Theology Proper

Why Doesn’t God Prevent Evil?

We believe that God is omnibenevolent.

As many of you know, in addition to being a funeral director, I moonlight as a youth leader for at-risk youth.  Just the other day I spoke with a teenage girl who had been repeatedly raped by her father when she was only twelve.

While we believe that God is always good, where was God when the twelve year olds trust was betrayed by her father as his hand silenced her screams and his carnal desires ruined her future?  Couldn’t God have simply defended this innocent child … like you and I would have?  Hell, if I saw any kind of rape, yet alone the ravaging of a child, I would be thrown into an infuriating rage.  But God – the good God you believe in – sat sidelined, unmoved to action; then, and even now throughout the world, the cries of the innocent fail to move the divine.

How do we interpret this problem?  Do we jettison God’s omnipotence by emphasizing the freedom of man?  And how much of God’s power can we jettison before He is just a god?

Most, in response to the above situation, would say, “God has voluntarily limited himself by creating humanity with freedom.”  Yet, even though that seems to exonerate the goodness of God by placing the blame on man, there’s an assumption that God could – if he wished – unlimit himself and override our freedom through coercion, a phenomenon we often call “providence.”

“God could, if he had so desired, stopped the holocaust” we say.  And my response is simply, “Then why didn’t He?”  If God could override the freedom of man, why doesn’t he?  Why doesn’t he spare the children?  Or the rape victims?

Dr. Thomas Oord

Dr. Thomas Jay Oord echoes this sentiment.  He writes,

“When we are victims of senseless crimes, when our children or friends are raped or killed, or when atrocious evils occur, it is hard if not impossible to avoid thinking, “Why doesn’t God stop this?”  It is difficult if not impossible to worship wholeheartedly the God who could have prevented these evil(s)” but doesn’t.

In “The Nature of Love: A Theology”, Dr. Oord proposes a seminal idea that he calls “essential kenosis.”

In some sense, essential kenosis is a synthesis of open theism and process theism.  Open theism has made great advances in deconstructing and peeling away Hellenistic assumptions about God’s ontology while attempting to stay faithful to the biblical witness.  They’ve questioned the nature of God’s immutability, passibility and — most notably — omniscience and proposed innovative reconstructions.  Yet, the open theists have yet to produce any convincing answer to the question, “Why doesn’t God override or circumvent humanity’s evil more often?”

The redefinition of God’s omnipotence has been accomplished – convincingly or not — by process theologians who believe that God can NEVER use coercion, but can only persuade; a conclusion that they arrive to based off the idea of panentheism.

Michael Brierley notes,

Panentheism is the result of conceiving “being” in terms of relationship or relatedness. This is why process theism is a type of panentheism, for “process” asserts that “entities” are inseparably interrelated, and thus that relationship, rather than substance, is “of the essence.” (9).

With relationship as essence, God becomes much less Greek and much more Hebrew, which means the “I AM” is interrelatedness, persuasion, influence, while coercion, force and, yes, many forms of providence are intrinsically NOT apart of the “I AM.”  According to Charles Hartshorne, panentheism is ʺthe view that all things are within the being of God, who yet is not merely the whole of actual things.”

This relatedness ontology makes persuasion God’s only means of influence.  But, this relatedness ontology also prompts process theologians to view miracles and even the resurrection with great skepticism.

Oord states, in recognition of the failures of both process and open theism, that “essential Kenosis … overcomes the problem of evil and presents God as steadfastly loving.  Essential Kenosis offers a way of understanding God’s power, while affirming the occurrence of miracles, the resurrection of Jesus, hope for a final victory at the end of history, and a biblically supported doctrine of creation” (100).

“Essential Kenosis” is Oord’s seminal attempt to both acknowledge the more positive points of Process Theology’s ontology while attempting to remain faithful to the witness of scripture.

And if you want to find out how Oord’s “Essential Kenosis” attempts that synthesis, buy his book, “The Nature of Love”!

As one who works (and moonlights) while witnessing the problem of evil, let me say “The Nature of Love” is well worth your effort to both read it and understand it.

“Why Doesn’t God Prevent Genuine Evil In The World?”


The more I read Tom Oord’s work, the more I appreciate his perspective, specifically as it relates to his understanding of God, love and evil.

Death and evil are siblings who share more than the same heritage.  Often, we cannot talk about the one without considering the other; we can’t be touched by one without also being touched by the other.  Even if evil spares us of physical death, it takes of our life, lessening life’s quality.  Death, somehow or another, is evil’s product; and, yet, seems to be able to reproduce it’s progenitor, begging the question, “What comes first … evil or death?”

When you bring God into the conversation of evil and death, the whole thing get’s even more messy.

Here’s a small clip by Oord called, “Why Doesn’t God Prevent Genuine Evil in the World?”.

