New Podcast Thomas Jay Oord | Uncontrolling Love

There is a dilemma that has plagued philosophers and theologians for centuries. It goes like this: how could it be true that God is all powerful and all loving, and yet there is still evil in the world? If God is powerful and loving, wouldn’t the evil be stopped? @ThomasJayOord has written about one solution to this problem in his book God Can’t. While the title is surprising and might make some people nervous, his view may not be so shocking once you hear him explain some of the finer points. In doing so, this conversation intersects with science, miracles, and ultimately with God’s place in our world and our lives.

Thanks for being on the show, Tom!

1 Like

Thanks for that introduction, Hillary. I really enjoyed this conversation. And although they may surprise some people, I hope the ideas prove helpful.



No. The people who ask this question don’t see the bigger picture. God wants to sort out the wheat from the chaff. This is the reason we have free will. Given a free condition will you choose the path of Righteousness or the path of darkness (evil).
This abode is only a short stop along the way. Those who are Righteous enjoy immortality. There is nothing to be concerned about. God is all loving.

1 Like

I think you will like to take a listen to the podcast then! You may see things in common with Tom.

1 Like

I really enjoyed this one. I was waiting for the thread to be uploaded at 8am this morning. I always look forward to listening to then new episodes on my drive to work and so I leave early taking a longer scenic drive on Thursday.

I do believe that one thing I don’t recall really being brought up, though is that I don’t necessarily believe that God is prevented from doing something due to not having a physical body. In scripture we see that God and the Angel of the Lord is one and the same but distinct just like Christ and God. God could physically inject himself into our world and do something. But he chooses not too. Not because he lacks love, but because he’s created a world where there is free will. Free will can’t exist if God controls everything and so he allows us to make choices. Some people make evil choices and some people make good choices. Additionally God does not undermine free will of wicked men and women because it would collapse everything. Weeds among wheat. Some evil men have caused things that resulted in good things and without those things happening the good would not have either. That’s not saying God uses evil to make goodness, but that because he fixes us free will, and some people choose to do evil that evil affects people in different ways and some of those ways results in goodness.

We also see from romans 9 that occasionally God will accent the condition of someone’s heart to actively bring about a change. Like with Pharaoh. He did not make him choose evil, but because he was already choosing evil, he hardened his heart with the knowledge of what would result. It’s a combination of not altering free will, but definitely influencing it.

But it’s a great podcast. I’ll listen to it again and definitely the book is added to my growing list.

1 Like

Love this! This was my first week for podcasts back in the saddle after maternity leave so I’m sorry I didn’t have it up sooner! :slight_smile:

1 Like

No problem. I often wait to listen to the Bible project podcasts to fill in various days as well. Congratulations also!


Thank you! :slight_smile:

1 Like

That works pretty well for evils committed by people. What about natural evils? Are there some righteous hurricanes and some evil ones that God is sorting out??

Evil, as I understand it, involves a lack of conscience and a deliberate action to do harm or exploit and abuse etc. I don’t think we can put God and hurricanes in this context.

God made the creation and that means there are some conditions in it that are destructive. However this is not the intention of God to be destructive. It is that if the creation is to have winds and rain and various forces then there will be times when these create hurricanes and cyclones etc.

I think also there may be a perception owing to the Christian point of view. I believe that we are essentially conscious beings, which means spiritual entities. Our journey (or journeys) here is only a very temporary one. Our bodies (garments) may be damaged or destroyed but who we are is not harmed or destroyed.

Yes, so the question is whether God can ever stop the destruction of these natural forces. That is what we talked about on the podcast episode.

Congratulations mom … I mean … Hillary!

Listening now. Just heard Tom’s opening statement. I agree completely at least in regard to what I think gives rise to and supports God belief. Okay, back to the conversation.


I’ve listened to more than half of the podcast so far and I will listen to the rest in the morning. I disagree with a lot of what is said. Firstly I don’t think that it is legitimate question to ask if God can stop it and won’t or will etc. God created a physical existence, which will have both good and bad conditions but the “good and bad” is only from our perspective while living in the physical existence.

In my understanding God selected the relevant information from all the limitless information in The Mind of God and upheld that relevant information in the Divine Consciousness for the Universe(s) and every thing in it to come into being and be maintained in existence. So the hurricanes and cyclones and earthquakes etc., are all part of the deal.

If God wanted a puppet show, then God could have made the conditions for such.

I believe that God could stop natural chaos if he wanted too. I use chaos instead of evil for the same reasons already lined out.

I think part of the problem is that so many are just focused on how it affects us as modern humans. Take a large hurricane like Sally that just came through. I lost power for over a week. It was very inconvenient for me. Some died as a byproduct of the hurricane. But we are not the only things God is concerned about. His concern is for all of creation.

