In this episode, Kurt talks about divine providence and the problem of evil with Dr. Thomas Jay Oord in his book The Uncontrolling Love of God.
Dr. Oord has generously provided the clips of an audio book for FREE. You can download them at this link here.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be with you here this afternoon. In Chicagoland the weather has warmed up today. Chris shakes his head right away. The weather is going to be in the 50’s today which is a nice break from the cold weather that we’ve had. Of course, it’s still going to get colder. The winter is not yet over, but it’s a nice little break that we have here. Chris loves cold weather. Chris why don’t you tell people how much you love cold weather and what you do when the weather is cold?
Chris: Cold weather is when I get my most exercise. It’s when I go for walks and such because…
Kurt: You derive pleasure.
Chris: I derive great pleasure from biting cold and negative degree temperatures. As long as you’re bundled up like an astronaut it’s perfectly fine.
Kurt: Not my cup of tea. So Chris was shaking his head here that today is in fact warm. But it’s been great. My family went on a walk this morning even though that wasn’t even the warmest yet, so very nice here in Chicagoland. I know that there are a number of political updates. In case you are not an American or if you are an American, if you’ve lived in a box for the past couple weeks, Donald Trump is now officially the 45th president of the United States and so that has happened. I’m looking forward to seeing what policies come forth. I think a number of people are unsure from some of the things he said so I’ve told my friends, let’s wait and see what policies come forth and then make our assessments. Some people think it’s the end of the world apparently because there have been riots in Washington D.C. There’s videos on social media of protesters smashing the Starbucks windows so it’s definitely stirring some controversy and then today is also the womens’ march day which has been going on quite a bit. On my personal page I shared a couple of articles that might interest you about that and various things that might be said. From what I’ve read online, there seems to be a lot of pro-choice stuff and I’m sure something that’s often brought up when talking about womens’ right is the wage gap, the difference in pay. I’ve studied this issue a little bit. I haven’t written any papers on it or anything like that, but that appears to be a myth because it’s a statistic taken from people summarizing the averages of pay of men and women without differentiating the types of jobs. At any rate, oh, so today’s show we’re going to be talking about the uncontrolling love of God by Thomas J. Oord which is a book that I’ve read last year. It’s a book on divine providence and the problem of evil, so we’re going to be talking a little bit about that just a little bit later. We’ve got some announcements to get to, some great things. So those that are watching right now on Facebook live, you might actually notice this massive banner behind me which was just a great blessing by a donor, someone who listens to the show and wanted to support what we’re doing and thought, hey, what a great opportunity here for us to get that. We have had the Defenders banner, this small 3 footer. This is like a ten foot curve thing a donor wanted us to have so what a great opportunity here so thank you to that donor. You know who you are. Definitely I think already improves our video shot. With the TV we don’t need to put the banner up. Rather we’ve just got the logo and then follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and the texting there. Those are a number of ways that you can follow us online, and the texting, so this is a fascinating thing. 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Well, maybe, no yes, do tell your friends because you like the show and we’d love to get your feedback as well and so there’s ways you can do that. You can find us on Facebook and on Twitter. The twitter handle is @VeracityHill so you can follow us there and so there’s a number of ways you can get in touch with us and even if you want to give us a call, if you want to have your voice heard on the show either while we’re live just leave us a message that we can play or not play during the week, the number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. So, I think that got most of the things that I wanted to say. I think that covered most of them. Alright. Good. I think that leaves us all set so here we want to, on today’s episode, we want to talk about a little bit about divine providence and the problem of evil and we’re going to be talking about this book, The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas J. Oord. The subtitle is An Open and Relational Account of Providence. Before I begin talking about the main point of the book, let me set the tone a little bit here. A number of theologians have embraced what’s called the Open Theist position or Open Theism and it’s basically the idea that, well there are a number of tenets. One of the core is that humans have free will and so as a result of that and because they think God’s also in time, God does not have foreknowledge of future contingent truths, which means does God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future. The book is not exactly about that, but of course there are implications. The reason why you know the book’s not exactly about that is because Oord and a very famous open theist, John Sanders, have disagreement on this so the book is chiefly about providence. It’s about providence and models of providence and how we can look at that with the problem of evil so let me get started by talking a little bit about the book. The book begins with Dr. Oord talking about the problem of evil and how evil requires an explanation, but not just any evil. For Oord, Oord thinks heinous severe evil or what philosophers