WHY BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO EVERYBODY: How the Philosophy of Jordanic Derivism Tackles the Problems of Natural and Moral Evil in a New and Revolutionary Way
by Frank L. Jordan III
Cover image courtesy of NASA and ESA
Frank Jordan’s profound struggle to understand God and the world and the reality of evil have brought him to a path very like that of process theology. I congratulate him for finding it on his own. What gives poignancy and power to Jordan’s thinking is the way it has come out of his personal suffering and joy. ~ Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr., process theologian and co-director of the Center for Process Studies
The online publication of the complete ebook ~SOUNDINGS~: Exploring the Depths of God and the Universe can be found here.
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Let’s face it. Nobody really knows what’s going on for sure. I’ve spent many years of my life trying to make sense of the “all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful God in the face of evil” dilemma. And even though I’ve developed a philosophy that seems more compatible with modern-day experience than many others that I’ve encountered, I realize now (after those many years) that the most any philosophy will ever be in this life is a theory of why things are the way that they are. We may think that our reasonings are divinely inspired, and that we have the inside scoop on things, but the most a theory can ever really be is an exceptionally reasonable explanation for our multifaceted existence – an explanation that is compatible with both our daily experience and our beliefs. We can gain much comfort by arriving at such explanations for ourselves, but those explanations can only go so far. Sometimes part of the process is getting past the speculations and theories and just resting in our trust and belief in our very source, whom many call God.
That being said, I would like to introduce to you this new spiritual philosophy – perhaps one of the most logical and comprehensive approaches to the problem of evil currently found – by first asking that timeless question:
Why does evil occur if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good?
As a young adult, I can remember grappling with the problem of evil (both natural and moral), and with the role that God plays in relation to it. The typical solutions I had heard weren’t really cutting it for me. For instance, I concluded very early on that the theory of free will – that in order to offer love freely we have to be given free will and that this is why God allows evil to happen – doesn’t address natural evil, such as diseases and natural disasters. These phenomena occurred long before humans populated this planet.
So I decided to suspend everything I had heard about God’s role in relation to the problem of evil. Along with doing this, I also decided to suspend everything I had heard or read about what God’s power is. I decided to go straight to the source with my questions, without any bias towards the answers I might receive. I sent out my questions like an oceanographer sends out soundings to gather information. I felt strongly I would receive some answers. And I believe I did … like echoes from the depths of time, as I would later write.
However, before elaborating on this process I feel it is necessary to describe an experience I had of what I can only refer to as God’s very essence. This was the first of three such encounters, all occurring under very different circumstances. From the introduction of my collection of verse essays entitled ~SOUNDINGS~: Exploring the Depths of God and the Universe:
But some of the realizations [in this book] came only after I had had a profound conversion experience, a conversion that occurred during one of the worst crises of my life. At one point in our marriage, my previous wife and I were on the brink of a serious separation when I realized that I would never be the father that I had always wanted to be for our children – our daughter, then eight, and son, seven – and that that would hurt them. All of a sudden this incredible love swept over me, filling my heart with joy, and I knew it was from God. I knew it was God’s love because there was a presence and a power to it. This love knew me intimately, was closer to me than my very breath.
This experience, and the other two like it, have convinced me that the chief attribute of God is pure, unconditional love – that God can literally be described as Pure Love personified. Such experiences prove to me that whoever or whatever God is, we are loved and can be healed – in my case emotionally – by this penetrating power that emanates from the Divine. This knowledge was crucial for me as I continued with my philosophical inquiries.
As I pondered the mysterious relationship between God and the universe with what I hoped was an open and unbiased mind, the worldview that unfolded in front of me didn’t seem at first to address the problem of evil directly. But as the different aspects of it began to fit together, a possible new solution to the problem of needless pain and suffering in the world – of natural and moral evil – began to emerge.
The first principle that came to me was this:
In the beginning, the fundamental realities of the universe – like the first chemical elements, gravity, electromagnetism, and the laws that governed them all – HAD to be what they were. It was absolutely ESSENTIAL that they be what they intrinsically were because they derived directly from God, who is the Ultimate Reality. This reveals the universe as an unfolding MANIFESTATION of GOD. These primordial realities could not have been anything other than what they were.
