The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Why God Can’t Take Away Suffering


My review of “God Can’t: How to Believe in God and Love after Tragedy, Abuse, and Other Evils” by Thomas Jay Oord on RLC:


The book sounds Satanic. The joy of faith is trusting that God works all things together for good for those that love Him. Though God sometimes brings sorrow He also shows compassion. No matter what I’m going through I can always rely on God’s love. God brings beauty out of ashes. My faith is in Him even though I may not understand what He is doing at the time. God isn’t displeased with me just because suffering falls on me. Rather, He is tenderly present in it carrying me through it. By opening myself up to God’s love and compassion I can gain a deeper experience of His love in my life. By letting His love flow from me to others I double my joy in Him. It is this joy that sustains me and carries me through the hard times. God’s sovereign will is His business. The secret things belong to the Lord. I go by His revealed will. Trust God and humbly do mercy and justice.


I haven’t read the book, but this clip from the synopsis resonates very strongly with me:

“Believing that God is controlling doesn’t make the world any safer or us any more protected. Knowing that God does not want us to suffer, but cannot singlehandedly prevent it, but that he is asking for cooperation from everyone and everything at every moment reassures us that God truly cares for us — and that what we do, no matter how small, really matters.”


Do you presume that “all things” refers to “all events”? When you look at the context, it is clear that that is NOT the referent.

We know that to those who love God, God works together all things into good to the ones being called according to his ;purpose (Romans 8:28)

But let’s not stop here. Let’s read on, and we’ll discover how He does this!

For those whom he foreknew he also pre-appointed to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he pre-appointed he also called, and those whom he called he also made righteous, and those whom he made righteous, he also glorified.

God works together all things WITHIN the lives of His children! Here is the sequence:

  1. He foreknows them. Let’s not presume that foreknowing is some form of predestination. The apostle Paul stated that he was foreknown by his Jewish brethren.

They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. (Acts 26:5 NKJV)

But the word which the NKJV translates as “knew” is precisely the same word! The word is “προγινωσκω.”

  1. Then God pre-appoints them. That is, He has an appointment, a plan, for them in advance before they know it. However, as we are aware, a doctor or a dentist may give us an appointment, but we don’t have to keep that appointment. The same with God’s people. They may choose not to coöperate with God in achieving His purposes for us.

  2. Then after pre-appointing His people, He calls them. What for? To carry out His plan and purpose for them.

  3. The next step in the process which God works together for good within the hearts and minds of His people is to make them righteous. This is a life-long process that will come to completion in the day of Christ.
    … he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
    This step has not yet been completed, but it will be.

  4. The final step of God’s working in those who love Him, whom He has called, is their glorification. Has anyone yet been glorified? I’m sure you will agree that the answer is “No.”

But then one might ask, if steps 4 and 5 are future why is the past tense used for each step? Including 4 and 5. That answer is that if God says that He is going to do something, it’s as good as done even now!

Here is another clear example of this:

It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. (Heb 2:6-8)

So with God, it’s quite appropriate to say that He has done a thing, that He has not yet done. If God says it, it’s as good as done!


Not sure what you’re talking about Paidion but John Piper knows Greek and the proper exegesis of God working all things together for good for those that love Him. John Pipers exegesis of the promise works and transforms the soul. It has for me. It’s the foundation promise of all other promises. I can see how it works. It’s weird how you are blind to the miraculous transforming power of the blood bought promise. Christ has brought deliverance to me through it’s miraculous power. My faith is in Christ who is the sovereign ruler and Lord. To go into more depth and detail here’s the book that changed my perspective:

Another good book dealing with the foundational promise of all other promises:

It’s about trusting God or having faith and depending on Him to meet our needs. This secures the future and gives one hope. The grace comes from God and therefore we are grateful as we find our joy in glorifying Him not self. All the praise and glory goes to God. It seems in the past that you attribute the miraculous power of Christ to an evil Divine. I call Him the holy Christ who is in control of my life.


John is a dear friend and fellow classmate of mine, and I’ve read most of his books. But when he wrote that he believed God may have sovereignly predestined that his own children not be among the elect and thus would be punished in hell forever, I realized that our way of finding comfort and of exegeting Jesus’ love for the world sharply differs. That kind of predestination is not the kind of sobering belief in God working out all things for good that would console me.