and some theologians call gratuitous evil, evil that seems to be unjustified for if God is good and all-loving then He would try His best to get rid of evil or to prevent it from happening so it’s fascinating to see how some philosophers and theologians approach this issue, the problem of evil, whether they give just a defense, so here on the show I think we’ve talked about Alvin Plantinga’s defense, the free-will defense, regarding the logical problem of evil, for those, I guess we did an episode on the three problems way back, maybe last September or October, so if you want to listen to that as a primer, scroll the way down on your phone, and go ahead and listen to that one. Alvin Plantinga talks about a defense and says basically humans have free-will and says that’s why evil occurs. For Oord, Oord is saying something more than that and of course Oord would agree that humans have free-will and in fact Oord talks about how we have a libertarian sense of free-will and so for him there’s just really this robust sense that humans are not coerced. Humans may be influenced, but they aren’t determined to do certain things and that is to say that all of a person’s past might be influential for their making a decision, but it does not determine what choice they will make whereas some Christian theologians believe that we do not have another option, even if we’re presented with multiple options, our past experiences and such will basically assure that we will choose something over something else, say vanilla over chocolate, so for Oord, freedom is at least in this book, it’s almost like an assumption and also with that is the randomness of the world, that there are coincidences. I think he even embraces from what I recall, or at least the model includes, is compatible with I should say theistic evolution so he talks about that. He talks about the randomness and the regularities of life and sometimes the irregularities that occur as a result of that so what I found really interesting is, and I appreciated about the book was his models of divine providence and so he has basically, I don’t want to say it’s exhaustive, but he has a chart of different models of providence and let me just read for you those different camps if you will because I think it’s just a very good spectrum for us to get a beginning grasp on these models of providence. The first position, God is the omnicause. The second position, God empowers and overpowers. So that’s a little bit less than being the allcause. Number three. God is voluntarily self-limited. Four. God is essentially kenotic and we’ll go over what that word means in a moment. Five. God sustains as an impersonal force. Six. God is initial creator and current observer so for those, that looks very similar to deism. Right? Seven. God’s ways are not our ways. Now let me just provide more of a description so that’s go back over to this spectrum. God is the omnicause. If someone believes that God is the omnicause, then this person would believe that everything that exists is entirely controlled by God at all times so divine sovereignty for this person entails determinism for absolutely everything and so let’s just move to number two then. God empowers and overpowers. This is sort of a, it’s not exhaustive but there’s frequent divine coercion. Right? God is generally all-controlling, but sometimes He gives freedom to His creatures and sometimes they cooperate, so maybe God gives me the freedom to tie my right shoe first and my left shoe second, but for the important decisions in life, about my salvation or such, maybe God’s already determined what should happen. Number three, and three is sort of the one that I’ve been sympathetic to, that God is voluntarily self-limited, and this is historically the traditional free-will, traditional theism approach to free-will. God generally provides freedom and agency to creatures and He seeks their cooperation, but God occasionally coerces by determining creatures unilaterally. Now, that main description that God seeks cooperation and such, but occasionally coerces, like I said, I’m sympathetic to this view so we have to flesh out what that means, how the things are determined. The Scripture does talk about some things being determined and so how God determines those things is very important. How God determines those things is very important. And of course at the end of the day, it may be the case that Dr. Oord and I are really close on our own models of providence. Now I might have a disagreement over divine foreknowledge and I’ll get into the point about gratuitous evil later, but in terms of providence we might find ourselves on similar models. Okay, so God is essentially kenotic. What is meant here, and this is Dr. Oord’s thesis and of course that’s why he put it as the center of the spectrum. So he thinks here that God necessarily provides freedom and agency to creatures, the effectiveness of God’s activity and the forms of God’s activity take varies, so basically by that, he thinks that in order to create truly free creatures out of His love, He does it necessarily so because God is loving, He necessarily creates free creatures and wants to be in a relationship with them. That’s different than the previous version which is God just voluntarily limits Himself so Oord ground God’s choice to create in His love, which is maybe a good move, although I’ve got some concerns for how some of this stuff is fleshed out, which I’ll get to likely after the break. Before I continue on talking about the kenosis free-will theism, let me also say again, if you’re listening live and you want to join us in conversation, if you have questions about divine providence and why God allows evil you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. So what does it mean that God is essentially kenotic? Well let me read here from Philippians and this is a very famous passage about Christ’s self-limiting and so, this is from Philippians 1.
