The classic theological puzzle known as the “problem of evil” arises when we assert the existence of an all-powerful God who is also perfectly loving, while also asserting the presence of genuine evil in the world. As David Hume puts the case: “Either God would remove evil out of this world, and cannot; or He can, and will not; or, He has not the power nor will; or, lastly He has both the power and will. If He has the will, and not the power, this shows weakness, which is contrary to the nature of God. If He has the power, and not the will it is malignity, and this is no less contrary to His nature. If He is neither able nor willing, He is both impotent and malignant, and consequently cannot be God. If he is both willing and able (which alone is consonant to the nature of God), whence comes evil, or why does he not prevent it?”
Very often, as in Hume’s framing above, the focus of efforts to approach the “problem” is on God. Can God? Should God? Is God? Why does/doesn’t God? In a departure from this, in this episode the panelists place greater attention on those who are currently, or who have, suffered great evil, and how traditional approaches so often fail them. In many cases, one of the costs of great suffering, especially when it does not arise as a natural consequence of something we did, is the loss of faith in God altogether. More atheists are created by the fact of genuine, massive, and seemingly unfair distribution of great suffering than any other trigger. Clearly, in such cases, an “omni-everything” concept of God fails as a being or power that is able to comfort those who suffer.
In a new book, God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils, Christian and open-relational theologian Thomas Jay Oord directly faces the effects on individual faith that arise from evil. Through his posing and discussing five theological claims about God’s loving nature in relation to evil, many Christians, and we sense Latter-day Saints would as well, have at last found new hope and the kind of comfort and peace that only an explicit faith in God can bring.
Brittney Hartley and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon join Tom in discussing the ideas of his book, while contributing as they arise various places where Mormon thought is in close alignment with his theses. In the final section, they also discuss one large disconnect between Tom’s and wider Christianity’s view of God and that of Latter-day Saints: the question of whether God is embodied or not. It leads to a fascinating exchange, even as it primes the pump for many more explorations. We are grateful to Tom as an open-hearted, brilliant, and friendly conversation partner. Here’s to more episodes to come!
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Thomas Jay Oord, God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils (SacraSage Press, 2019)
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