(from The Work Of The People)

Aside from Tom wearing some of the coolest nuclear holocaust proof glasses I’ve ever seen, he also drops some powerful thoughts.

For instance, he says,

I think it’s time for Christians to take seriously the idea that God’s love makes it the case that God can’t do some things.

And …

… we need to think more seriously about what kind of power God has.

Finally, what do you think about Oord’s conclusion that because of our freedom God can’t prevent evil?


A House Keeping Note: About two months ago I promised a six part series on the problem of evil that only had enough gas to make it to part five (1. “Discarding God”; 2. “My Problem with ‘God'”; 3. “Is It All God’s Will?”; 4.“Open Theism and the Problem of Evil” and 5. “So You Think You Have Free Will?”.

I have the gas for part six.  Look for it on Monday.

Is It ALL God’s Will?

When confronted with the practical reality of the problem of evil, believers who don’t use the God of gaps often do one of two things:

They jettison their faith.

Or, they attempt to “grab the bull by the horns.”  In other words, they attempt to redefine the premise of the problem … they attempt to redefine “God”.

One of the more trending paths to redefine God is made through the redefinition of “omnipotence.”  I don’t like the word “omnipotence”, so I’ll use “sovereignty.”

And I’ll define two types of sovereignty: 1.) specific sovereignty and 2.) general sovereignty.

John Sanders states that specific sovereignty

maintains that there are absolutely no limitations, hindrances or insurmountable obstacles for God to achieve his will in every specific circumstance of the created order … God has exhaustive control over each situation: Only what god purposes to happen in that particular time and place to that specific creature will happen.

General sovereignty assumes that while God doesn’t have specific sovereignty, neither is he unable to move the direction of history through the means of His people.  There is a redemptive direction to history that is still being written.  It’s a narrative that has God as the Main character, with sub-characters and powers moving together and in opposition to each other as they write chapter after chapter.  In other words, God’s will isn’t always done, but neither is it always thwarted.


In both specific and general sovereignty, sovereignty is limited by the possible.

God can’t create a rock so big that he can’t lift it.  Nor can he create free beings that He controls.  If we’re free, God’s not in charge of us.

The question becomes, “Are we free?”

Many within the Calvinist brand of Reformed Theology would assert that our imputed sinful nature has taken our freedom away, so that depravity is the only possible path, and only God’s irresistible grace can save us.

Some within the Reformed movement assert what is called “compatibilism” or “soft-determinism”, which takes a couple different angles in attempting to affirm that God is both specifically sovereign and humanity is somehow responsible for our own choices.  And as much as I respect the attempts to pull these two opposing sides together, I’m not at all convinced it’s possible.

There’s a philosophical and theological path to specific sovereignty.

The philosophical line of thought starts with the assumption that anything that’s limited is imperfect and anything that’s imperfect isn’t any different than man; thus, God has to be absolutely unlimited in his power to earn the title God.

The theological line builds on the philosophical line of thought by using various scriptural passages to assert that either because of the Fall or having nothing to do with the Fall, God is literally working everything together for His good.  That everything (wars, rape, murder, divorce as well as redemption, eternal life, etc.) is His will and one day it will all make sense when we understand the weight of His glory.


It all comes back to the question, “Is there still some freedom found in humanity?”

C.S. Lewis once said that the greatest miracle of omnipotence is God’s ability to create beings who could oppose it.

That God in all his might has chosen to limit that power by creating you and me … creatures who have the ability to actually oppose His will and create our own little worlds where God’s purpose is NOT being accomplished.  That sin and death were never intended … that His plans don’t always work out.

That the world isn’t the way God intended it to be.  That even Jesus wishes that God’s kingdom would come here on earth, as it already is in heaven.

That it’s NOT all God’s will.


But, is it really that simply to say that the creation of humanity is God’s voluntary self-limitation?  And that the whole problem of evil doesn’t reside with God, but with man?

No.  I think it misses the point.

Although it may mean the limitation of His will, the creation of humanity isn’t the limitation of God’s power cause I don’t think God’s power is defined by what He can or can’t do.

Rather, God’s power is defined not by how much he can lift or move but by how much He can sacrifice, so that humanity becomes the opportunity for his power, and not it’s limitation.

God’s power is seen through the creation of solar systems, but it’s most clearly seen in the cross.  And we become, not a part of it’s limitation, but when we embrace the cross, we become it’s opportunity, so that God’s power is increased every time we ourselves participate in His kingdom.

And while the problem may be ours, it’s still God’s power — in sacrifice and through us — that can solve it.

My Problem with “God”

Yesterday, I started a series about The Problem of Evil.  Today is part 2.


When confronted with the practical reality of the problem of evil, believers who don’t use the God of gaps often do one of two things:

They jettison their faith.