Predestination is positive-negative. Hyper-Calvinism is positive-positive. God positively chooses the elect. He passes over the reprobate. They reject God and don’t want Him. They are punished because of their sin. They are responsible agents.

G.K. Chesterton was a brilliant writer. Nobody exploits the power of paradox like Chesterton. I heartily recommend his book orthodoxy. Chesterton did all he did to keep from becoming a Calvinist, and instead made me a romantic one - a happy one. The poetic brightness of his book, along with C.S. Lewis awakened in me an exuberance about the strangeness of all things, which in the end made me able to embrace the imponderable paradoxes of God’s decisive control of all things and the total justice of his holding us accountable. One of the reasons Calvinism is stirring today is that it takes both truth and mystery seriously. Read Orthodoxy…This book will awaken such a sense wonder in you that you will not feel at home again until you enter the new world of the wide eyed children called the happy Reformed…How can I not give thanks for this jolly Catholic whose only cranky side seemed to be his clouded views of happy Calvinists! - John Piper, A Godward Heart, pp. 79-82

When I turn my focus inward and on me and God I can be quite happy. Sitting around worrying about the rest of the world can steal my peace and joy. The idea is to love those in your own particular area you are called to. Love your loved ones, yourself, and God. Don’t worry so much about the whole world. As they tell us in the A.A. Big Book:


“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation –
Some fact of my life – unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417

People have criticized A.A. in this respect as being a “selfish” program. Is that a bad thing? Is taking care of myself first bad? Bill Wilson tells us in “As Bill Sees it”:


I can see why you are disturbed to hear some A.A. speakers say, A.A. is a selfish program. The word selfish ordinarily implies that one is acquisitive, demanding, and thoughtless of the welfare of others. Of course, the A.A. way of life does not at all imply such undesirable traits.

What do these speakers mean? Well, any theologian will tell you that the salvation of his own soul is the highest vocation that a man can have. Without salvation - however we might define this - he will have little or nothing. For us of A.A., there is even more urgency.

If we cannot or will not achieve sobriety, then we become truly lost, right in the here and now. We are of no value to anyone, including ourselves, until we find salvation from alcohol. Therefore, our own recovery and spiritual growth have to come first - a right and necessary kind of self concern.


‘Passes over’ the reprobate is a polite way of saying it. What it amounts to is ETC for the majority of mankind who are no more guilty than the few that are chosen.
Playing the ‘sovereignty’ card here don’t cut the mustard.
God is better than that.


Are you then saying that you too would rejoice if in fact the sovereign God did NOT positively choose to make your own beloved child one of the elect? My own grief would be deep if I even believed God just chose to “pass over” my daughter’s or your opportunity to receive the gift of salvation.


No, I’m quite open to the likelihood that the reprobate will be destroyed under God’s holy hatred. His anger only lasts a moment though. He kills but makes alive. After judgment comes resurrection or restoration.


Have you ever run by Piper your idea that God will only be angry for a moment with those he has not chosen, followed by “restoration”? As one who knows well his view that God’s hell will administer endless punishment to all the non-elect, he would find this a major departure from central doctrines.

I personally resonate with your belief and I’m glad you think for yourself and choose which of Piper’s interpretations to affirm.


I hold to the Biblical view of predestination. Only that judgment destroys but then is followed by resurrection like at the cross. I don’t know what Piper would think of it. It does affirm God’s anger and holy hatred and God would indeed work everything together for good for those that love Him. It holds to all central doctrines. Even limited atonement. In “Five Points” by John Piper he states:

We do not deny that Christ died to save all in some sense. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:10 that in Christ God is “the Savior of all people, especially of those that believe.” What we deny is that the death of Christ is for all men in the same sense. God sent Christ to save all in some sense. And He sent Christ to save those who believe in a more particular sense. God’s intention is different for each. That is the natural way to read 1 Timothy 4:10.

I believe like Piper that Christ died for all in some sense. Where I disagree with him is that I believe that the sense in which Christ died for the reprobate is when He resurrects them from judgment. For those who have faith in this lifetime God’s punishment is removed from them. They are saved by grace through faith. For those sinners who go to hell and receive the just punishment for their sins He destroys and then resurrects as He reconciles all to Himself. Just as the heavens and earth undergo a fiery judgment followed by a new heaven and earth.


