In this episode, Kurt interviews Dr. Thomas Jay Oord on how our theology can influence the way we deal with the problem of evil and suffering.
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. So nice to be with you here, episode 82. Today, we are talking about the pastoral problem of evil and before we get to that, just a few announcements. If you notice that the livestream today might be a little off on what’s called the latency or the video to the audio catching up, that’s because I’m a one-man band today. Chris is out of the studio today. He’ll be available back next week and so we might get that a little off so, yes, I’m the one-man band today and so again, things might be a little off, but hopefully we’ve got it manageable. Next week, we will be at the Illinois Family Institute Annual Worldview Conference where John Stonestreet will be speaking so we’re going to try to be coming to you from there and it should be a lot of fun. Joining me ought to be David Montoya who’s with our organization, and last for announcements I have this. At the end of last year, there was sort of this unforeseen opportunity to get Veracity Hill on the radio here in Chicago on WYLL and so with your help, we can get this podcast program airing weekly on one of the largest stations here in Chicagoland. It even reaches all the way up into Milwaukee. We would love to get your support to make that happen. We only need roughly about $200 a month more to get it to go. If you want to chip in and tell your friends to chip in, we can get to our goal looking for about just over $200 in monthly recurring support. We would love to get your help to make that happen and if you want to know how you can donate, you can just go to Veracityhill.com/patron and you can give that way and sign up to become part of our monthly donors.
Again, today’s topic is on the pastoral problem of evil, and joining me on today’s program is Dr. Thomas Jay Oord who is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar, and he is an award-winning author, has written many books, one of which, two at least, we’re going to be talking about today. He currently teaches at Northwest Nazarene University. He’s a gifted speaker. He is very thoughtful and I appreciate his humility and his genuine approach to seeking God and seeking truth and also he is a fine photographer, if you follow him on social media, so Tom, thanks so much for joining us on the show today.
Tom: It’s my pleasure to be talking with you, Kurt.
Kurt: Before we jump into talking about how people deal with the problem of evil, because for some people, the problem of evil is an intellectual one. They might be looking for, how is it that God can exist and evil exists at the same time. For others however, it’s a bit more personal. They themselves have dealt with evil and suffering in their lives and so this is what some apologists and philosophers have called the pastoral problem of evil or the religious problem of evil, maybe the emotional problem of evil. I’m not sure what your experience has been, but in my experience, I have seen how philosophers and apologists almost brush it off as if this is a problem that is meant for pastors or counselors to deal with and it’s as if they forget that we’re supposed to apply our theology into our beliefs. Have you had a similar experience where the intellectuals just sort of leave it at that, providing no more, even intellectual counsel to people?
Tom: Yeah. Definitely. I’ve seen it work both ways actually. You talk about how intellectuals may not take seriously the pastoral dimensions, the psychological, social, historical, family, all those community kinds of questions and focus on more what I call the theoretical aspect of the problem of evil, but it also works the other way also. Sometimes the pastoral types don’t think carefully about the theoretical dimensions and in my way of thinking we need both sides of that to really make sense of things.
Kurt: For you, you have taken upon yourself not just to write here a book on your view on providence which I will hold up here for folks to see. This is The Uncontrolling Love of God, which we did a show on this book about a year or so ago.
Tom: Sound about right. Yeah.
Kurt: And then, you followed it up, and this is today’s sort of topic. You were a contributior and I would imagine an editor, there were other editors with this, really, it’s a voluminous work, a collection of essays on people who have read your work and have thought about what it means for dealing with evil and suffering in their lives. Before I forget, we do want to give this book away, so if you want to win this book here, all you have to do is share the livestream and we will send it to you if you don’t own it. It’s a collection of essays from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds, people who have had considered the views of providence and how that affects the ways we might cope or handle or deal with evil and suffering in our lives and so we’re going to be talking a bit about that today. Before we get to talking about how people have dealt with that Tom, I think we have to first go and deal with the potential baggage, because when people think about how they should interpret God’s action in the world, we need to first ask the question, what is God like and how does God act? I’m sure we could devote an episode to each of these questions, so just briefly if you could, give us sort of what are some misconceptions you think people might have about what God is like and what do you think then God is like?
