by Peter Davies
God Can’t by Thomas Jay Oord: a radically different view of God’s love, the problem of good versus evil and why healing may not occur!
I just read a book which reinforces how hard it is for me to define what I believe on big Christian issues outside the 60 year plus personal connection I have with God. Want a challenge to your thinking about God’s love, good and evil, failed healing and unanswered prayer? Thomas Oord is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of multi-disciplinary studies – and an author! He has written several books and I just turned the last page on one of his books titled “God Can’t”. He has radical beliefs around the ‘why and how’ of ‘good and evil’ and ‘unanswered prayer’. His thinking is different – I mean radically different, and I am still not sure where I go with all his ideas. If you are interested – read on!
Thomas Oord is a misfit. He tells stories about survivors of evil and hurt with a rethink of the conventional ideas of the role of God and the world in these scenarios. His target readers are the hurting and confused who are trying to make sense of life and faith in the midst/post a challenging life event(s). Thomas attempts to lay bare what he calls the inadequacy of the conventional answers: “It’s all part of God’s plan”, “God wants to make you stronger”, “God’s ways are not our ways”, “You didn’t have enough faith”, “Everything happens for a reason”, “God needed another angel in heaven’s choir”, “It was Satan at work”, and more. He also states his dislike for the 2 ‘cards’ that are often played by Christians in a time a deep hurt or pain – “you have to trust God’s will is being done” and “all things work for your betterment if you are a Christian”. This is confusing as I have used these phrases and I am considering if there are indeed occasions where they are valid. I have also come to include ‘thy will be done’ in my prayers – although I openly concede that I use it as a ‘get out of jail’ card in case the prayer is not answered as expected. Oord asks “wouldn’t it be God’s will to help the abused, confused, injured and ill?” Hard to disagree!
The biggest issue that prevents people from believing in God is why ‘bad things are allowed’ but Thomas Oord believes he has a solution to evil which makes sense. He believes that this better way begins with believing in a God of relentless and uncontrolling love. His two assumptions throughout the book are that God always loves (uncontrollingly) and that genuine evil is real. However, he believes that while not all pain is bad, there is much pain and suffering which is ‘useless’ and serves no ‘greater good’. I mean – does God really think its better to allow horrors and holocausts than to prevent them? Does it make any sense to say a loving God permits evil?
To jump to the point, Oord believes that God can’t prevent (hence the book title) abuse, tragedy and evil singlehandedly! Note – he deliberately avoids the word “won’t” prevent nor does he use the word “allow”. Saying “God allows evil” either means God doesn’t care enough to intervene or the horrors are, in some mysterious way, for our good. Oord says that if preventing were possible, a loving God would prevent the horrific suffering we and others endure. Consider the question – wouldn’t a loving person prevent preventable evil? A loving mother/father on a camping trip would stop their young child from walking into the camp fire. You would assume that a loving God would do similar if it were in their power. But, if God can NOT prevent abuse, tragedy and evil, Oord says that He still can relate intimately with survivors and feel what they feel.
You also may have noticed the word ‘singlehandedly’ in italics. Oord talks much about our role as the ones that God works with to prevent evil and bring healing. This view reinforces the importance of our actions – Oord is more direct and says that God needs us to bring the healing and peace that forms his will for this earth.
While we have been asking why a loving and powerful God doesn’t prevent evil – there is a related question which is “the problem of selective healing”. It wonders why a loving and powerful God heals so infrequently. Why do most people not experience instantaneously the healing God can allegedly provide? And yet, there is some miraculous healing but why doesn’t God heal a lot more often?
Okay – I am probably doing Thomas Oord an injustice in my summary. How does a short write-up replace his book of thoughts. He has 5 key ideas which provide the solution to why evil occurs and a loving God doesn’t stop it. You will have to read his book to find out each of them. This is not a negative book as the title suggests and while I have now listened to a number of podcasts where he speaks – I have found the ‘podcasts are not as good as the book’.
–Content Warning: SA, CSA, RA–*
There has been a personal outcome for me from this book – it came from a woman’s story of regular sexual abuse by her brother. When she eventually shared her story she found fleeting comfort from advice that God was holding her hand through this experience. It was fleeting because she became angry when felt that God had been ‘watching’ – and why God would ‘watch’ and not intervene if she was loved by Him. The concept that God has loved her right from the start with an ‘uncontrolling’ love and can’t intervene has enabled her to connect again with her faith. This story, and others shared in the book, has forced me to mull over that Oord has presented a ‘model of thinking’ that may not be well accepted by the Christian masses – especially those who have not been confronted with deep hurts or serious abuse. However, if it enables survivors of abuse and tragedy to re-engage in their ‘walk with God’ – what do you say to them?
So, if you’re intrigued by what you’ve read here and want to learn more, here are a couple of suggestions:
- Read the book with someone and catch up each week for 5 weeks to discuss the 5 ideas Oord puts forward.
- Listen to a podcast (like I first did!) to hear Oord’s ‘birds eye view’ on the subject.
- Visit godcant.com to get further information
*These acronyms are used to mean Sexual Abuse, Child Sexual Abuse and Religious Abuse. A Content warning is used so that when necessary, people can choose whether or not to continue reading whilst protecting their mental, emotional and spiritual health around topics that are sensitive or may contribute to retraumatisation.
If this post brings up anything for you, you can contact any of the below numbers for help.
- Police: phone 000 if you’re worried about your safety or a child’s safety at any time.
- National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service: phone 1800RESPECT or 1800 737 732 – 24 hours, 7 days a week.
- Lifeline: phone 131 114 – 24 hours, 7 days a week.
- Kids Helpline: phone 1800 551 800 – 24 hours, 7 days a week.
- Bravehearts: phone 1800 272 831 – 8.30 am-4.30 pm, Monday to Friday AEST.