Did God Allow the Paris Attacks?
by Thomas Jay Oord
November 16, 2015
Most theologians would say “yes.” I say “no.”
If current reports are correct, ISIS planned various attacks in Paris that killed more than 100 people and injured about 500. An attack occurred in Beirut, and other acts of terror have been committed. The death, pain, and suffering are immense.
Those like me who believe in God are wondering how we ought to think theologically about this. We’re wondering what we should do. We’re wondering what love asks of us now.
I join those believers who offer heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of victims. These are dark days. Our hearts rightly go out to those in pain and grief. And I’m pondering what more I can do to help.
But I’m also thinking about God.
Many believers will rightfully say God is present with all people in times of horror and tragedy. God suffers with victims and survivors. The Christian God consoles and suffers with those in pain.
I agree. But I don’t think that goes far enough.
Other believers will say God is angry when people choose violence in this way. They will say God opposes such terror-oriented activity. God hates injustice and evil.
I agree that God hates sin. But I don’t think that goes far enough.
Some believers will ask what proactive steps can be taken to prevent further attacks. A number of proposals will surface, I’m sure. Some may be wise; others not.
I agree with those who say that we must find a way to respond in love to prevent more suffering. But I don’t think that goes far enough.
Too few believers will go so far as to ask themselves this question: “Could God have stopped the Paris attacks?”
Perhaps many who believe in God will not ask this question, because the answer they have likely been told is not comforting. Most theologians in the past and present, after all, would say God allowed the Paris tragedies. They believe God has the kind of power to prevent this death and suffering. But according to most theologians, God permitted this pointless pain in Paris and elsewhere.
According to most theologians, God permitted
the attacks in Paris and elsewhere. I disagree.
It is true that a few theologians may say it is logically impossible for God to both give free will and not give free will. So in choosing to give free will to the ISIS terrorists, God was self-constrained.
But these same theologians will say that if God wanted to do so, God could interrupt the entities, agencies, molecules, and atoms involved in these events. These aspects of reality do not have full-blown freedom.
These theologians would also say God could interrupt natural laws, if God saw fit. They believe God could intervene among entities and atoms in ways that would not involve overriding the free will of those who perpetrate evil.
For instance, this view of God’s power among entities and atoms says God could have jammed the rifles the terrorists used. It says God could have made the bombs fail to detonate. Or God could have controlled the weather or environment to thwart the attacks. In the minds of these theologians, God can control all parts of creation that don’t involve free will, if God so chose.
But if God can control non-free agents and entities, why didn’t God do so to prevent the Paris attacks?
The uncomfortable truth is that most theologians and Christians today and throughout history have said God permits genuine evil. God allows pointless suffering. And they appeal to mystery when asked questions like, “Did God allow the Paris attacks?” They say, “Don’t ask me, I’m not God!”
By contrast, I think theologians and Christians in general need to rethink God’s power. This means rethinking what it means to say God can control creatures and creation, whether these existing things have freedom or not.
In my new book, I’ve carefully laid out an argument that says God’s uncontrolling love prevents God from being able to prevent genuine evil unilaterally. God is still almighty, I argue. God is omnipresent and loving too. God knows everything that can be known. But the uncontrolling God I describe should not be blamed for tragedies like those in Paris, because God cannot stop them acting alone.
The key to my answer is my claim that God’s self-giving, others-empowering love comes first in God’s nature. This means God must give freedom, agency, self-organization, being, or law-like regularities to creation.
The Paris attacks were awful. While we ponder how we ought to act, how to console those in grief, and how to affirm that God is with all who suffer, let us also take a moment to consider the possibility that God’s power is not controlling.
A God who cannot control others entirely is not culpable
for failing to prevent the Paris attacks. I believe in that God.
To read more of The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence go to the Amazon link here - http://www.amazon.com/The-Uncontrolling-Love-God-Relational/dp/0830840842.