Tom: Yeah. I think the reflex for most people in the world is that God is a God who begins with the ability to control others or the actual controlling of others, the sovereign God of the universe is a common phrase. When Hollywood decides to put out a movie on God, they call it Bruce Almighty, rather than Bruce All-Loving, or something else. In my way of thinking, God is powerful, but we need to understand God’s power in the light of God’s love and to use kind of a technical phrase, I think love is logically prior to power in God’s nature, and what that really means is that we ought to think about the way God acts and God’s power throughout the whole universe as shaped by God’s self-giving, others-empowering love.
Kurt: So, and mind you, that was sort of a very brief explanation which is great. What you’re saying is for a lot of people, they have a view of God that emphasizes His power…
Tom: Yeah. So when something bad happens to them, maybe they have cancer, their aunt gets in a wreck and dies, someone is raped in their family, then beginning with that framework of God either being in control of everything or at least having the capacity to control when God wants to, then folks give answers to those things like, “Well, it must have happened for a reason”, or “There’s a reason for everything”, or they’ll say something like “God just allows that to make you a better person. God’s going to build your character”, or they’ll say things like “God just needed another angel in heaven so that’s why your aunt died in a car wreck.” I don’t find those answers ultimately helpful. They may, in the moment, sort of appease some people, but I think people who begin to think carefully about these issues, begin to realize that those aren’t ultimately satisfying answers.
Kurt: On one level, especially in the level of counseling people, those answers don’t seem to be satisfying, at least for some people. Others might find comfort in that, but I think I would be sympathetic to you that an answer wouldn’t really help me,but also so I imagine there might be some people that say well the Bible teaches this, God works all things to good. You’ve got some passages where Joseph is sold into slavery and he later says what you did, God meant for good. For those biblical examples, because I perceive that for a lot of people, the Bible overrides even our emotions or the way we might respond to some situation. What would you say, and I know we don’t have the time to go through every passage, but generally speaking, what would you say? Are people mistaken on how they’re interpreting those passages?
Tom: Yes. I think so. I think the view I have fits very well with the entirety of the Bible. Entirety might be a little strong. There are some passages of Scripture that I think paint God has a god of evil who causes evil, but they’re the very few minority. The vast majority paint a picture of God as love. We take this view of God having controlling power and then we read into, you mentioned the Joseph story, the idea that God had somehow allowed this for some greater good. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, says the passage. I think the better way to interpret that is to say that not that God caused it or allowed what happened to Joseph in order to bring about this particular, later on, Joseph ends up helping his family, but that God can take a really crappy, lousy, horrific situation, that God didn’t want in the first place, and then squeeze some good out of it. God doesn’t give up on us. God doesn’t give up on the situations. God doesn’t want the evil in the world, but God works with everyone and everything to squeeze the best, the most possible good out of it and so we can interpret the Joseph story in that way. Or you take that other example you mentioned in Romans. We know that in all things God works together for those to good who love Him who are called according to His purpose, etc. Interestingly, different translations, give very different interpretations of the Greek in that particular verse. As a kid, I learned the King James Version, and the King James sort of has this nebulous some mysterious way God’s going to work it all out for the good of those who love Him. The NIV says God is in all things working for the good, which is a whole lot different than God being the cause of all things. It’s God in the midst of it. Actually, the translation I like best is the Revised Standard Version because it says God is working in all things for the good and then it says instead of for those who love Him, it says with those who love Him. The preposition in the Greek…
Kurt: A cooperative effort…
Tom: Exactly! The Greek allows for either translation and I think the revised folks are emphasizing that we have a role to play with God’s work to squeeze good out of evil.
Kurt: I haven’t heard that before, and I guess I just haven’t done enough in just looking at the different English translations.
Tom: They’re quite diverse actually, Romans 8.
Kurt: Maybe it’s because that the catchphrase, or the slogan, travels so much faster sometimes than peoples’ own willingness to look at the verse in different translations.
Tom: Yeah. I think that’s a healthy thing to do. This gets into an area that we don’t have time for today, but when translators look at the original languages and make decisions about what English in this case, English words to use to translate, they have their own theological assumptions at play and sometimes those can come out in ways that I don’t find helpful and another translation, with another different group of translators, might render the same passage in a way that I think makes better sense overall.
Kurt: Again. we could probably devote an episode to each of these broad questions too. That kind of covers the first question I had, what is God like? Before people to begin ask themselves how should I understand what just happened to me or what just happened to my friend, the second question would be this, how then, given what God is like, does God act?