That’s a wonderful hope. What John is sure of is that God only has effective saving love for a select elect, and all the rest will be forever pummeled in hell, because this contrast between the chosen and those left reprobate will magnify God’s glory for the elect who look down on the misery of the damned and will forever be grateful that God’s grace let his glory shine by choosing us, and leaving them to display God’s holy anger side.

He follows Augustine in this as taught to us by Dr. Dan Fuller, about how God’s holy full-orbed glory in this design is what really matters.


I am a disciple of Jesus. Jesus, my Lord, never spoke of “God’s holy hatred.” Rather He taught that God is kind both to ungrateful people and to evil people (Luke 6:35).

The apostle John stated that God is love (1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16). Not that love is one of His characteristics and holy hatred is another, but that God IS love. Love is His very essence. Thus everything that God does, He does out of LOVE, God acts only for the best for every individual.


Then I’ll put it in a “nutshell.” It is not external events that God works together for the good of those who love Him, but internal events—events within their hearts and minds.


Holy hatred - that’s an oxymoron!

The problem with the idea that everything is preplanned and we cannot judge any event as being good or evil since they are all part of God’s plan is that we cannot know how to act in any circumstance. An example of the problem is this. If you see a child being raped and you try to prevent it, you may be working against God’s plan - how would you know? Perhaps God was teaching that child a lesson about suffering?


In Genesis God gave dominion of the earth to man but he may have given part of that or all of that dominion to Satan. But God did give dominion to man therefore taken at face value this would preclude Calvinism. However God does have sovereignty and IMO he could intervene anytime he chooses but i think God wants us to go through and overcome evil because there is much to be learned from this journey, painful as it often is!


EXACTLY, mcarans! That kind of thought about determinism, or God being “in control” of all events has often come to mind. It is for this very reason that I reject “predestination” and every other form of determinism.


That’s why I’ve already stated that the secret things belong to the Lord. His sovereign or secret will is His business alone. We as finite and limited creatures are to go by His revealed will which is humbly trust God and do mercy and justice.

There are many different types of love and hate in the Bible. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time to love and a time to hate. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. While some of the psalms express hate towards God’s enemies. Can we love and hate at the same time? If love is the disposition to seek the good of someone else and hate is opposition to the values and plans of someone then it is possible to both love and hate the same person. I can hate someone like Adolf Hitler for example in the sense of opposing his plans and being disgusted by his character and actions, while at the same time desiring his conversion or change of heart. Thus, I can both love and hate Hitler at the same time. I don’t think Jesus wants us to merely hate someone like Hitler. For He tells us to love everyone including our enemies. He speaks against pure hatred by telling us to love. Indeed, it tells us in Romans love is to be genuine, hate that which is evil, cling to that which is good. Jaccob I loved Esau I hated. While God showers His common graces on all while we are on earth there’s coming a time when His patience will be over.

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” ~~ Rev. 16:15-17

he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. ~~ Rev. 14:10

If God is love then He must hate evil:

Leviticus 20:23 - “And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.”

Leviticus 26:30 - “And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.”

Deuteronomy 32:19 - “And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters.”

Psalm 5:5 - “The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”

Psalm 5:6 - “Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.”

Psalm 10:3 - “For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.”

Psalm 11:5 - “The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.”

Psalm 53:5 - “There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them.”

Psalm 73:20 - “As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.”

Psalm 78:59 - “When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:”

Psalm 106:40 - “Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance.”

Proverbs 6:16-19 - “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”

Proverbs 22:14 - “The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein.”

Lamentations 2:6 - “And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the LORD hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.”

Hosea 9:15 - “All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters.”

Zechariah 11:8 - “Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me.”

Malachi 1:3 - “And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.”

Romans 9:13 - “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

You attribute the transforming miraculous promises of Christ to the work of a demon. This is blasphemy.


I loved your Scriptures and analysis here, especially that any Christian ‘hate’ requires seeking the good of the one we hate. But who are you accusing of blasphemy, and what are you referring to as calling Jesus’ promises the work of demons?

P.S. I suspect those who reject God as the determinative cause of all events, would fear that Calvinists are apt to attribute the work of the demonic Evil One to the Lord, insofar as they see Him as in control of all that happens