As that hurricane went though it knocked out power eliminating light pollution temporarily. It knocked down large trees making room for other plants. A lot of root were ripped to as trees toppled over creating overwintering spots for reptiles and amphibians. A lot of debris will become mushroom food.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 6 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.

When this thread started I didn’t have much to say because I hadn’t read anything by Oord. So instead I apparently ordered what book I could find and forgot about it until the book finally came by interlibrary loan: “The Nature of Love” by Thomas Jay Oord. It discusses the centrality of Love in the Christian religion. In the preface, he tells his story as one brought up Christian and using the Bible to fight against a variety of errors including paganism, socialism, Mormonism and Roman Catholicism. But after encountering strong defenders of other POV including atheism and other religious traditions he abandoned his belief in God.

But this disbelief was short lived for he soon found more solid grounds for belief in ideas about love. My story is certainly different since I was not raised Christian at all and instead found a Christian faith through existentialism and my own investigation of whether I could find anything of value in the Bible. But I think we definitely have considerable commonality in this idea of the centrality of love. In my case, it is particularly love in contrast to power which I see too much emphasis on in a lot of traditional Christian theology. This is made more precise and encapsulated in my frequent statement of faith that I believe in a God who chose love and freedom over power and control as exemplified in the creation of life (of which free will is a defining feature) and in setting power aside to become a helpless human infant as part of His plan for the redemption of mankind.

I shall make more comments as I continue to read this book of his.


In the first chapter, Ord quotes Charles Hartshorne, “Theologians have never taken really seriously the proposition that God is love.” I suppose you can say that I certainly do not take this literally either. I certainly think love is something God chooses and values, but I think it does both love and God a disservice to make them identical. Indeed, I often explain that if we really want to know someone then we need to look at the things they choose and value rather than the things they simply have by nature.

I think this still satisfies the dictate Oord makes, “only when placed at the center can the logic of love explicitly extend to all aspects of Christian theology.” My addition of freedom to this when I say I believe in the God who chose love and freedom over power and control, is really only explaining a essential part of the nature of love as something which requires freedom. That which is forced upon us cannot be love.

Oord mentions the other things which theologians have made the center of their theology: God’s sovereignty, faith, the future kingdom of God, or the church. He complains that an emphasis on God’s sovereignty in particular allows no room for “the kind of creaturely freedom that loving relationships require.” He complains that faith has a tendency to neglect motivations which must be found in the reasons for why we should respond to God. I would complain that the emphasis on the future kingdom of God shifts the love to the superficiality of our expectations, when it seems to me that the more authentic basis for love is based on who they are rather than what they can do for you. And many cannot see much merit in a focus of theology upon the church which is a pale substitute for God Himself.

Oord then considers the answers of Millard Erickson who chooses the magnificence of God as the focus of his theology, Paul Tillich who makes it all about existence and being, and thinks that in Karl Barth freedom trumps love. Despite the existentialist origins of my Christian faith, I have never seen much of value in the ideas of Paul Tillich. I resonate much more with Erickson and Barth. The point of God’s magnificence after all is that God is the most worthy object of our love, and I quite agree with the importance of freedom in anything that can be called love. Oord’s criticisms seem a little contrived to me. I particularly do not really understand the criticism in the case of Barth. I do not much like it when Barth says, “God’s loving is… the essence and nature of God.” It seems crucial to me that God’s love comes from His choice rather than by nature, thus my complaint of Barth would be the opposite, that this explanation follows the usual flaws in Christian theology which diminishes the love of God. However, this may be semantics to some degree, since I would agree that it is God’s nature in the sense that it is a rational choice – for what motivation is left to a perfectly complete infinite being who is and has everything but to give of His abundance to others?

Oord then seeks to understand why it may be difficult for theologians to give love such a central role in theology. He suggests it is because they think love is too sentimental, permissive, incompatible with reason, lacking Biblical consistency, and poorly defined. After all the whole point of theology is employ the tools of reason in understanding, explaining, and perhaps even to some degree justifying our religious beliefs. After dispensing with most of these reasons he focuses on the question of defining love as the most crucial, deciding that the Bible doesn’t provide a definition. This is a claim which myself and the majority of Christians are not only unlikely to agree with, but must even view with some suspicion that it prefaces an attempt to define love as something different that what the Bible describes.