Tom: Yeah. That’s a huge question and theologians have been working on that one for a long, long time. There are certain assumptions I bring to the table that frame the way I answer that. Let me start with those assumptions to answer the questions to answer the question. Okay?
Tom: First of all, I’m with the vast majority of Christian theologians throughout history who have said that God does not have a localized divine body that you can see with your eyes, smell, etc. Instead, God is an omnipresent spirit that can’t be sensed with our five senses. The classic word is incorporeal, a bodiless God. We can talk about Jesus Christ being the embodiment of God, but here I’m talking about God as the universal spirit, so if we have a universal spirit who can’t be seen with our eyes, divine action is already going to be a kind of an interesting thing here because it’s going to be happening everywhere all the time, and it’s not going to be perceptible by our five senses.
Secondly, because I think God is a God of love and love is inherently uncontrolling, any divine action in the world is never going to be fully control others. There’s always going to be some degree of agency or freedom or independence or just mere existence, so divine action is never controlling as I see it because God is always loving. You put those two together, that you can’t see God because God’s an omnipresent spirit, that God’s active everywhere and always working all the time, but never totally controlling, then your view of divine action is that God is always acting, always calling, persuading, commanding, luring, all these kinds of language that we get in the Bible, but never being the sole coercive cause in any one instance.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s great, and I’m certainly myself, I find myself sympathetic to something like that, that God works with free agents and we have a duty to respond to what He’s doing in the world and sometimes we can go with the plan that He has laid out for humanity and some of us don’t go with the plan.
Kurt: So before we keep going down that line though, there might be some passages in the Scripture where it seems to suggest that God is, I guess the terminology might be like usurping someone’s will or has overtaken a situation, so how would you, what might be some examples of that and how would you understand those passages as they’re provided?
Tom: Yeah. What I’m going to say next is going to surprise a lot of your listeners.
Tom: I have yet to find a Bible passage that explicitly says God totally controls a person or situation to bring about a result. What we’ve done is we’ve come to the Scripture and interpreted many passages as implying that, but it doesn’t explicitly say that. The most popular example, of course, is God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. It doesn’t actually say that God controlled Pharaoh and many Old Testament scholars today strongly reject the notion that God took away Pharaoh’s freedom. They don’t think the Biblical language requires that to affirm that, and even if you read the story you’ll find a couple of instances in which Pharaoh hardens his own heart.
Kurt: Yeah, and God gives him an opportunity. He lays it out, but it’s because, I don’t know if the Scripture says that God knew he would harden his heart….
Tom: That brings us into obviously some questions about foreknowledge that we can get to, but I want to get to my second one because I think it’s even more radical.
Tom: Many Christians see statements in the Bible that say something to the effect of God did X or God caused Y or God whatever. Since God is the only actor mentioned, they assume that God must have controlled to do it, God must have been the only cause, but the text doesn’t actually say that. My favorite example since this happens to be recorded the day before the Super Bowl, last year when the Patriots came back and in an amazing way to win the Super Bowl.
Kurt: You mean an awful way.
Tom: Even if you don’t like the Patriots, you have to admit that was an amazing comeback.
Tom: But anyway, whether you like them or not, my point will still stand. If you read the headlines across the country it said things like this, “Brady wins another Super Bowl.” “Brady brings the Patriots back.” That statement is true, but any person who thinks that Tom Brady was the only actor in bringing back the Patriots would be a moron. Right? Because we all know that it took a whole lot more than even the offense for the Patriots. It took a lot of people working together to make that happen. Maybe you could argue that Tom Brady was the primary cause or without Tom Brady, it would have never happened, that’s a possibility, but just because the word says one person did something doesn’t mean we have to believe that person was the only actor in the situation. If we go to Scripture and we think that there are other causes at work in the universe because God gives them power and agency and the more complex creatures, freedom, then we can assume those other actors and factors involved in all of these biblical stories, and just because God’s the only one mentioned, it doesn’t mean there weren’t other actors that were cooperating with God, and this I think is especially important in miracles, because we’ll read passages in which Jesus is said to do miracles and people say, “That’s an obvious example of God just totally controlling”, but then you’ve got passages in which Jesus can’t do miracles because people don’t have faith, like when He goes to His hometown, so that seems to suggest there’s some kind of contribution that creation plays in God’s action in the world which then means that God doesn’t control.
Kurt: We might even say, and I want to qualify it before I use the word, we might even say that because God has created the world in such a way that there are now limits to what God can do and how God can bring about effects in our world.
