Natural Evil and Why Our Hope is Secure

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
culp-authordifficult 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.


    1. I’ve loved John Culp since I had him for my Ethics and Graduate level Philosophy Classes at ONU… he is so succinct in his description of “two radically different norms” when it comes to apparent conflicting views in biblical, and extra-biblical texts. He is one of the best.


    1. Its always good to hear from someone from ONU. My time there is an important part of my life and thinking.

      I’m currently working on an essay developing my thoughts about the basis for hope in the face of destruction and loss that result from the regularities of nature and the randomness in God’s creation. I’m trying to take seriously the desire each of us has for peace and safety that often leads us to ask God to end the difficulties and evils that we and the ones we love experience. That means that hope must be based on more than either reassuring explanations or God’s mysterious ways. That’s why I think that emphasizing God’s love over God’s power is important. Power alone does not make God worthy of worship. Worthy of fear perhaps, but not worship. Only God’s love directing God’s power makes God worthy of worship. And yet there must be some way of thinking about how God’s love works powerfully to confront and overcome evil. God’s presentation of possible ways of acting calling us to cooperate in God’s overcoming of evil makes a great deal of sense to me without filling in all the details of the surprising nature of some of those possibilities. Also, God’s presentation of possibilities neither guarantees the outcome that I think is best nor the immediacy of the overcoming of evil. Further, the loss caused by evil is not removed even when overcome. We struggle with God’s help to overcome the loss.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. John- when that essay is complete ( which it may well be, by now) I would love to read it. I have struggled for a long time with the same “seeming” incongruities. Grace + Peace, friend!


      2. Two concepts of divine action can often be found in thinking about God’s action in the world. A radical interventionist understanding holds that at times God acts directly in the world in ways that violate, or at least do not follow, the natural order. This understanding assumes that divine action involves a manifestation of power that is not limited by any other power. Another understanding of divine action holds that God acts in special ways through the ordinary processes of nature. This understanding often understands divine action as the offering of new opportunities as an expression of divine love for the creation.

        Both concepts of divine action can allow for human, or created reality in general, cooperation with divine actions. While interventionist accounts appear to make created reality’s cooperation unnecessary and irrelevant in some situations, calls for obedience to God’s purposes indicate that creaturely response is not irrelevant in all situations. The parting of the Red Sea required the Israelites to move through the parting of the sea. In accounts where God acts in special ways through the ordinary processes of nature, created reality cooperates, or hinders, God’s purposes.

        The danger in recognizing the importance, necessity, of created reality’s cooperation with divine actions is that the emphasis upon cooperation may lead to the loss of the recognition of divine purpose in actions. Divine action is crucial in either concept of divine action if created reality is to do more than repeat the past. Whether by direct action or by presenting possibilities to created reality, divine action makes possible moving beyond the past that has led to distortions and destruction of God’s purposes. Divine action always involves created realities involvement but created realities alone will fail to bring about better forms of existence. This failure may be immediately evident or may only become evident through long term effects.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Just re-read your answer to my question, and it seems to me that you and Tom ( OORD) have a collaborative philosophy of “how” God works within the “creaturely” realm— it is primarily from the basis that “God is Love”, and as a result, can only work “with us” to bring about His best for us through cooperation within that Love. (Sorry about the run-on sentence… but I’m exhausted and too lazy to edit it! )


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