“Let each of you not to look to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who (And here then many scholars think that what Paul writes is a hymn, it’s a creedal hymn, so it’s very fascinating that here we have this, an ancient hymn in the Scripture, and you know this almost just because the intonation, the way it just rolls off the tongue.) though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but He emptied Himself, (there, emptied, kenosis, he emptied Himself) taking the form of a slave. Being born in human likeness and being found in human form. He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on Earth and under the Earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
So that comes from Philippians and it’s the famous kenosis hymn and so basically this concept of self-emptying is what motivates Dr. Oord here in his model of divine providence. He thinks that because God’s essence is love, He empties Himself necessarily and so in that sense He just doesn’t voluntarily limit Himself, but He is limited in view of His own nature. So that’s essentially the kenosis model and we’ll talk about, we’ll flesh that out a little bit more after the break and I’ll even mention some of my issues with it. I should say concerns, not necessarily concerns, but my worries with it. So #5 on that spectrum if you’re following along is that God is seen as an impersonal force. What does that mean? It basically means that God provides the freedom or agency of creation and God’s activity is uniform but never interrupts with His creation. Maybe it’s there and it’s not merely observed, but there’s never an interruption, almost just a sustaining force sustaining the laws of the universe for instance. #6. God is initial creator and current observer. As many who study theology have heard this term Deism. This is the Deism position. That God initially acted. He’s the first mover to create the universe and sets up its laws, however God does not currently act in the world, either coercively or persuasively so He’s just observing, not interfering in anyway. Then lastly, God’s ways are not our ways and this is what Oord has also called a mysterious divine action. God’s action is entirely unlike creaturely action. God’s ways are utterly incomprehensible so we just don’t know. Right? How or when God acts. So that is the reverse of God is the cause of everything. Well, we just don’t know. Maybe. That’s the last one. God’s ways are not our ways. So at the very least here Oord’s trying to attempt to understand how it is that God acts in the world and he presents what, I do appreciate the spectrum. I think it’s a very nice way of categorizing the different approaches and some of the, he talks about some of the problems of each of these approaches in his book, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open And Relational Account of Providence. So after the break, I’m going to be talking about some of my concerns with his view here, some of the difficulties I think might arise, and some of my differences about gratuitous evil, so if you stick with us you’ll get an opportunity to hear that, so here’s a short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. Let me also note there that last clip from the Illinois Family Institute about the worldview event. Defenders is going to be there at this event so we’d love to see you there next month in Barrington and it’ll be a great opportunity to hear from Frank Turek who is a top-notch apologist. He’s got a great speaking ministry across the country. If you’re not too familiar with apologetics come on out to that event because Dr. Turek will be great and I think because it’s IFI we’ll also be talking about some political stuff as well. I’m pretty sure just knowing the nature of that organization, which of course if you’re not a foreigner to this show we do from time to time talk about political issues. Before jumping back into the topic for today’s show again I want to remind you that you have an opportunity to win a DVD, Origins Today: Genesis Through Ancient Eyes by Dr. John Walton and Reasons To Believe: Thoughtful Responses To Life’s Tough Questions and the way you enter is simply text the word VERACITY to 555-888 and so it’s a good opportunity to join our texting plan. We don’t even send out a text a week. It’s less than that, but it’s a great opportunity for you to just get a quick update about the show or maybe an oncoming guest and for you to talk to me through that plan if you’ve got a quick note or suggestion or if you’ve got a comment or suggestion for that guest. I’m on the system right now that we have and so it’s an easy way for you to get in touch with me and the perk then also is it’s anonymous so I don’t have peoples numbers saved in the system here so I don’t know exactly who it is that I’m talking with so if you want to ask a question anonymously that’s a good way to do it as well. So let’s get back to talking about the uncontrolling love of God and at this time I’d like to welcome Dr. Thomas J. Oord to the show. We’re in the second half of the show but in the first half, I was basically talking about your book, the structure of it, how we need to make sense of evil, there is randomness in the world and that you defend a libertarian free-will position which is a position I’m sympathetic toward and then I talked about the models of providence, those couple chapters there, which I certainly appreciated and I hope if you want to go back and listen I do justice to describing the different positions and so if I may, let’s just jump into sort of picking your brain on some of the things that I had questions about. In the book.
Kurt: So in the book you talk about genuine evil. There is this sense of gratuitous evil, so are you willing to affirm then that you think there is gratuitous evil, there are particular instances of gratuitous evil in the world and for our listeners maybe you could describe what that means. What does gratuitous evil mean?
Oord: Sounds Great. Thanks Kurt and thanks for your graciousness. I think we all intuitively act in ways that suggest we think there are genuine evils in the world or gratuitous evils. Genuine evils as I define them are any event that makes the world worse than it might have been had some other possible event occurred so that means that not all painful events are evil events because sometimes painful things are needed, for instance when a woman gives birth to a child then she knows she’s probably going to have to go through pains, but that’s part of the process of having children and so we wouldn’t call that a genuine evil.
Oord: I think genuine evils are things that make things worse than they might have been and as I see it, Christians have a word sin that describes for them at least one of the most major ways evil happens in the world. We do something other than what God wants and that results in evil.
Kurt: Gotcha. I don’t want to spend too much time on this because I know we have other things to talk about, but would you say then that, in your view you would say that, let’s take an instance of seemingly gratuitous evil, but in order for that evil not to occur, for there to be a slightly more just world, maybe it’s the case that God would have to determine what a person does which of course something that both you and I would not want to accept. Right? Because we both want to support the notion that God creates a world with free creatures. Is that right?
Oord: It’s right. Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of people who are libertarian free-will theists like you and I are. What makes me a little bit different from some libertarian free-will theists is that I say that God not stopping evil events caused by free decisions is something that God cannot do rather than simply will not do or or chooses not to do. Some free-will theists, God gives freedom but God can take it away or override it or withdraw it in some way and I want to say no, that’s something that God simply cannot do because of God’s nature of self-giving other-powering love.
