Tag Archives | providence

The Uncontrolling Love of God | Thomas Jay Oord

The cover of Oord's The Uncontrolling Love of GodThe problem of pain plagues believers. Put most simply, if God is love then he would want to stop meaningless suffering. If God is all powerful, then he is able to stop meaningless suffering. Meaningless suffering still exists, so which premise is incorrect?

Thomas Jay Oord offers a new way through this theological quandary by leveraging the implications of open theism.

For Oord, Christians have misunderstood God by putting Greek-style omnipotence (unlimited power) ahead of God’s love. For Oord, love comes first. God is love. And love cannot coerce—it cannot “control entirely” (183).

Imagine a relationship between two humans. A loving person allows the partner freedom to make choices and respond in answering love. A controlling partner is the antithesis of love.

Essential Kenosis

There are many models of God’s providence (Oord lists seven) which run the spectrum from God as the all-controlling “omnicause” (83) to God as the completely incomprehensible wholly other. Oord locates his view, essential kenosis, in the middle of this spectrum.

Here is the one paragraph form of his model:

God’s eternal nature is uncontrolling love. Because of love, God necessarily provides freedom/agency to creatures, and God works by empowering and inspiring creation toward well-being. God also necessarily upholds the regularities of the universe because those regularities derive from God’s eternal nature of love. Randomness in the world and creaturely free will are genuine, and God is not a dictator mysteriously pulling the strings. God never controls others. But God sometimes acts miraculously, in noncoercive ways. God providentially guides and calls all creation toward love and beauty. (94)

This view of providence is jarring to Christians raised on classic systematic theologies. To understand this requires a massive shift that prioritizes love over power. Is this not what the cross emphasizes?


Let’s return to the syllogism we started with:

  • God is all-powerful
  • God is love
  • Therefore God should prevent meaningless suffering

At first glance, essential kenosis appears to deny the first premise. Essential Kenosis states that God cannot utterly control his creation. How, then, can God be called Almighty in any meaningful sense? How do we deal with miracles?

An essentially kenotic God is still Almighty in at least three ways (189):

  1. God is “mightier than all others.”
  2. God is “the only One who exerts might upon all that exists.”
  3. God is “the ultimate source of might for all others.

This Almighty God can still work miracles, albeit in cooperation with creation. God does not arbitrarily break eternal laws that he set in order. God works from the inside, persuading his creation at all levels of existence to work towards shalom.

I struggle with this understanding of miracle. Oord’s description of God “calling upon free agents to act in ways that fit well with what God foreknows with a high probability will occur among systems of nature or inanimate objects” (210) feels like a semantic distinction. How does a “free agent” resist the persuading love of God? Does God have a scale gauged to the creature in question which tells him just how far he is able to persuade before persuasion becomes control?

The radical outbreak of God’s power in the life of Jesus—the confirming signs and wonders that accompanied the last days—also call the persuasive model of miracles into question. Do we attribute the increase of divine activity in and around the life of Jesus and the early church to an increasing of God’s persuasive power? If God is at times more or less persuasive in reducing suffering then we are back to the same issue essential kenosis avoids: God picks and chooses when to relieve suffering.

I enjoy struggling with these ideas. The Uncontrolling Love of God has wormed its way into my mind. Its greatest strength is how it recentralizes love as the defining characteristic of God. As Amos Yong wrote on the back cover, “this book secures Oord’s legacy as the theologian of love.” I find myself reflecting on Oord’s arguments often as I pray and minister.

I’ll close this review with Oords most memorable analogy:

Mermaids cannot run marathons, and a kenotic God cannot coerce. A controlling God of love is fictional. (181)

—Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015).

Now and Then | Frederick Buechner

There were so many piercing observations in Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation, you need to read it for yourself. For now, here’s the sentence that most accurately describes his observational outlook:

There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly.

Ezekiel 30:1-19: Divine Drama

The working of God’s providence,
affirmed throughout Scripture,
is seen in all its mystery,
because it is accomplished through the freely chosen actions
of the human participants in the drama.
— Joyce G. Baldwin

There’s nothing too new and exciting in these 19 verses. In fact, many scholars believe that they were parachuted in at a later date:

  • There is no date notice at the start of the passage.
  • The language is too simplistic.
  • The list of Egyptian cities is haphazard.
  • The Septuagint (Greek) and Masoretic (Hebrew) texts disagree with each other in a number of places.

This oracle just doesn’t seem to have the same ‘umph’ as his other messages.

Still, these 19 verses are included in the canon of scripture. Regardless of who spoke, penned, or edited them, God saw fit to preserve these words in the Bible.

Since the themes are familiar and the language is plain, let’s take some time to examine what this message of judgment would have meant to the players in the drama.

. . .

Egypt obviously bears the brunt of this condemnation. This oracle, along with the other six surrounding it, announces Egypt’s utter destruction by Babylon—Yahweh’s hand. Listen to what will happen:

A sword shall come upon Egypt,
and anguish shall be in Ethiopia,
when the slain fall in Egypt,
and its wealth is carried away,
and its foundations are torn down.
(v. 4, NRSV)

War and death would come to Egypt, but the judgment doesn’t stop there. Egypt is utterly dependent on the Nile river for its wealth. Apart from the Nile, Egypt would be a desert. This makes the following threat so ominous: “I will dry up the channels” (v. 12, NRSV).

Just like when Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt through a series of plagues, the Egyptian gods will be powerless to stop Yahweh: “I will destroy the idols / and put an end to the images in Memphis” (v. 13, NRSV).

. . .

Babylon is in a curious position. She is a wicked nation with no fear of Yahweh whatsoever. Still, she was rewarded with the plunder of Egypt because Yahweh chose to use her. The irony runs deep!

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will put an end to the hordes of Egypt,
by the hand of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon.
He and his people with him, the most terrible of the nations
shall be brought in to destroy the land;
and they shall draw their swords against Egypt,
and fill the land with the slain.
(v. 11, NRSV)

Would Babylon ever realize that it was only because of Yahweh’s determination to punish the sins of Israel that Nebuchadrezzar was allowed to prosper militarily? How would God’s name be made famous through the prosperity of a wicked nation?

. . .

This turn of events (a tragedy for Egypt and a curious victory for Babylon) was hope for Israel.

Remember, many of the Israelites were sitting on the banks of a foreign river, shell-shocked by the tragedy that had befallen them. Their God—Yahweh—was apparently defeated when Nebuchadrezzar sacked their Temple.

But now things had changed. Yahweh may have thrust his own children into exile, but that same God was still working on their behalf. After the exile was hope for a return. God’s destruction of Egypt was a sign that he was still working to defeat Israel’s enemies.

. . .

Sovereign Lord, guide us as we live out your drama, and help us to be content in our roles. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 29:17-21 | False Prophet?

Ezekiel 30:20-26 | Strong Arm >

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