Tom: I have no problem with that. Obviously what we mean by limit is going to have to be cast out, that’s going to worry a ton of people who listen to this. They’re going to say, “What?! My God can do anything!” Of course, the Bible doesn’t actually say that. There’s a phrase that says nothing’s impossible for God, but then we read in Hebrews that it is impossible for God to lie and James tells us that it’s impossible for God to be tempted and the Psalmist says it’s impossible for God to grow weary and Paul says to Timothy that God can’t deny Himself, etc. This idea of some kind of limitation in God is actually Biblical.
Kurt: Of course, we would draw that further out that if God wants to be in loving relationship with free creatures, that, at least in some way, and however it might be parsed out, in some way, means He’s limiting Himself to the things He can and can’t do in order to remain loving and for the creatures to remain free, sufficiently free. I think some people need to work on becoming comfortable with that idea, that God has created a world and in that sense limited Himself by what He can do. Again, how that’s parsed out, we can leave to the theologians, but not for today’s episode.
Tom: That’s actually a topic I cover quite a bit in the Uncontrolling Love of God, so if folks want to go deeper, check out that book.
Kurt: Great. Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we take our short break here and after the break I want to get into the book here, The Uncontrolling Love: Essays Concerning the Love of God which I’ve got here in studio and which you can win if you do the book giveaway. The way to enter the giveaway is simply to share this livestream, and again if you’re just joining us today, I’m a one-man band in the studio. Chris is off. Hopefully, if you’re watching the livestream the video and the audio is matching up at least enough if it’s not perfect. We’re going to take our short break here and so please stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors, and if you’d like to learn how to be a sponsor, you can go to our website, Veracityhill.com/patron, and there are a couple different sponsorship platforms there. If you want to just get your logo up on our website, if you want to have a thirty-second ad, a couple different options for you to support our program here, and again especially if you’ve got a business and you want that advertising help, we are looking to get Veracity Hill on the radio here in Chicagoland and even up into Milwaukee. We would love to help you out by raising awareness about your organization and your business and getting an advertisement spot on the radio is a great way to do that so hopefully, you will consider that opportunity, and if you have questions you can reach me by email. Just email me Kurt@veracityhill.com. Today I am joined by Dr. Thomas Jay Oord and today we talking about the pastoral problem of evil. In the first half of the show we talked about what God is like, ideas that we have about who He is and the things He values, chiefly being in a loving relationship with His creation, and also how does God act, what are some ways and even limits that God has to the ways that He can engage with the world that He has created and so those are going to lead us to maybe think or reconsider how it is that we might handle or cope with evil and suffering in our lives and there are a number of different phrases people use to cope that might not line up with reality. I could think of a few I know. Tom, I know you had a few yourself that you had in mind, but some things just don’t seem to be comforting to some people when they’re dealing with evil and suffering.
Before we jump back into the question Tom, I know we had you on before, but I’m not sure if we played a round of Rapid Questions.
Tom: Oh. Okay.
Kurt: I’m trying to remember, did you play Rapid Questions?
Tom: I don’t remember. I guess not.
Kurt: Great. Why don’t we do this? Rapid Questions, since you don’t know about it and this is always great, because I like to spring it on our guests, is just a sixty second segment here. I’ll ask you these questions and as fact as you can try to answer them. They’re just goofy questions about your life, your interests, those sorts of things. We will really get to know you and to see if you are someone we should bring back on the show again.
Tom: Stakes are high.
Kurt: Alright. I’m going to start the game clock here and when I do I will read off the first question. Are you ready?
Tom: Are you ready?
Kurt: What is your clothing store of choice?
Tom: I’m going to Old Navy this afternoon so I’ll say that.
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Tom: Probably KFC.
Kurt: What school did you go to?
Tom: I went to about eight schools. The last one I was at was Claremont Graduate University.
Kurt: Alright. What’s your favorite sport?
Tom: Probably basketball.
Kurt: What kind of razor do you use?
Tom: It’s a straight edge I guess.
Kurt: What’s your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Tom: Probably Christmas.
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Tom: This is going to get me in trouble, but I’m not a Denver Broncos fan. I could go onto the reasons, but I’ll just stop there.
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Tom: When I drink soda, yes.
Kurt: Okay. That’s a great answer. Let me ask you one more. If you were stranded on an island, what’s one thing you’d be sure to keep with you.