Or, they attempt to “grab the bull by the horns.”  In other words, they attempt to redefine the premise of the problem … they attempt to redefine “God”.

The premises of the problem of evil are the following: that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent.

And before I redefine some of these attributes in future blog posts, it’s important to recognize where these premises came from … where they originated from.

Your first thought might be, “The Bible.”  Maybe.  But not entirely.

Throughout Church history, we’ve made numerous capitulations to cultural philosophies.  These accommodation aren’t bad … as long as they’re recognized.

As soon as accommodations become unrecognized, they become hurtful. The early church attempted to defend the faith against Hellenistic philosophers.  And as often happens, we become — in subtle ways — like our opponents.

And this is how the problem of evil was formed.


To many Greek thinkers, the ultimate reality of the world had to be metaphysical because everything physical eventually falls apart and is therefore limited and corruptible.

The Greeks speculated that the metaphysical nature of ultimate reality must

never change (immutable) and

never cease to exist (eternal);

it must be more solid and

stronger than this temporal, physical world.

The pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander stated that the final metaphysical ideal necessary to give a correct understanding of human lives cannot be found within the sphere of existence.  Instead, humans must conjecture what he called the “unlimited,” which is fully beyond anything humans know.

The “unlimited” is utterly ineffable because it has no predicates…because to predicate is to limit.

Plato thought we have to base our rationality in something other than our existence.  He discharged the Greek writer’s tales of the gods as anthropomorphic and looked for the perfect, the immutable and the timeless.

This he found in the realm of Forms, which exist outside our spatiotemporal world.  Aristotle hypothesized an ultimate metaphysical ideal (the unmoved mover).  These Greek philosophers set the stage for much of today’s theology.

Christians essentially assimilated these ideas into their views of God.

At the foundation of the whole Christian understanding of God’s nature is that if anything limits Him, He is finite and could not be the infinite, transcending God.

This “perfect being” theology that has influenced us in more ways than one.


Immutability, impassibility, omnipotence, simplicity, eternality (in the eternal now, or timelessness sense) are all terms that we ascribe to God that must be reconsidered.

In fact, it may be time to discard our misconceived Hellenistic God.

And, maybe our misconception is so large concerning God’s nature that it ends up that our vision of God doesn’t exist?  And maybe — in some regards — you may have to become an atheist to keep your faith when faced with the Problem of Evil.

Discarding “God”


A dilemma is a situation that presents a choice between a few options, all of which are undesirable.

The problem of evil presents a very practical dilemma for one who believes in “God” as it 1.) forces us to deny the traditional view of “God” or 2.) realize that our god is an absurdity and probably nonexistent.

Most Christians try a third option to this “dilemma” … they attempt to turn it around as evidence for God’s glory by playing the mystery card.

Although this may work for the faith of some, it’s a cop out and deserves the ridicule it has received by secular critics.  In fact, Christians have pressed this “mystery of God” assertion on so many inappropriate levels they have gained a stigma of not only pushing the boundaries of stupidity, but of being anti-reason.

The problem of evil is NOT a mystery.


A mystery is something that can be understood, but, because of a lack of evidence or knowledge, remains beyond our grasp.

The question of who assassinated JFK remains a mystery, not because we can’t comprehend it, but because we lack the knowledge to comprehend it.  If we’d finally figure out who murdered JFK, his death would no longer be a mystery and would be understood by all.

An absurdity is something that simply makes no sense.

Affirming that a circle can be a square.

Writing an unathorized autobiography about yourself.

The problem of evil is a dilemma that at worst presents an absurdity, but never a mystery.

If you assert that God is supremely good, and, at the same time, you assert that He has the power to stop evil, but doesn’t then you have an absurdity on your hands, not a mystery.

If you affirm God’s goodness in the face of evil, you must either deny his omnipotence, omniscience or omnipresence.

If you affirm his omnipotence, you must deny or drastically redefine his goodness.


When confronted with the practical reality of this problem, believers who don’t use the God of gaps often do one of two things:

They jettison their faith.

Or, they attempt to “grab the bull by the horns.”  In other words, they attempt to redefine the premise of the problem … they attempt to redefine “God”.

The attempt to redefine God usually goes in one of these three trajectories:

1.) Reformed theology upholds God’s omnipotence and omniscience by attempting to redefine the goodness aspect of God, emphasizing the glory of God in relation to the sinfulness of man.

2.) Arminianism attempts to uphold their understanding of God’s goodness at the expense of omnipotence by asserting the ability of man to limit God’s power.

3.)  Open theology attempts to build on Arminianism and redefine not only omnipotence but the omniscience aspect of God by asserting that man’s freedom somewhat redefines God’s future plans.


In one way or another, when confronted with the problem of evil we all must discard “God.”

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