I want to know what love is! I mean, who doesn’t want to know what love is? Love is a word offered to describe anything from one’s preference for food to the foundation of an eternal relationship.
I have recently read a book which provocatively suggests we reconsider common understandings of love, and Thomas Jay Oord does not mean the kind of love one means when one says “I love fish tacos.”
He means the kind of love understood in the statement “God is love.”
For Christians, and likely for many other people of faith, God’s love is the benchmark, the standard by which all other accounts of love are measured.
As with any other standard, this benchmark deserves to be reconsidered from time to time. Don’t hate on me for the reference to Subway here; the claim made to a sandwich being a foot long is analogous to any other and every other claim that anyone makes.
The Uncontrolling Love of God is Oord’s newest book, and, I think, worth the read. I read it as a follow up and deeper fleshing out of the position he stakes out in The Nature of Love, a Theolgy. I reviewed this book here.
In The Nature of Love, we are introduced to the premise that God’s love is kenotic in nature. Kenotic means self-emptying; Christians know the idea primarily from the early Christian hymn in Philippians 2, where, in verse 7, it says that Jesus “emptied himself….” Oord suggests that kenosis has come, of late, to explain how Jesus revealed God’s nature, rather than as Jesus showing God’s nature.
Oord argues that kenosis, “self-giving, other-empowering love,” is God’s nature.
In that previous review, I shared that what I found most refreshing in this understanding was the freedom it offered from our bent to circumscribe God by our own philosophical limits and parameters. We have, for instance, swallowed whole claims that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, though these are philosophical categories rather than biblical ones.
In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Oord deepens and strengthens his argument with an account of providence.
How and when does God act? How and when, and especially why(!), does God not act?
Sadly, Christians are too often left with some version or another of this:
He opens with a variety of tragedies that are next to impossible to explain without making God out to be calloused, indifferent, conniving, or sometimes downright evil. If, that is, God is all powerful and indeed, in active control of everything; sitting outside the universe directing things, as it were.
Oord offers another account of providence; and it is one that fits better with prevailing scientific understandings of the way the world works. There are, in fact, “random, chance, and accidental” events. Science recognizes this. I appreciate Oord’s presentation of current science in language that I can grasp, though I haven’t taken a single science course since 1980. There
Oord summarizes his position, called Essential Kenosis, with this statement:
God’s loving nature requires God to create a world with creatures God cannot control.
Kenosis, self-emptying, other-empowering love, is the essential nature of God. Because this is so, we can identify things God cannot do: God cannot foreknow or prevent evil.control, God cannot coerce creatures to conform to certain behavior. Because this love is God’s essence, God does not, and cannot, override free choices of creatures.
Oord’s account of providence is at least as coherent as any account I know. He presents several others and engages them fairly, though the serious thinker would consider a longer, denser engagement with each helpful.
I found The Uncontrolling Love of God an accessible and readable yet academic presentation. I believe any Christian would fare better in engaging the culture around him or her having read Oord’s newest book. After all, our categories and the ways we measure them deserves a fresh look every now and again.
The Uncontrolling Love of God can be pre-ordered here.
Here is a video with more about the book.