Making Sense of Love & Evil, Chance & Purpose
by Thomas Jay Oord
January 6, 2013
I'm beginning a new book project! Thanks to a generous grant from the randomness and divine providence project, I'm offering a proposal for how we might best believe God acts providentially in our world.
Almost all of us want to make sense out of life. Most of our attempts to make sense of things address immediate questions: Why did she look at me? Why is it so cold? Why can’t my team win a championship? Why do I feel hungry? Why can’t I relax? What’s for dinner? Etc.
Most of us ask the big questions of life too. These questions and their answers make up the heart of the world’s various religions, the impetus for scientific endeavors, and the domain of philosophy. Big questions and our attempts to answer them are a big deal! The disciplines of theology, science, and philosophy explore both the minute particularities and the big picture in their attempts to make sense of reality.
Those of us who believe in God – and I am one – think fully adequate answers to the big questions of life involve God. This does not mean that science, philosophy, the humanities, arts, or other disciplines cannot contribute to our quest to answer well life’s biggest questions. Fully adequate answers involve them too.
The discipline of theology should not play the trump card in attempts to understand reality better. But if God’s presence and influence has the kind of far-reaching effects most believers like me think, theology cannot be set aside in discussions about the meaning of life.
And what an amazing life it seems to be!
Existence as we know it is abounding in information, values, mystery, and more. We experience love, joy, and happiness, along with evil, pain, and sadness. We act purposefully and intentionally to reach our goals, but we encounter randomness, chance, and luck as well. We seem to act freely much of our lives, but circumstances, opportunities, bodies, and environments limit our freedom. At one moment we may be in awe of the goodness and beauty of our lives, while in the next moment we get discouraged by the horror and ugliness we encounter. And most of the time, our lives are made up of the mundane, usual, and routine.
Making sense of life – in light of such wide-ranging diversity – is a daunting task. But it is a task we inevitably take up. In more or less sophisticated ways, we attempt to figure out how things work and what makes sense. All of us are metaphysicians, in the broad sense.
This book explores the big picture with a special emphasis upon the randomness and evil we encounter in life. This does not mean that purpose, beauty, goodness, and love are ignored. They will not be. But in these pages I offer a theological vision of reality that takes seriously both purposiveness and randomness, both good and evil, both love and sin.
Those who believe in God have for millennia wrestled with what we often call the problem of evil question: "Why doesn’t a good and powerful God prevent genuinely evil events?"
In recent centuries, a different but related question has gained prominence: "How can God act providentially if we live amongst randomness and chance?"
In my book, I will propose a theologically, scientifically, and philosophically informed answer to these questions. In doing so, I face directly the realities of life, in their wide-ranging diversity.
I'm looking forward to this adventure!