Kurt: Right. Yeah. In the first half of the show when I was talking about these models of providence, the classical free-will theist has typically said that God voluntarily limits Himself, but for you, you take it the next stop further. Maybe hypothetically asking yourself, “Why does God choose to do that?” You ground that in God’s nature which I think is probably a good approach. Because God is all-loving, He wants to be in a right relationship with His creation. That is to say He wants to have a genuine relationship with them and so in order to do that then He cannot do certain things. Is that right?
Oord: That’s right. I think of my position as kind of between two other positions. The one you just described I call a voluntary free-will theism or voluntary self-limitation on God’s part. This is the idea that God has the kind of power to control others, but most of the time He chooses not to do so. On the other side of my position is a view that somehow God is constrained by external forces, powers, maybe the God-world relationship, something outside of God prevents God from controlling us. Mine is in the middle that says that God really is constrained, but it’s by God’s own nature. It’s not some external force, but it’s also not a free decision on God’s part. It comes out of God’s heart we might say. I say that love is logically prior to sovereignty in God’s nature which means God must love and this love generates itself in self-giving others-empowering which involves giving freedom, agency, self-organization. I want to have that kind of control go beyond just free-will creatures.
Oord: Or lack of control.
Kurt: Right, and I think even just personally you and I are pretty close. I’ve been sympathetic to the traditional free-will theist position, but you talk about how for the traditional view it’s that maybe God sometimes determines some creatures to do some things. For me of course, my concern would be, well how does that happen? So for you, in terms of providence and determinism, how does God get something done and so for you, you don’t want to say that God overtakes a person’s mind, but you talk about how God influences people, tell us a little bit more about how exactly God can sort of make something happen. How does God assure that Jesus will be arrested by the Roman guards? Something like that.
Oord: Yeah. In my view God is always active in all situations all the time throughout the entire universe. From the smallest molecule to the most complex creature, God is present moment by moment influencing by empowering that person or thing, calling it, whatever the kind of complexity the creature has, God is involved in a causal relationship, but never a controlling relationship so that means that God has a will in everything that happens in the world, but never an overriding will, never a controlling will. This then presents a different way of thinking about God that is seen in miracles for instance or the kinds of events that you just mentioned. It says that creatures most cooperate with God in order for certain things to occur that God wants to happen, and this makes some people nervous, because they want, I want a God who can resurrect Jesus unilaterally, can do this miracle that way, can control the winds, the rain, whatever. I think God is present and active in those situations and God is the source of those miracles. I really do believe God resurrected Jesus from the dead. I really do believe God is at the heart of the miraculous that occur in the world, but my claim is that we can understand every single miracle in a way that says God didn’t control, that in some way those creatures who are complex enough to cooperate cooperated with God or God worked with the conditions of inanimate matter or creation to do some kind of miraculous activity.
Kurt: I don’t want to be drawing too much on scientific methodology, so how would it be that God sort of enters into and works with the physical creation? How can God do the miracle of the loaves and the fishes? How does that happen if God sort of can’t intervene, at least with creatures that have freedom?
Oord: Great question. I’m big time into science and written quite a few books on science and religion issues so I’m not welcome to you bringing into the science stuff. There’s a lot of differences of opinion among scientists, especially in terms of philosophy of science, but one of the more powerful ways of talking about what happens in the world is to say that the physical world is made up primarily of events, not substances. I’m getting a little philosophical here for a moment. That means that at the most fundamental levels we shouldn’t think of reality as like little balls bouncing off one another like a pool table. We should think of the most fundamental levels and even the most complex levels as event kind of things, experiences, moments, and if we think in that kind of a way, if we think that five loaves and two fish, neutrons, everything has some kind of event reality, then it’s much easier for us to think of God who is omnipresent I believe interacting with events, moments, experiences, throughout all of reality in influential kinds of ways.
Kurt: Interesting. So here’s maybe a trickier question than inanimate objects. What about a girl who has cancer. Would you say that God, and I want to be careful and I don’t mean to insult if I do, would you say that God can heal the girl that has cancer?
Oord: Excellent question. Let me preface it by saying the illustration you’re offering now I think is easier from my view than let’s say Jesus walking on water or calming the wind and waves and the reason I think that is that I think that the cancerous cells that make up this girl that we’re talking about here are great in illustrations of individuals or entities with agency and so when God wants to heal a girl with cancer, God is interacting at all levels of who this girl is, from her mind to her molecules and the cells that have become cancerous have formed in ways that I think God doesn’t want them to form. Given that I don’t think God can control anything or anyone at any time, the kind of healing God wants to do in this girl’s life is not going to be a kind of controlling healing. It’s going to be a healing that involves calling, persuading, acting in relationship to, I’ll use a lot of different words here, the cells and all the other organisms in her body. I think this is really helpful when you think about the kind of studies that occur when we find that people can do things to influence their own bodies as if our minds have some sort of relationship with ourselves. I think that they are real and genuine phenomenon, this psycho-social, psycho-physical kind of connection. I think God is present in that process as well, but my point is God is never going to be controlling at any level of complexity in any person at any time. When miracles occur, we can praise God for God’s activity, but there were always some kind of creaturely cooperating with God as well.
Kurt: So then you would say that God can’t heal the girl if by that someone means God just unilaterally flips a switch and all of a sudden the cancerous cells die. Right? But rather that there
Kurt: So you would say that God can heal the girl through the method you just sort of, or model I should say, that you laid out there.
Oord: Exactly. And I find this really helpful, because I don’t know about you, I’ve prayed for a lot of people in my life who haven’t gotten well and when you pray for people in church like I have and they haven’t gotten well, you’d think that God could heal them by unilateral force, by interference or sometimes we say intervention, then all of a sudden you have to figure why isn’t God healing so very often? Is it because it’s something wrong with the person? They don’t have enough faith? Is it because it’s part of God’s mysterious plan that requires people to have cancer and die? There’s all kinds of really big problems that emerge. I call this the problem of selective miracles. They’re far too few miracles in the world if God has the kind of power most people think God has and is all-loving.
Kurt: So your model here provides better reasoning for us to recognize why it may be the case that God doesn’t heal everybody, makes better sense of that than just putting it on God’s mysterious will or even worse saying that God’s got a specific will for that person to have cancer.
Kurt: So here’s a question then from critics I imagine. So they say, well then, your conception of God is a God that’s not omnipotent, so what would you say to someone like that?
Oord: That’s a good comment. I like the word Almighty. Omnipotent…
Kurt: I do too. Yeah.
Oord: Excellent. Cool. Obviously people are going to have different meanings of what almighty is and for me I think almighty has three meanings. First of all, I think God is almighty in that God is the source of might for all others. Secondly, I think God exerts might upon all others. Finally, I think God is almighty in the sense that God is the one who is the ground of might or power in reality. God can be almighty in all three of those senses without being capable of totally controlling others so I want to say God is the mightiest being, exerts might upon all others, is the ground or the basis for power in the universe, but never is a controlling God because of God’s nature of love.
Kurt: So let’s take one more example and then we’ll move on to some other questions. How does the resurrection of Jesus occur then if Jesus is dead, His human flesh is dead, how does God persuade the bad cells or what exactly happens there in that case?
Oord: Yeah. It’s an awesome question and actually I cover this some in my book The Nature of Love, but when we think about dead people, their bodies don’t disappear and if you’re someone like me who thinks that we have continued subjective experience beyond death of our bodies, what a lot of people call a soul or mind, I believe in that, I think Jesus has that kind of mind or subjective experience and the organisms in Jesus’s body are still there and functioning, at least to some degree. Obviously when you die some things start to shut down, etc., but what if we have an individual like Jesus who lives a sinless life? But has the kind of relationship with His body that means that even when it’s finally dead, because of Jesus’s mind, soul, whatever you might call it, it can respond to God and also be in the process of working with God to persuade the rest of the bodily members to have a kind of resurrection that God wants. I don’t know about you, but I read a lot of stuff on health and people who treat their bodies well, tend to live longer, their bodies respond to them better because of the way they’ve treated them. The group in the United States that gets studied the most in terms of longevity are the Seventh-Day Adventists down there in California. These people are vegetarians. They have very important rules on keeping their body clean and healthy. What if you have a person who is sinless, who I think Jesus is? That person would have an incredible kind of relationship with the rest of the bodily members. I think that’s likely, plus of course I think Jesus’s mind or soul would want to cooperate with God’s desire to be resurrected. How’s that for a wild idea?
Kurt: Yeah. In some ways it brings home the reality that there is a method here. There’s not just, it’s true there’s not just a switch that God flips. There’s a way, to use an anthropomorphism, there’s a way His hands get dirty. Even Genesis talks about how man’s created from the dust of the Earth, so God is working in the natural world and at least here, your model seems to at least provide a better account of that than other models might.
Oord: Thank you. I’ve also been influenced by the Wesleyan theological tradition and John Wesley really emphasized that salvation comes not because God forces people to do things, but God acts first and then we can respond in salvation so you take that basic idea, that God acts and then we must respond in order for salvation to be manifest and you kind of spread it all throughout creation, then you have a way of understanding the kind of proposal that I’m putting on the table, that God is a God of love, who empowers others, who calls others, who waits for response, but never controls.
Kurt: Some people might be concerned because, and correct me if I’m mistaken, so you do affirm the open theist position on divine foreknowledge.
Oord: I do.
