The Uncontrolling God of Love, Resisting Evil, & a Shooting at a Synagogue
I have had the pleasure of spending the past two days with my friend Dr. Tom Oord, who is in town to give the annual Perry Gresham Lectures at Central Woodward Christian Church. Tom has been addressing the age old question about why a God of love, if truly powerful, doesn't prevent evil. It's a question that many raise who have chosen not to believe in God. Suffering has long been a challenge to those of us who believe in God. Some say God doesn't cause evil, but permits it, perhaps with the intention of bringing about a greater good. While this seems like a good answer on the surface, in the end we wouldn't give each other a pass if we were able to prevent evil. So, what if God can't prevent these acts of evil? What if by God's nature, God who is love, cannot prevent these acts? Does this mean God is weak? Some would say so -- better a God who chooses not to act, but could act, than a God who simply cannot act. I once thought that way. It was one of the reasons I rejected Process Theology. In my search for a better answer, I have found some help in Tom's view of the Uncontrolling Love of God.
This has been my weekend, so far. Two great days of conversation about matters of great concern. Then I returned home this afternoon and saw on Facebook that another tragic shooting had occurred. This time it was at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. As I write this, the number of dead stands at eight. The shooter, apparently has a history of anti-Semitic activities, mostly on-line, but sometimes people move from words to actions. I know that the members of the Tree of Life Synagogue, their family and friends, are asking where are you God? There are no easy answers to the question, and I don't wish to offer them. As a person of faith, who believes in a God of love, I want to be with this community in spirit if nothing else. But being present in spirit is not enough.
Getting back to Tom's presentations. Today he offered five points that he believes might help us move to an answer to these questions. These five points that seek to offer an answer to the question of where God is in the midst of acts of evil, whatever they might be, are detailed in a book that will come out in January titled God' Can't. I had the privilege of reading the book in manuscript, and now have at my disposal the proofs of the book.
- God Can’t Prevent Evil
- God Feels Our Pain
- God Works to Heal
- God Squeezes Good from Bad
- God Needs our Cooperation
As I consider the relationship of Tom's proposal and the shooting in Pittsburgh, my eyes fall on point number 5 --- God needs our cooperation. On Monday I posted a review of a book titled Preaching as Resistance, the premise of which suggests that in times like this one of our responsibilities as preachers is to address evil in all its forms, not only in a reactive way, but continuously. Tom's premise here is that if evil is to be resisted, God needs our participation. We are, as Teresa of Avila reminds us Christ's body in the world. We are the hands and feet of God to the world, as God is spirit. Therefore, according to Tom's solution "The fifth belief we need to reconstruct our thinking and living says God needs our cooperation. I call this indispensable love synergy. If God always loves, never controls, and wants love to reign, God needs love responses. This means our lives count. They really matter."
I believe that God is present at Tree of Life synagogue, just as God was present at the Pulse Night Club and at the various schools where mass shootings have taken place. God is present in Syria and with those who experienced the recent hurricanes. I believe that God is a fellow-sufferer. I also believe, with Tom, that if we are to address evil in our midst, we need to participate with God in responding. This may or may not include new gun laws (I think we need to strengthen them). As a pastor I hope the answer is not posting armed guards at our doors. Maybe persons who have a bully pulpit could change their rhetoric. There are things we can't change, but we can play a part in making this a better world, where violence is not as common places as it seems to be in recent years. We can address mental health issues and make sure our gun laws are up to the task. We can comfort those who are suffering. We have a role to play, let us not, if it is in our power, let that opportunity pass us by.
In the mean time, I shall sit with those who suffer, in spirit if not in physical space. Where it is in my power, I will cooperate with God in working to end the acts of evil that are in my purview.