Howard Snyder Critiques the Uncontrolling Love of God

Howard Snyder critiques Thomas Oord’s Uncontrolling Love of God:

First fallacy: Adequacy of reason. We know (or can know) what God should do.
Unpack the reasoning here, and what do we have? Let’s put it as simplified syllogisms:

Premise a. God of love exists.

Premise b. But evil also exists.

Conclusion: This yields a dilemma that must be solved.

So far so good. Oord then develops this further, in effect employing a second syllogism:

Premise a. God of love exists but evil also exists (dilemma).

Premise b. A God of essential love should and would prevent evil in the world if he could.

Conclusion: Since God does not, God cannot prevent evil in the world.

The book is a philosophical defense of this conclusion. Oord seeks to show that because God is “essential” love, he not only does not but cannot prevent all evil. Oord mounts a finely honed defense of this position.

Underlying his argument however is yet another syllogism, which is unstated:

Premise a. This dilemma of evil in a world created by a loving God must have a resolution.

Premise b. This resolution must be reasonable and rational to humans.

Conclusion: Therefore a resolution exists which is reasonable and rational to humans.

Based on this logic, Oord argues that human beings are capable of determining or discerning what is reasonable or rational with regard to God. (This involves another unstated syllogism that I’ll pass over for now.)

But look at the syllogism above. We have a problem.

Premise a? Yes, OK. Unless the universe is meaningless or fundamentally evil or a mix of evil and good “forces” (à la Star Wars) the problem of evil must have a resolution and one that is not absurd or irrational. This is consistent with Scripture.

Premise b? Here’s the problem. The universe has meaning, as Scripture teaches and as we inherently intuit. So the problem of evil must have a reasonable, rational answer. But on what basis do we claim humans have the capacity adequately to understand that answer?

The conclusion is in fact false. For Oord’s argument to hold, he would have to show on biblical and theological grounds that human beings have the capacity to discern what is reasonable or rational with regard to God—and thus what God should do. But Oord does not do this. Human capability to determine what God (a God of love) should, can, and cannot do is a key underlying but never proven presupposition throughout the book.

In fact, it is a fallacy. If we unpack Oord’s argument further, we find yet another unstated syllogism:

Premise a. God created humans in his image, with reason.

Premise b. Human reason is (at least potentially) equal to or greater than God’s wisdom.

Conclusion: Therefore humans can determine what it is reasonable, good, and just for God to do—what God should do.

On strictly logical grounds, the conclusion is incontrovertibly true. If premises a. and b. are sound, the conclusion is certain according to the rules of logic.

Premise a. is fine; fully biblical. Clearly the problem is with premise b. From near the beginning of the book, Oord assumes but makes no attempt to prove that human reason (rationality, judgment), or at least the reason of some people, is not only equal to but superior to that of God. Otherwise the claim to know what God should do is absurd. Oord assumes that God created humans whose reason and ability to provide “explanatory consistency” is equal to or functionally superior to that of God.

This claim is fundamentally contrary to Scripture and Christian theology. I realize there is a process-philosophy answer to how humans can have the capacity to determine what God should or can or cannot do, but it is not the biblical answer.

It is unnecessary to cite here the dozens of relevant Scriptures. Key passages are Isaiah 41–42 and Job 40–41. We need merely recall familiar affirmations such as these: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8–9).

Do we believe this?

This is not proof-texting. I am merely highlighting a central theme of all Scripture.

This deconstruction of Oord’s logic may seem tendentious or tedious or even silly. It is not. Since Oord appeals to logic, to logic we must go. And it does not hold up.

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