Kurt: But as I’ve mentioned to the listeners this book is chiefly about providence and of course the two might be related in some ways, but as I read this book last year, it struck me that for starters, there’s a debate going on between you and John Sanders which means that it’s not an open theist exclusive so these are models of providence, but two, that for someone that affirms the simple foreknowledge view, they could embrace this model of providence. Is that right?
Oord: I hadn’t thought about that. Perhaps they could. I don’t know of any who do, but I’d have to think about that. God could somehow know the future and of course as an open theist I think that only makes sense if the future is settled and not open, but if I somehow could figure out a way that the future really was open and yet somehow God knew it, then I suppose it could probably work. Again, it doesn’t make sense to me to think that way. I’m an open theist.
Kurt: Well I know you’re surely colleagues with Kevin Tempe there at Northwest Nazarene University and I think he affirms the simple foreknowledge view.
Oord: That’s right. He does. He’s a great guy, very smart. He’s actually moved on now to Calvin College.
Kurt: Has he? Okay.
Oord: Yeah. I don’t think he affirms my particular mode of providence, but he is definitely a libertarian free-will theist and he affirms simple foreknowledge. I’ve had conversations with Kevin about what he calls inanimate matter. He really wants to keep freedom really at the human level and I want to talk about freedom more broadly speaking and agency and self-organization at less complex levels. He’s not really into that kind of thing. I don’t know that he rejects it out of hand, but he just doesn’t find it as plausible.
Kurt: Yeah. So I’d be interesting to get your thoughts in a few months if you think more about it because I think this view is compatible. I didn’t think anything struck me off the bat that would force the simple foreknowledge advocate to relinquish that view on foreknowledge, at least for your model of providence here. As I mentioned…
Oord: It’d be kind of interesting to ask the question of why is it that folks who affirm the simple foreknowledge position haven’t been even proposing models of providence that are in the neighborhood of what I’m proposing. I have a suspicion that most people, go ahead.
Kurt: It seems that some people are concerned that the simple foreknowledge camp doesn’t put out, for the listener here, for you that may not be too involved in the academic debates, some of the concerns that philosophers and theologians have over the simple foreknowledge position, which is that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future, is that there aren’t any models of providence so what sort of benefit is it for God to have simple foreknowledge? Does it serve Him in any way for His guiding of human history? I think that’s a good and accurate exposition of the academic state of affairs and so yeah, so maybe that’s the concern that you as an open theist would have, that there’s no model of providence, and maybe that is something I’d have to do more thinking about myself, although I’m not a philosopher and this isn’t thankfully my area of expertise, but maybe someday. But no, getting back here to your book, I found myself appreciating a number of the things that you did. I’ve got some concerns, you know, over the concept of gratuitous evil, whereas I would want to say maybe I wouldn’t be willing to affirm that there is gratuitous evil, but again I don’t think that hinders your project by and large so it’d be interesting.
Kurt: Yeah. It’s very good and I highly recommend the book to people, people watching on Facebook live. I’ve held up the book a couple times so you can check it out if you’re interested yourself. Now Dr. Oord, I’m just going to pass you off here to Chris who’s here our panelist to see if he’s got some questions. He hasn’t read the book, but that might be beneficial because then he’s maybe going to ask some more off-the-cuff questions here.
Chris: Sure. Well first of all thank you Dr. Oord for being on the show and talking about your book today. I appreciate your insights on things. I am a little confused, maybe you can help bring some clarity too. I’m having trouble understanding how you’re jumping from the premise to God’s nature being love therefore He doesn’t control anyone directly and I can think of many instances where I use my will to control things in certain instances of people that I love and it seems like, because it’s for their benefit, and it seems like a lot of times on the whole as Christians when we enter into this relationship with Jesus, we have this new covenant with God, we often find ourselves emotionally being subjected to things that we didn’t sign up for, via God’s love or His will rather, that He is changing parts about us as per our new relationship and new covenant with the Lord through Jesus Christ that we did not necessarily at the beginning think He was going to change or give Him permission to change and we find the Christian life becomes very difficult, but those who have walked the Christian life will admit this difficulty that was usually imposed upon us without out permission directly is for our benefit and we see we end up praising God for His love for us because of that, so maybe if we can make a microscope of that premise and the next one of God being loving so therefore He doesn’t necessarily control because I can think of many times throughout the Old Testament specifically where God’s will overrode the will of other people or entire nations, saying I’m going to do this now because I love you all, but these people need to die or you need to move because I love you and this is the most loving thing that can happen to you right now. So on and so forth, but I was just curious to see how you make that transition from point A to point B.
