Thomas Jay Oord’s book The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence is an excellent contribution to the contemporary conversation on this topic. As displayed in the book’s title, Oord offers a view of providence that is uniquely situated amidst an ongoing open and relational conversation about the God/world relationship. The Uncontrolling Love of God is poised to offer new possibilities for not only those immersed in open and relational conversations but also those outside this particular theological movement. Those for whom the problem of evil has been a point of contention (theist and atheist alike) could also benefit from the insights offered in this book.
But lest you think that The Uncontrolling Love of God is merely a theological and philosophical treatment of the problem of evil, let me assure you it is not. While Oord navigates the theological, philosophical and scientific disciplines with ease and precision, his book has an immensely practical aspect, as well.
Oord’s practicality is evident from the beginning of this book. From the very first page, he delves into the tragedy of the human experience, presenting real stories of people encountering unfathomable evil and suffering. For Oord, these stories serve as a catalyst for the theodicy question – if God is all-powerful and all-loving than why does evil, pain and suffering exist?
But while Oord is concerned with the practical, those who are seeking an academic conversation on the topic will not be disappointed. He explores the topics of providence and the problem of evil by taking seriously randomness, law-like regularities, free will, genuine evil and genuine moral goodness. As Oord states, “My overarching aim for this book is to offer the best way to believe God acts providentially in a world of regularities, randomness, freedom and necessity, good and evil” (81).
Oord’s proposal avoids being determined by more popular theological answers. He spends a substantial portion of his book sketching out various models of providence. On one end of the spectrum there is the view that God is an omnicausal agent, determining all events according to the divine will. On the other end, there is the view that God is removed and uninvolved, whose ways are wholly other. Oord charitably presents all the models, offering a helpful critique of each while creating the space for his mediating position, essential kenosis.
Essential kenosis offers an alternative way of thinking about issues pertaining to the problem of evil and providence by coloring outside the theological lines [tweetable :) ]. In a conversation where God is believed to be either self-limited by God’s own choice or by some external force, Oord argues for involuntary divine self-limitation which comes not from some outside force but from the core of the divine nature, which is essentially and fundamentally love.
While Oord’s essential kenosis theology paints a picture of a God who is limited in agency due to the primacy of love, God is also intimately and persuasively active in the world, luring creation moment-by-moment. While this is not the first time Oord has written about essential kenosis, this is his most thorough presentation to date. For those who are interested in reading his thoughts for the first time or are looking for deeper engagement with his theology, The Uncontrolling Love of God will undoubtedly be an important resource.
While one may argue that Oord’s proposal makes for a weak God that can achieve little if anything, he works hard to show that this is indeed not the case. In his chapter on providence and miracles, he spends considerable time showing that a non-coercive, non-interventionist God can still be an actor in the world. Miracles, divine agency that is surprising and unusual, special and good, do indeed happen. Oord goes a long way in showing that “[e]ssential kenosis explains how God can act miraculously without controlling others” (216).
Those who are searching for a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil may find The Uncontrolling Love of God a valuable resource. I am confident that this book will generate fruitful conversation. I am hopeful that Oord’s proposal will provided practical and hopeful possibility for those who are making sense of either their own experience with evil, pain and suffering or the experience of an other.
Oord’s new book is a book of many possibilities – the possibility of answering the problem of evil and the possibility of offering a satisfying explanation for why one can still believe in God, divine agency, and miracles, all while taking seriously contemporary scientific knowledge. And if one walks away unsatisfied, Oord’s proposal could at the very least provide opportunities to think more deeply about their own position and to ponder its potential. As I see it, if people can read The Uncontrolling Love of God with an open mind and an open heart, all this can be a real possibility.
Book available December 2015.
Followup video by Oord: