Here are some quick evil thoughts pertaining to the most recent episode of Unbelievable featuring a conversation between John Peckham and Thomas Jay Oord. I’m not going to recap their positions here. Just listen to the show and then join the conversation.
First, I didn’t hear enough about John Peckham’s (very Greg Boydian sounding) council of the gods theodicy, but it seems to my untutored ear like he’s taking the remnants of ANE polytheism early in the strata of Judeo-Christian divine accommodation and making it a centerpiece of how God acts in the world and seeks to redress evil. Count me skeptical about this approach. I’d want to hear more — much more — about the nature of this council including (among other things) how it relates to the divine nature. For example, is God Pure Act in which case, isn’t this really that Just So story despite Peckham’s asseverations to the contrary?
But my real concern is with Thomas Jay Oord’s process theology. I admit up front that I’m no fan of process theism and I did not find his presentation of it here to be particularly winsome. Though I’m glad to see that there was no mention of such obscurities as “prehension” and “dipolarity”. But my problem with Oord can best be summarized on a couple of points.
First, Oord’s description of God refraining from intervening in cancer because he loves cells and wants to nurture them leaves me thinking whether we are to view oncologists as less loving than God, given that they go to work burning and cutting cancer out of human bodies. On the contrary, I insist they’re on the side of the angels. The problem, in short, is to figure out how we are to conceive properly of loving human combat with evil when God’s perfect love prevents him from doing the same.
Second, Oord made a big deal of the fact that when people are suffering they are allegedly comforted by the idea that God was powerless to prevent the evil that befell them. No doubt, some folks do think like that. But it is worthwhile keeping in mind that suffering is not necessarily a catalyst for clear thinking. On the contrary, it can often obscure clear thinking, so I would be very careful about drawing any systematic theological lesson from the question of which theodicies are resonant in the midst of suffering.
The more basic point is that it isn’t theodicies which are important when people suffer. Rather, what really matters is other people to love them and walk through the valley of the dark night of the soul with them. Someday we may have a discussion of theodicy in the seminar classroom, but for now, we weep.
Finally, I will say this: if I were in the midst of great suffering, I do not think that I would be comforted by a theology in which God is powerless to stop evil, in which there is no promise that God will wipe every tear from our eyes, in which God doesn’t even know what evils may befall me tomorrow let alone if he will be able to deliver me from them. I am not much for invoking the charge of idolatry at theologies I believe to be errant, but it is difficult to describe Oord’s theology as anything but a paean to the god of egregiously lowered expectations.