Oord: Cool. I can think of about six different things that I want to say. Let me start with this notion that we can control others sometimes and it might be loving for us to do so so why would it be not loving for God to control us? I actually don’t think we can ever control others, not in the technical sense of controlling, being a, what philosophers call, a sufficient cause. However, I do think that we can influence others in powerful ways and in some instances we can use our bodies to do things to other people that they don’t want to have done with them. When my daughter was two years old she went through a time when she was throwing temper tantrums. I remember one morning in particular she ran to the front door after my wife had left and threw a temper tantrum beating on the front door. I was so frustrated with her. We’d been working on this temper tantrum thing for awhile. I stormed out of my room. I went down to the front door. I picked her up. I shook my finger in her face. I said, “You will not be throwing temper tantrums in this house.” I walked her back to her bed. I put her on my bed. She’s flailing my arms around, kicking. I did something that I’m not really proud of. I put my leg over her leg so she couldn’t kick me anymore. I put my arm around her two arms so she couldn’t hit me anymore. Then with my other hand I put it on her mouth so she wouldn’t scream in my ear and in that particular moment I said to myself, “Even I can’t totally control my daughter. I’m bigger than she is. I can pick her up because I have a body and movement, but I can’t control her. She still has a mind and a will.” Now with God, we have an even more interesting situation. Most Christians, at least the classic tradition has said that God is an omnipresent spirit without a localized physical body so whereas you and I can pick up two year-olds who throw temper tantrums and put their bodies in places they might not want to go, God doesn’t have a localized physical body like we do. God’s an omnipresent spirit. That allows God to do all kinds of things we can’t, but when God wants us, there are some things that God wants to have happen in the world, that God calls upon creatures to use their bodies to do. With that in the beginning, let me go to the Old Testament stuff. I can’t think of a single instance in the Old Testament that explicitly says God controlled Israel or anyone in the sense of being a sufficient cause. The closest example we have is the classic of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, but a lot of Biblical scholars say that they shouldn’t be understood in a sense of God totally controlling Pharaoh. There’s some other ways to interpret that particular passage. Now it’s definitely the case that people attribute to God all kinds of things. Things I think are sometimes correct and other times incorrect. When people attribute things to God that I think are correct, I don’t think God alone did them. I think others cooperated with them, even inanimate objects cooperated with them, but there are sometimes in which people attribute to God that I think they misattribute. When the Psalmist says that God wants them to bash the heads of the babies over the rocks, I don’t think God wanted that, so there are instances in which I think people attribute evil to God that God really didn’t want.
Chris: Let me clarify because I think I’m thinking of something slightly different and that’s where I’m finding confusion with your point. Would you say there’s a difference between God completely controlling the will of someone in this kind of hypothetical situation, completely controlling the will of someone versus I having a will and God having a will and those two things being in conflict and God says, “No. My will is going to override yours right now.” Even though my will might remain by my choice, the effects of it are nullified by God’s action with His will which directly contradicts mine. Would you say those two things are different or are they the same to you?
Oord: They’re the same to me because if overriding my will means that God is going to force me to do something I don’t want to do, then I’m against that, but there could be instances in which I want X to happen. God wants Y to happen, and God involves other creatures to make happen that I didn’t want to have happen, so there’s other agents involved here, but to make it a more personal thing, let’s say God says I want you to cooperate with me by living a life of love. Could I say, “Heck, no?” I don’t think God can force me to do that. It may be that God wants the Gospel preached to somebody down my street and God calls me go preach the Gospel to Jane down the end of my street and I say, “Heck, no.” God talks to my wife and says “Go preach the Gospel to Jane,” and my wife does. Well God ends up getting what God wants even though I said no in that particular instance.
Kurt: If I can capitalize on this illustration, how about Jonah and the Ninevites? Jonah says no, he runs away, he flees, but certain events happen and Jonah’s back on shore.
Oord: Yeah. In my view, when Jonah got back on shore, Jonah could say, “I’m not going to do that anymore.” Jonah still has a will not to cooperate with God so I don’t see that as an instance of God controlling if it actually happened the way that it did and Jonah spends three days in a fish, I think fish can cooperate with God, so maybe the fish were part of the plan. There’s a lot of other ways to explain this story that don’t require God to totally control anyone or anything in the situation.
Kurt: Seth here on Facebook is asking you, “Does control necessitate sufficient causation?” That sounds like a deeply philosophical question.
Chris: A lot of words.
Kurt: Does control necessitate sufficient causation?
Oord: As I define it, yes.
Oord: I could use other language.
Kurt: It’s true.
Oord: I could use other language in terms of unilateral determination, other kinds of things, but I’m talking in terms of sufficient cause. I’m also bringing in from time to time the notion of what I call bodily impact. My illustration of the two year-old with the temper tantrums is an instance of bodily impact. I wouldn’t call that control in the very narrow sense, but some people would.
Kurt: Right. It all just depends on how you define control. Maybe you can control certain affairs, but not be coercing.