Everything which Oord claims is not a definition, most Christians would say is a definition:

  1. 1 Jn 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
  2. Luke 10 where Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to explain what it means to be a neighbor by way of explaining the commandment that we should love our neighbor as ourself.
  3. 1 Cor 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
  4. To this I would add Jesus explanation of what it takes to be great because I think this is also a definition of love. Matthew 20:26 It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; 28 even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
  5. And I would add what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31-45 about how God measures how people have treated Him in the way they have taken care of others.
  6. And I would also add what God says in the first chapter of Isaiah, where God makes it clear that the religious stuff of blood sacrifices, ceremony, and religious meetings is not what God is looking for but only that we “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

In all of this I would say that the Bible does an excellent job of defining love and by this I would judge Oord’s effort to define love himself, which is…

To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.

My reaction? NOT BAD AT ALL! But let’s test it against the 6 points from the Bible.

  1. YES! God’s aim is not to just give people a free pass but was indeed to act sympathetically to promote overall well-being.
  2. YES! Jesus story was not just about how the Good Samaritan concerned himself with the well being of the man robbed and beaten but also with the well being of all in that we help those in need rather than avoiding this as the priest had done.
  3. Hmmm… I don’t think Oord’s definition manages to capture all of what these words from Paul have to tell us. On the other hand, perhaps Paul’s words may exclude some things also. Love isn’t always perfectly nicey nice. So perhaps we can add what Oord says here as caveat… when these promote overall well-being.
  4. YES! I don’t think the words of Jesus is about putting on an act of subservience, where one can even be passive aggressive to the detriment of others. So we can say that the authentic servant does what he can to promote overall well-being.
  5. Yes. The implication is that God cannot be happy when others are unhappy especially for no good reason for it.
  6. Yes, here again the focus is upon overall well being.

And I think that is a good place to stop for now. Oord’s chapters are a bit long…

Although there is more to chapter one, it seems to me largely a focus upon sematic details such as defining and clarifying various terms in Oord’s definition of love. I find little to interest me in this latter part of the chapter and thus will move on to chapter two.

In chapter 2, Oord begins with a discussion of Anders Nygren as the most influential “love theologian” in the 20th century. In particular this includes a discussion of different types of love such as agape and eros. In particular the point is that in making love the center of Christian theology we mean the type of love called agape, also referred to as “Christian love.” Agape is described as spontaneous, unmotivated (unconditional?), indifferent to value?, creative, and the initiator of fellowship with God. I get the feeling that the effort is to capture what is meant when we say unconditional love without using the word “unconditional,” and I read on with the expectation of discovering why this is. I suspect that Nygren wishes to leave the door open for some conditions while still affirming that it is nevertheless unmerited or undeserved.

Apparently Nygren critiques Augustine’s idea that humans play a necessary role when expressing Christian love, claiming instead that agape has no place for creaturely action. This is not something on which I can agree. I see in this a theology which annihilates relationship and thus not anything I would ever call love. After this, I skim forward to see if Oord agrees with Nygren or not.

Oord first points out that Nygren hasn’t paid much attention to what the OT says about love. He claims looking at the OT weakens Nygren’s argument and part of the problem is that the words “eros and agape” are Greek and thus the division is influenced by Green thought as well. And Oord has defined agape love in a way alien to both Hebrew and the OT. In Judaism love was about ethical and religious relationships. Interestingly Hebrew also uses the word “eros” in the OT for the same meaning as the word in Greek, but also has the words “ahab” or “ahava,” “phileo,” “chabab,” and “chashaq.” The first “ahava” is used to describe God’s delight and tender or precious feelings. “Phileo” is for friendship. “Chabab” means to cherish and protect. And “Chashaq” also describes the love of God people but in a way which overlaps with eros like a man’s love for a woman. I am reminded of the Song of Solomon. In this way, the division promoted by Nygren between agape and eros doesn’t seem justified at all.

Next Oord examines Nygren’s treatment of the first and second greatest commandments to love God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40 and Mark 12:29-31). To Oord it seems that Nygren practically dismisses how strongly Jesus roots these in the OT, and thus tries to make his own interpretation that equates the love of God to absolute devotion and submission completely devoid of any desire for friendship. Oord explains that Nygren uses Mark 2:17 and Matthew 9:13 to explain that God calls the sinner not the righteous because the only true agape Christian love only comes from God and not from any of us.

I shall stop here and continue with Oord’s examination of how Nygren deals with Jesus’ parables. For now I conclude with the observation that this has been an quite an eye opener comparable to when I first read the Articles of Remonstrance which I found deeply appalling and good explanation of how the Christian religion could and has been twisted into what is in my way of thing a rather evil way of thinking.

Somehow, He seems to accomplish what He wants through tragedy, too, whether man made or natural disasters. He holds back the waters to make a way for his chosen ones; He tells the winds and the waves to “Cease” and they obey him. But, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Why not intervene, dear God!?
I am glad I am not God and I can leave mysteries too great for mortal man in his hands. No cop out. If I understood everything, I would be God.
He gives me enough light to give me confidence He knows what He’s doing. Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path