Kurt: Alright. Nice. Dr. Oord, thank you for playing that round of Rapid Questions.
Tom: I’m not sure how well I did, but there you go.
Kurt: So tell me, Denver Broncos, not a big fun huh?
Tom: No. You know, I grew up in the northwest where I still actually live and I’m a Seahawks fan. Prior to that, I was an Oakland Raiders fan, but then I moved to Kansas City and worked for the Kansas City Chiefs as a vendor, and at one time all three of those teams were in the same division as the Broncos and so the Broncos were just always divisional rival and so, it sort of geographical happenstance.
Kurt: Let me ask you about your favorite sport since it’s mine too, basketball. What’s your favorite team? Are you an NBA guy? A college guy?
Tom: I’m more of an NBA guy.
Kurt: Okay. And your favorite NBA team?
Tom: It’s changed. I grew up being a Supersonics fan, but now, of course, they’re down in Oklahoma City. I have a lot of respect for Lebron. I like to see the folks on top getting knocked off. I really like Brad Stevens as a coach up there in Boston, so you know, I’m kind of to the place in my life where I don’t have one franchise that I’m locked into. I kind of respect and appreciate some players for various reasons.
Kurt: I find myself in a similar boat. I announced on the podcast I guess several months ago that I had given up on being a Bulls fan, so born and raised Chicago, and loved watching Jordan of course, what kid wouldn’t growing up in the 90’s? But just the management, GarPax, they just do not know what they are doing.
Tom: No, and you’ve had some tough breaks with Derek Rose, that was just such a sad situation.
Kurt: Interesting with the Rose scenario too, and we’ll be sure to wrap this segment up here, lest we spend the rest of the time just talking basketball, with the Rose scenario, I actually told my buddies, and they can confirm it, after Rose won the MVP I thought the Bulls should trade him and get more value and then he injured himself and then especially I said, “Now’s the time to train him.” What happened then? Then he got injured again, and then the bulls re-signed him. They didn’t let him walk. Then he got injured again and then again.
Tom: It’s just a sad, sad thing.
Kurt: Yes. So speaking of sad things and NBA players dealing with injuries in their careers, dealing with the problem of suffering in their lives, it’s a good segue…
Tom: Nice segue. That’s beautiful there.
Kurt: There are, of course, people that have dealt with more types of severe forms of evil and suffering. That’s what we want to talk about with the rest of the episode today. What motivated you to put together and help coordinate this book effort on the essays exploring the love of God and how people dealt with it? Was it the response to the problem to the Uncontrolling Love of God? Was that really the catalyst?
Tom: Yeah. I really can’t take credit for it. It was actually a group of people, many of whom are listed as the editors of the book there, who were excited by the ideas that they found in The Uncontrolling Love of God and they could see implications for their own ministry, for science, for social issues, and they wanted to talk about those and write about those and so the idea came up, maybe we ought to do a book of essays, make them short, and basically my role was, in part, because I know a lot of people, I invited folks to write these little essays for the books and the editors put together this really nice collection, 80+ essays written by a lot of pastors, graduate students, scientists, other theologians from places, folks in sort of non-professional ministry, counselors, social workers, whatever. Just a wide spectrum of people dealing with a wide spectrum of either implications to the idea that God’s love is uncontrolling or branching out in new ways of thinking beyond what I was doing in the book.
Kurt: I think what I appreciated were those wide perspectives and backgrounds because it’s good to get feedback from people not in the field, because this is applied theology and so if we’re applying theology and it’s not being receptive, at the very least you’ve got to change the message and how it’s conveyed.
Tom: That’s a good point, and as you say that and also to keep on our healing theme here, one of the first essays that was written for the book was written by a pastor named Donna Ward and Donna took this passage in which Jesus heals someone and Jesus begins the conversation with the person, the actual passage reference slips my mind at the moment, but He begins the situation by saying, “Do you want to be healed?” That suggests that God doesn’t sort of just unilaterally go around and heal, boom, boom, boom, but there’s something that we have to do to participate in the healing. Now, of course, as soon as you go down that road, then people who aren’t healed wonder if they should feel guilty for not co-operating with God. I think there’s been way too much guilt placed upon people who aren’t healed. People say, “You just didn’t have enough faith. If you really trusted Jesus, you would be healed”, and they’ve misinterpreted in my view, the truth of the matter, in these passages, which is that creation does have a role to play in God’s healing. There may be some cases, I think they’re rare. There may be some cases in which we who are sick really are to blame. If a person is dealing with nightmares, and they have these horrific dreams and they can’t sleep, but they’re night after night watching horror movies right before they go to bed, come on now. There’s a reason for that. Or if a person is working 19 hours a day and sleeping 3 and they’re getting stressed out. Come on. God wants to work in your life, but you’ve got to cooperate too, but more often is the case in which people are fully cooperating with God mentally. They’re saying yes to God with their mouth and their minds, but they have aspects of their bodies that the conditions aren’t right for healing. I think a person can be cooperating and have full faith that God can heal, but have cells, muscles, organs, etc. in their body, in which the conditions are not right and there’s no cooperation at that level for the kind of healing God works to do.
