by John Culp
Oord’s Uncontrolling Love’s treatment of natural evil points toward a more secure basis for hope in the defeat of natural evil and the role of humans in responding to evil of all types. Natural evil as experienced in earthquakes or lung cancer in someone who has never smoked or lived in an area with polluted air raises some of the most
difficult challenges to understanding how God loves our world.
While human freedom causes much of the destruction in the world, it seems as though God’s love for the natural world would not be interfered with by human actions and would be effective in avoiding destruction in the natural world. And yet natural destruction such as earthquakes and cancer in children occurs and challenges claims that God’s love is present.
Oord helps us understand the occurrence of natural evil by pointing out the importance of regularity for moral responsibility. If we don’t know that sharp edges cut human flesh, we can’t be held responsible for hurting someone because we don’t know what will result from certain actions. The regularities of nature tell us that sharp knives cut people, but Oord recognizes randomness occurs in the natural world as well as regularity.
Furthermore, randomness opens up an opportunity for a world capable of developing in creative ways. However, accepting randomness as part of our reality appears to indicate God is not in control of at least some events. While God acting out of love may have created a world of regularity resulting in hurricanes, God creating a world in which random events occur appears to mean there are aspects God does not cause or control.
Oord’s acceptance of randomness is one reason why some people have criticized his emphasis upon God’s uncontrolling love as leading to a concept of God as limited. A limited God cannot overcome destruction that has no purpose, evil. If God is limited, God is unable to love the world adequately by removing evil from God’s world. Such a God is unworthy of worship because we cannot trust that God to save us from evil.
However, understanding God as characterized by uncontrolling love shifts the emphasis from God’s power to God’s love as the primary characteristic of God. God, out of love, creates a world with both regularity and randomness rather than a world completely determined by God’s specific actions.
Emphasizing God’s love rather than God’s omnipotence provides a better way of understanding God’s actions in the world. Stressing God’s love does not result in an unreliable God who cannot be worshipped. In fact, love offers a more adequate basis for God’s reliability than does power. We can trust God to care for us because love is who God is, but if God is first characterized by power, God’s power could be used to bring about destruction rather than love.
God’s love directing God’s power can be trusted to bring about good rather than destruction, and even to bring good out of destruction. Power alone might respond to destruction by destroying what has caused that evil. Instead, God’s love for God’s creation leads to God working with every aspect of creation in continuing creativity.
One of the implications of the priority of love in understanding God is God involving the creation in God’s activity. Humans, and all creation, share in creating. Our activity can contribute to God’s purposes. Our involvement in bringing about God’s purposes may even surprise and please God.
We too may be startled by how God enables us to respond to situations threatening to overwhelm us. The person who lifts a car off a person pinned under the car is astounded at what they were able to do. God working with us to bring good out of evil is more loving than God guaranteeing our safety by direct action without our action. Working with us demonstrates God values us and our contributions even though we frequently limit God’s care for the world by choosing against God’s love.
The priority of God’s uncontrolling love also has important implications for our understanding of humans as created in God’s image. If God’s uncontrolling love has priority over God’s power, then as creatures in God’s image, we also should demonstrate love rather than power. Our abilities to do and to create should be used for the care of others rather than for the control of others. Bringing aid to those who have suffered destruction from a hurricane is a way of caring for those who suffer rather than a way of demonstrating our superior abilities.
Sacrifice, as part of God’s love, then becomes important for us. Sacrifice values other created realities by working to bring good out of evil in cooperation with God as uncontrolling love. We respond in love to the victims of the hurricane in Haiti and to the person who never smoked and suffers from lung cancer. The priority of divine love over power leads to an understanding of natural evil which challenges human creativity and sacrifice, in imitation of God, creating hope by working to bring good out of evil.
John E. Culp’s studies at Greenville College, Asbury Theological Seminary, Butler University, and Claremont Graduate School prepared him to teach at Bethel College (IN), Olivet Nazarene College, and Azusa Pacific University. His work in philosophy of religion has been challenged and inspired by teachers he has had, students in classes, and numerous colleagues all of whom he is grateful to. Playing and coaching soccer led to being a Manchester United fan.