlisting in the US Army and then working on Wall Street he enrolled in Columbia International University and graduated in 1996 with a degree in Psychology and Bible. After years of working with various churches in Boston and South Carolina, Omar fulfilled his dreams of ministry by graduating from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and being ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada and is currently serving 6 parishes in Flowers Cove Newfoundland . He is married to the lovely Jennifer Reyes and has three sons: Azriel who is 15, Tennyson , who is 10 and Vadim who is 7. He loves reading horror stories, especially the one where Donald Trump is elected president and is praying the the series Firefly will come back to network TV. He can be reached at his email address at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great stuff, Omar!
Unless we push ourselves we can be blinded by our environments. Of course, when I read Dr. Oord’s book, I looked at my life, my circumstances, and those around me and saw how applicable it was and how it all made sense. You, here, have shown me how much more Dr. Oord’s theology and his argument for the uncontrolling love of God is boundless. Thank you for this essay, and thank you for expanding upon how God’s love is His primary attribute.