Kurt: I want to ask you a question related to what you just said there. You talked about how for some people they might think they don’t have enough faith and that’s a misguided notion. There’s another common misguided notion one that even the book of Job talks about, that maybe the reason why you’re experiencing evil and suffering in your life is because of your sin. Of course, humans are not perfect and we very well might have sin in our lives, but in some cases, we might recognize that the amount of evil and suffering if we could somehow put a value on it, wouldn’t be just compared to the amount of sin in our lives….
Tom: There’s some suffering that we go through that is directly related to our sin. If I go out and just get hammered, drunk off my gourd, the next morning I’ve got a horrible hangover, I’m suffering because of my sin the previous night. However, if I’m a victim of rape, somebody’s preying on me, it’s highly unlikely I’m to blame for this, so the book of Job in my view is a powerful argument against the idea that every time something bad happens to somebody, it’s because they have sinned. The main idea behind the book of Job is that bad things can happen to good people or bad things can happen to people who maybe are sinners, but the bad things that happen to them is not the direct result of their sin.
Kurt: Yeah. So what were some of the reactions that you had from people that read your book and were, first let ask you about people that were inspired. What sort of things were they saying? How is it, I imagine for some people this is the first they had encountered of you, that embraces the cooperative effort of God and His creation, as opposed to just God as we described in the first half of the show maybe unilaterally just doing things.
Tom: I think there’s kind of three groups of people who have really appreciated The Uncontrolling Love of God book and then the follow-up book, Uncontrolling Love. One group is kind of people who have been thinking about these ideas for a long time, I’ll call them theology nerds, and they’re people like me and you. We’ve been wrestling with these ideas trying to figure out a good answer and they finally come upon one that they find very satisfying. They’re jacked about it. The second group and probably the largest group of the three, are people who are victims of horrific evil, often times sexual evil. I get tons of Facebook messages and emails from victims of evil who say “Thank God someone finally presents a view of a loving God who didn’t just stand by and allow this happen, but who couldn’t have stopped it unilaterally or singlehandedly” and they find great comfort in that because the worst explanations they’ve heard from people are something like, “Your rape is for your own good”, and that makes no sense.
Kurt: Oh my gosh!
Tom: But the best ones they’ve had is “God was with you in the midst of suffering.” Well hey, I believe that too, but if God is in the midst of the suffering and can stop that suffering and chooses not to then what kind of a loving God is that. My book presents a view of a God who’s with you in the midst of it and can’t singlehandedly stop it. Now, of course, my critics really hate that, because they want a God who can come in and kick some butt and do something to stop it.
Kurt: But then would you say why doesn’t He then?
Tom: Exactly. I go, “How’s that view working out for you?” It’s just not the world we live in, so maybe we ought to take the world we live in and what we find in Scripture and combine that into a way of making sense of things.
Kurt: Okay. You’ve got the theology nerds like us. You’ve got the victims.
Tom: The last group are people who are kind of on the outskirts, kind of the misfits, kind of the marginalized, for whatever reason. Maybe because of their race, maybe because of their gender, maybe because of where they were born in the world, whatever, their orientation, and these folks are not a part of the status quo and they’ve been thinking kind of to themselves, “Look. If God is in control and this is the way things are set up, then God must not love me very much, because I’m not in the midst of where things are shaking.” They obviously don’t articulate it exactly like that, but they see problems with the system as it is and they’re on the outside and then they say, “This view of God means that God neither set up the system this way nor can unilaterally destroy the system. I have a role to play in reworking that system with God to make it a better one,” and so they find hope in these ideas as well.
