Does God Always Get What God Wants? (Tim Reddish) -- Review

DOES GOD ALWAYS GET WHAT GOD WANTS? An Exploration of God’s Activity in a Suffering World. By Tim Reddish. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018. Xx + 164 pages.

                Is there anything God cannot do? If so, then why do people suffer? Doesn’t care? Is God responsible, in some way, for this suffering—either directly causing it or simply allowing it to happen? These are the kinds of questions that continually get asked. Answers are given, but are they satisfactory? Many who either experience suffering, or observe it occurring, choose to walk from faith. They assume that if God is all powerful, and that God is loving, then God should do something to alleviate suffering. Since it appears that either God has chosen not to do something, and therefore God must not be as loving as advertised. The free will defense of God works to a degree, but only to a degree. Ultimately, if we assume that God can do all things, but has chosen to do what can be done, then there is something wrong with God. There is a response that has drawn increasing interest. It’s a challenging response, because it starts with the assumption that God is not all powerful. There are things God simply cannot do. Now, this response has drawn detractors, because it seems to diminish God. On the other hand, it allows us to better represent God as being all-loving.

Among those who have decided that God is all-loving, but not all powerful is Tim Reddish, a pastor from Windsor, Ontario, who has a Ph.D. in physics, and taught physics before pursuing theological education and becoming a pastor. In this book, which wrestles with the question of whether God can do all things, he brings his scientific training into conversation with his theological work, much like John Polkinghorne has done. Having this background provides Reddish with a helpful vantage point from which to observe the question. But, he doesn’t approach this question from a distance. He writes about God and suffering, having walked with his wife through a cancer that took her life, despite prayers for healing.

Reddish’s perspective is similar in nature to that of Thomas Oord, who has argued that God is love, that love is non-coercive and uncontrolling, and therefore due to what Oord calls essential kenosis God cannot prevent suffering from occurring. In other words, as the title of Reddish’s book asks: Does God Always Get What God Wants? The answer, as we discover, is no, God doesn’t always get what God wants. Reddish believes that God wanted to heal his wife, but for some reason it wasn’t possible. The question is, why not?

Reddish’s book is part theodicy, part theological treatise, part pastoral reflection, and part memoir. His story of walking with his wife through her death from cancer is ever present in the story. He will depart from it as he explores theological concepts, but will return quickly, so as not to lose sight of his reason for writing the book. That purpose is finding hope in God’s experience of suffering. This need to find hope is revealed in his reflections on the Trinity, where he discovers the possibility that God understood his suffering and that of Anne, his wife, because the Father experienced the suffering and death of his son. He found hope in a Christology, drawn from the work of JΓΌrgen Moltmann, who wrote of the Crucified God, and his mentor Douglas John Hall, who wrote his own thought-provoking theology of the cross.  With these two influences in mind, Reddish can write that it is only in the Christ -event that we "can truly understand the meaning of 'God is love,' (1 John 4:8), for it reveals the heart of the Trinity. God is indeed good” (p. 41). 

This is the theological foundation for what is to come. It is a Trinitarian vision that is rooted in the cross. On this basis, the scientist-pastor can reflect on matters such as natural evil—such realities as hurricanes and volcanoes. These are natural happenings; over which humans have little control. Writing as a scientist, Reddish understands that earthquakes and volcanoes are caused by movement of tectonic plates. The movement of these tectonic plates, which cause great destruction, is, interestingly enough, required for life to exist. They are part of the system. While we may understand that these are necessary realities, we may still ask God to have them pass over us (or better, simply not live in places that might be so affected). While we wrestle with these natural forms of suffering, it’s the other forms that we find more bedeviling. That is, when suffering becomes personal—cancer, domestic violence, war. Are these parts of the system as well? If God can do something, why doesn’t God act? The answer that Reddish and Oord and others like them seem to have discovered, is that God isn’t always able to do what God would want to do. But, that does not mean God is not present or active amid suffering. Reddish has concluded, and I agree with him, that God is there amid it all, experiencing the suffering, as well as offering and encouragement and support. As for miracles, whatever they might be, and he is of the opinion that miracles occur, they fit within the natural world, for God is not an interventionist God. That is, God is not sitting outside looking in waiting to jump in at the last moment to save the day. Instead, God is engaged with us, sharing power with us, that can and does lead to changes of reality. This is where prayer fits in. It is a form partnership with God. Thus, we never "pray alone."

This is a theological/pastoral book that is written as a reflection triggered by suffering, not his own, but that of his wife. It is an attempt to make sense of reality. Reddish faced the darkness, but continues to believe. It is because of this faith that was deepened by his experience that he can, as he describes in the book’s concluding chapter, let go. There is a time to cry, he reveals, and a time to celebrate. This is the life we live in the presence of the God who doesn't always gets what God wants, and thus neither do we. But that does not mean we give up on God, for God has not given up on us.

This is a book that is theologically rich, but which is accessible to the general reader. This is very practical theology, because it wrestles with real life concerns. Reddish doesn’t write from the ivory tower. He writes from the heart. This isn’t really a theodicy (a defense of God in the face of evil), though it does have the qualities necessary for a good theodicy. It is instead, an invitation to experience the presence of a God who might not fix everything, because God can’t fix everything, but who can empower us to move through our suffering and find strength on the other side. My hope is that this book will be of encouragement to those who are suffering or walking with those who suffer, so that they might find hope in the presence of God who experiences our suffering with us and empowers us to live life fully in whatever form that takes. It should also be of help to those of us who may not have walked in his shoes, but who are called to be present with those who are going through the valley of shadows and death.So, yes this is a worthwhile read, for the theology is good (a version of open theism) and the implications important.


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