*Talking over each other*
Oord: One of the things I tried to do in this book and I can understand how some people are confused by it, I tried to use the word control instead of sufficient causation or coercion in part because I think that word control is more understandable for a wider audience. You don’t have to be a philosopher, plus that word coerce, it has a whole bunch of meanings too. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean sufficient cause. We use the word coerce all the time in the sense of one party putting a lot of pressure on another party or manipulating another party. Maybe Russia says to Syria, if you don’t support me then I’m gonna let the rebels overrun what’s going on. That’s a kind of coercion. That’s not a sufficient cause. I try to stay away from that word coerce because of it’s problematic interpretations.
Kurt: Interesting. What are your thoughts, I know at least, our ministry recently brought on a number of what we call regional associates and I know a couple of them are what’s called Molinists. How familiar are you with that philosophical model of providence and if you are…
Oord: I’m very familiar with it.
Kurt: So what’s your interpretation? What’s your take? Do you affirm what’s commonly called the grounding, I guess you would, the grounding objection against Molinism.
Kurt: Okay. Any other concerns with it? For me, it seems a bit too controlling. Even God in His survey of the feasible worlds is still picking which world to actualize and that might be a bit too controlling for me.
Oord: Yeah. That’s a real problem for me as well. You know it’s interesting, when you made your comments earlier about a person who affirms simple foreknowledge could affirm my model of providence. I guess technically a molinist could affirm my view of God’s power, but again I don’t know any molinists who want to go down that road, and I have a sense that it has partly to do with the way they understand God’s power in general and God’s love and how they relate. The molinists are not as big, in my view the molinists are simply not, this won’t sound kind, but I’ll just say it, the molinists are confused. I don’t see them as a significant threat, but I just think they’ve got a confused view of these things.
Kurt: We’re running low on time here Dr. Oord, but thanks for coming on and then for those of you that are interested, believe it or not, Dr. Oord has created an audiobook of The Uncontrolling Love of God which is available on Veracity Hill’s website to download so you can listen to it chapter by chapter and you did the recording yourself, you didn’t hire some other professional voice artist. Is that correct?
Oord: That’s correct and let me apologize for that right now.
Kurt: I’m in favor of that method because when I read a book I want to read it hearing the author and so..
Kurt: So when I read for example Os Guinness’s book, I can just imagine his voice, or when I read philosophy by Alvin Plantinga, I hear him speak the words, so the fact that you did that I actually appreciate because you’re really soaking it up then, and how the author intends for a certain phrase to sound, it’s different than if some professional artist were paid to read it in a dramatic voice which may even be distracting.
Oord: I hadn’t thought of that. Well, thanks, and I hope your listeners, your viewers take advantage of that and it’s divided into eight different chapters. Some are 45 minutes. Some are a little longer. They can just listen to them at their own convenience, and I also just want to say that if you’d like to follow any of the other stuff I’m doing, you can go to my website which is ThomasJOord.com and I’ve got a newsletter you can sign up for. I’m always posting pictures and blogs and doing other stuff so I’d love to have folks stop by and check out the website.
Kurt: Of course. Dr. Oord. Thanks so much for joining us on the show today.
Oord: I enjoyed the conversation and thanks so much for inviting me.
Kurt: We’ll have to bring you on again sometime in the future. Thanks so much. By by.
Oord: Sounds Good. See you later guys.
Kurt: Alright. So again you can check out Dr. Thomas J. Oord’s book The Uncontrolling Love of God: an Open and Relational Account of Providence, and again let me clarify. This is an interesting book. One of which I’m close to sympathetic to his concerns and positions because it’s on providence, but of course I don’t presently affirm open theism, but there Dr. Oord presented some challenges to the simple foreknowledge position for not providing models or accounts of providence. At any rate, if you’ve got thoughts on today’s show, I’d love to hear from you. Send us a message on our website or give us a call. Even text me. Just text the word VERACITY to 555-888. I’d love to get your thoughts on today’s show on providence. If you’ve got questions or objections. Maybe you’re a Calvinist and you’re listening and thinking this is just nonsense. I’d love to get your thoughts and questions and queries. Let’s engage on some of these topics that we’re talking about, and the truth is I don’t have every answer. That’s why our tagline is striving for truth on faith, politics, and society, because I’m still trying to figure out some of these issues myself and this podcast provides a great outlet for me to explore some of these issues in a way that can even fit with my schedule. So it’s just a good opportunity for us to take just an hour out of our week to think more deeply about things that Christians should be thinking about and so I’m glad that you’re listening and along for this ride with me as I do these podcasts. So that does it for my show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons. Those are folks that just chip in a couple bucks a month. The number of people that chips in a couple bucks adds up and really helps us to keep moving, and I’m also thankful for the partnerships that we have with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, and Evolution 2.0. Thank you to Chris who was our tech team this week and thank you to our guest Dr. Thomas J. Oord. I’m glad that he was able to come on. As the saying goes I guess, better late than never. I appreciated having him on and being able to pick his brain about a few topics, issues that even I was thinking about and thank you for listening in and striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.