Kurt: So those are sort of three categories of people that were inspired by your position here, your model. I came across one essay when I was looking through the book that I thought was, one of the things that I look for and appreciate from people is intellectual humility, that they might not have all the answers, they’re willing to change their minds, and one of the essays was very much that. It was a fellow grappling with the theology here and how it didn’t fit with maybe what he had been taught or what he had believed for a long time, so what type of people do you think were challenged by this position, but challenged in a good way? Not challenged in a bad way, but people who are really grappling and struggling with this view.
Tom: Yeah. Obviously, not everyone agrees with me and I want to be one of the people you just mentioned who doesn’t go around acting like I’ve got everything figured out. I want to be humble and say this is my best effort to try to make sense of things. It’s persuasive to me. It’s compelling to others, but I don’t want to act as if I know things with certainty. I think the people who struggle the most with the proposals are people who have been thinking about God and shaped by certain ways of thinking about God and they want to reconcile what the good they feel they have in their views with these new ideas I’m putting on the table. In many cases, they can be reconciled, but people don’t see how they can be reconciled. They don’t see the links, and so my current book is trying to make those links more explicit in how you can still continue to believe God is powerful, for instance. I like to say God is almighty. You just need to understand God’s almightiness in terms of love. I’m not proposing a God who’s uninvolved. I’m not proposing a God who’s a weak little wimp doing nothing. I’m proposing the God of the universe who created the whole thing, but this is a God who leads with love. I think there are some other people who struggle feeling like they ought to sometimes control others for good, and if they see that I believe in a God who can’t control others for good, then they start to wonder “How should I think about my own actions? Is what I’m doing good or bad? How is it analogous to God’s actions?” Those are some interesting and tricky kinds of questions that have to do with us having bodies and God not having bodies and things like that.
Kurt: So in that sense, your view of God has, I don’t want to say, forced, that’s kind of a bad word because it could be confusing here, it’s made people confront, let me put it that way, with even the way that they treat others and love others and sort of they need to learn about how to be a better person, a better neighbor, a better husband, because maybe they weren’t loving people in the right way.
Tom: Right. Exactly. I’m thinking a lot about it, Kurt, these days in terms of the divisions we have politically in our country. People are on very different sides of things right now and it’s hard to go on Facebook and see posts by people who have a different view than your own and it’s hard to know how to respond to that. If you have a view of God as a God of love, who is involved and active, but always loving, doesn’t force, doesn’t ridicule, doesn’t demean, but is forthright, does try to say things the way it seems to be in humility, with patience, then I think that can maybe not solve our divisions in our country, but it can help a great deal lead us toward better ways of getting along with one another and perhaps influence the way we elect our leaders.
Kurt: I’m certainly sympathetic to the cause in there and in fact, that was one of my reasons for even starting the podcast was to bring on different perspectives so that way people can become aware that there are different views out there, views that they might disagree. There’s a bit of a host bias where I might bring on a guest I’m more sympathetic to, but nevertheless, there are times where we have brought up on people where I certainly do disagree with what they’re proposing, but we can still have a conversation, and we can still be civil with one another, and I have found in my experience that when we’ve done that, and when people do that, when they sit down and they have a civil conversation, they realize, “Oh gee. This is another human being, and while they may have different life experiences, I still may ultimately disagree with their position, but I still need to love them as Jesus instructs I need to love them.”
Tom: I agree 100% with that.
Kurt: Like you said here, I think it will help when we do that sort of thing, it will help to combat the cultural isolationism, the tribalism that we have in our society today.
Tom: I want to make an argument that the way a person thinks about God will either implicitly or explicitly frame the way they think about conversing with others in conversations. I think that if you begin with love and you think God is a God of love and God will love no matter what and we ought to imitate that God, that’s going to shape the way you’re going to think about how you’re going to converse with others, but if you begin with a view of God who wants to separate the good from the bad, He wants to treat the good with kindness and kick the butt of the evil, the God who wants to separate the sheep from the goats and send the goats to hell forever and ever, then you’re likely going to try to enter into these conversations and figure out who the sheep and the goats are and you’re going to want to be the ones who separate them and you’re going to act accordingly, and so I think one’s view of God doesn’t determine how one acts, but can shape it in profound ways.
Kurt: I’ve got a last question here and it’s related to this very topic and we’ve got some more viewers here, let me just promote the book giveaway again. If you’re just joining us, you can win the book Uncontrolling Love, Essays Exploring The Love of God, with introduction and of course, I think you wrote a couple introduction to the segments as well, by none other than Dr. Thomas J. Oord. You can do that there. Here’s my question to you here, I guess the last question looking at our timing here. I was on Facebook even this morning and there was a fellow I had shared, have you heard of Jordan Peterson?
