I'm faced with a dilemma: how do I interact on a deep level with a book that challenges a central tenet of theology when I listened to the book as a free audiobook? One thing's for sure: I'm not going to be able to give a coherent contribution to this debate, so I'll settle for bullet points! Better yet, listen to Thomas Oord read his own book for free by downloading the book here, then join the conversation.
-- When I met Tom, I knew right away that he was a theologian to take seriously, because his very manner is not too serious. He exudes grace and life. This aspect of his personality shines through in his book. Tom argues that God's love comes before God's power in everything. Which includes his ability to control the natural world. God's nature of love makes it so that He cannot stop certain evils from happening. Tom makes it clear that God is still "all-mighty" and that miracles happen, but that God's love prevents him from coercing anything created because love comes first in the nature of God.
-- The word study I appreciated most was of the word "kenosis," which literally means "emptying," but Tom's preferred "pouring out" is better. This fits very well with Robert Spaemann's definition of life as being that "which exists in itself and pours itself out." Pouring is a dynamic process and there's lots to unpack for a chemist in that very definition.
-- Chapter 2 is an excellent summary of randomness and chaos. I think I may use it in class someday.
-- Tom's argument is fundamentally that God is near, being active in the very regularities of nature. That the regularity of nature is itself a manifestation of God's faithfulness. This is a fundamental tenet of theology that we have lost somewhere along the way, and this book helps us recover it.
-- I have several "what-about" questions: What about the Trinity (it's more implicit than explicit)? Why is explanation of evil so important when a large majority of evil is explainable, especially if we consider the risks we willingly take on when we move through this regular universe? (Tom refers to an example of a rock through a windshield, but I think this is a consequence of the technology that allows our soft bodies to move so quickly down the road. Expecting God to stop every fatal rock would be "putting God to the test" as much as Jesus flinging himself down from the Temple parapet.) He writes about Scripture and power later on but I think that should come earlier because it is so prevalent a theme that dealing with it feels tacked-on in so short a book. For example, when Jesus says "All authority is given to me in heaven and earth" what does that mean in terms of uncontrolling love? And most of all, what about the resurrection and eschatology?
-- Ultimately I agree that God is near and God is love. Tom's solution may be rooted too much in a modern view of the universe. Justifying evil events involves causation, and causation itself has become a slippery concept, and which makes blame and explanation slippery as well. Tom writes about chaos theory and the unpredictable results of small events, but then he comments that we may soon know more about chaos theory, when chaos theory says these things are by definition unknowable. This is where I wish I could engage exactly with this section, because to me chaos theory is like the uncertainty principle: it's not that we can eventually reduce the uncertainty but that the uncertainty is by definition irreducible. I don't think we'll ever know more about chaos theory in a way that would address that question (but I'm not sure from listening!).
-- What if this theology makes us more fearful? There is no fear in love. But uncontrolling love at first blush makes me more afraid. Is that my failing or that of the theology?
This is a thought-provoking book that is good for Christians to talk about, as long as we keep all our conversations grounded in the truth of both books (nature and scripture) and as always permeated with love. If we do that God will be there among the two or three gathered. In that spirit I look forward to the conversations that will result.