Kurt: Okay. There was this interview that he did with a British interviewer, he’s a Canadian psychologist, he teaches at University of Toronto. The interviewer just gave him really a hard time taking his words out of context. Rather you agree or disagree with Peterson, I think many people could see that. I shared the video and one person here commented and he asked me this. He said, “Kurt. Don’t you think people have the right not to be offended?” This is in the context of Peterson who’s a strong first amendment right guy, freedom of speech guy. Patrick asks here, “Don’t you think people have the right not to be offended?” In our conversation about helping to cure social ills while at the same time, loving our neighbors, where is the place there for, on the one point speaking truth and doing so in a loving way and trying not to offend our neighbor because Jesus tells His disciples, the world’s going to hate you. I have found that even doing the best we can, if we can be as careful as we can, the gospel message is still offensive, and people will be offended. I certainly think some Christians, and some apologists especially, do it just the wrong way. They’re polemicists more than they are apologists. Nevertheless, it’s still our goal to defend the truth and in a loving way, but how do we do that without offending people, especially in a culture where it seems like you could say one minor thing, unintentionally, and someone would take offense at it. What would be your advice in a situation like that?
Tom: A couple of things I try to do when I engage. One is to try to be humble, to make statements that come across as me not having everything figured out. Even though I have strong beliefs like everybody else does, I try to shape them and use language that suggests that I’m still on my way and I don’t know all truth. Secondly, I think the gospel, the very center, is love. I think a lot of people that I see on the internet who debate think of the gospel as this wide range of statements, maybe sort of credal formulation, that they think they have to defend to all critics on all sides. I have statements of my own that I think are important that I want to defend, but if love is at the very center of the gospel, then the way you think about expressions of love, the statements about the particulars of Christianity in my view all have to be subservient to the center of love and so if love is offensive in the culture in which we are in, then I’m sorry, but I find that love is rarely offensive to people who are really open. Often times, what people don’t like about Christians is that they’re not loving, that they present the gospel in ways that aren’t loving. I think, I’m not saying this solves all our problems, but if we can keep love at the very center, that will help solve a lot of these conflicts.
Kurt: That, of course, fits very nicely with the view of God here that you’ve presented, the model of providence that God is acting in a loving way and that we as Christians are to reflect that and maybe there might be some people that just aren’t going to take to it, but all things considered, hopefully, we can woo people into the kingdom. I like that concept of wooing people.
Tom: Me too.
Kurt: You want to make it attractive and a good fragrant and lead them in. That’s a good mentality.
Tom: Can I conclude with one of my favorite biblical passage?
Kurt: Sure, yes.
Tom: Ephesians 5:1-2. Paul says, “Imitate God as beloved children and live a life of love like Christ loved us.” and then it talks about being a fragrance, etc., but I think if we keep those words in mind that’ll help us a lot.
Kurt: Awesome. Dr. Thomas J. Oord. Thank you so much for joining us on the show today. For some that are following livestream, we got started a little late, but that’s okay, because as I mentioned earlier on the show, I’m the one-man band today. Chris will be with us next week. For those that are wondering, we’re going to put a link to the book Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God and also we’ll put a link to Dr. Oord’s website, where you can learn more about him, his work, and also his hobby of photography, but before I let you go, tell me about that. What’s gotten you interested in photography and why are you so darn good at it?
Tom: Thanks for the compliment. I live in Idaho and I try to take advantage of the natural world, hiking and backpacking, photography, nature, has become a real big part of my life and so actually I do a lot of speaking about God and photography so that might be a fun segment in the future sometime.
Kurt: Nice. So how do you get out so frequently as well? You’re an avid hiker. You make the time to get out.
Tom: I do. Again, being in Idaho, I can be in some pretty secluded places in about 45 minutes. It’s a big advantage I have over most people, but also my kids are kind of grown now so I don’t have to be in the house as much as I did when they were younger. I’m at a different time in my life.
Kurt: Sure. Awesome. Tom, again thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Tom: It’s been my pleasure, Kurt.
Kurt: God bless you.
Tom: And you too.
Kurt: That does it for the show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships we have with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our guest today, again, one last time, Dr. Thomas J. Oord, and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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