This shouldn’t be confused with the “anthropic principle” which recognizes that some realities of the universe (e.g., the universe’s rate of expansion, the size of protons) have to be what they are for life to exist at all. This is the current-day context that most people think of when entertaining the idea that the universe has to be what it is, or what it was in the beginning. However, the principle under consideration here addresses the realities of the universe, starting with the Big Bang, in a new context. That context is that the basic realities of the early universe were realities that derived directly from God, and because of this it was absolutely essential that they be what they intrinsically were. For instance, if you imagine a chemical element – maybe call it Saturnium – it could never in actuality ever really exist because it is an imagined element, even for the Divine. It is not a reality that derives from God, who is the Ultimate Reality. On the other hand, real natural elements inherently have to be what they intrinsically are. The quality of “realness” that they are imbued with is a unique quality that is derived from God and God alone.
At first this might seem to limit God’s power, because one might ask, “Couldn’t God have created the universe any way and with anything that he wanted to?” But in actuality it doesn’t limit God’s power at all. It reveals that the questioner is asking from a biased perspective, a perspective that doesn’t reflect the way reality truly is. It’s like asking, “Couldn’t God create a square circle?” One wouldn’t answer “no” to the question (and thus limit God), but one would rather say that the question itself isn’t in accordance with the reality of God, or with the realities that derive from God.
The second principle that came to me was this:
From the moment anything derived from God, it naturally turned to God out of a need to be something more – to progress. This automatically set up a “call and response” dynamic between God and the universe. There was even a type of yearning – not like the yearnings you or I feel, but a yearning nonetheless – within complex molecules to be something more. God lovingly responded to this need, and life itself came into existence – began to thrive and grow. From that point on, the needs – the yearnings – within the universe became much more complex. This process sets up a dynamic of COLLABORATION between God and nature which brings about the evolution of life and the universe.
Along with many new life-processes, the realities of physical and emotional pain came into existence. Pain was not conjured up by the Divine as some kind of warning system or learning experience, but is a natural result of the reality of sensation itself. From the verse essay “Sensation” in ~SOUNDINGS~:
The reality of pain is intertwined within the very fabric
of this evolving universe.
It is an actual aspect of the unfolding manifestation of God,
of this continuing collaboration of nature with God.
So is the reality of pleasure,
although an understanding of pleasure is less intriguing.
We simply enjoy it, pursue it, long for it—
not really caring so much why.
But pain is another story.
It can consume us, overwhelm us.
It has the potential to drive us deep within ourselves,
crying out, reaching out with a yearning
and longing for release,
for something, someone, to deliver us.
The third principle that came to me – and perhaps the most applicable to the problem of evil – was this:
The realities that derive from God have an inherent power within them to resist the FULL power of God. This power to resist the Divine is linked to the dynamic that these realities are derived from the Divine, and thus share in the Divine’s Reality. This sets up a dynamic in which God is in CONTENTION with the life-forms in the universe while helping to bring about their evolution and development. It’s not like these life-forms consciously resist God’s power. It’s more like this power to resist is just part of their very nature. Yes, things do get more complicated where human beings and matters of free will are involved. But this undercurrent of contention between God and that which derives from God – between the Divine and the universe as the unfolding manifestation of the Divine – still remains.
These three principles – manifestation, collaboration, and contention – help to make up the contemporary philosophy of derivism*. This new worldview has led me to a surprising understanding concerning God’s true relationship with the universe, and how that relationship addresses the problem of evil – both natural and moral.
That understanding is this:
At this moment – at every moment – God is offering us EVERYTHING in his, in her power to give. God, who is Pure Love, isn’t withholding ANYTHING. But the Divine is contending with our natural selves – ourselves physically, chemically, biologically, and psychologically. God is also contending with natural obstacles inherent within the universe at large – a universe that has the power to RESIST God because it consists of realities that derive directly FROM God.
Now, some might see this contention as limiting the Divine. But once again that perception is a mistake, in my opinion, and is based on biases about God’s power that we bring to the table. From the verse essay “Humanity”:
To view this truth as a limitation of our wonderful God
is a mistaken perception.
The reality of the power of the sacred Spirit of God
exerted in its fullness upon the natural world,
resulting in the development of life
through planetary history,
and climaxing with the advent of humanity—
this reality doesn’t limit or lower God,
rather it raises the universe
to its true significance and worth.
It raises the preciousness of life
as it is reflected in God’s eyes.
It raises God’s people, every human being,
to a deeper understanding of their roles
as collaborators in God’s plan,
as laborers of God’s love—
and sometimes, as those in need of special care.
The misconceptions surrounding God’s activity
in relation to the universe begin when we confuse
what God’s power actually is
with what we imagine it to be.
Just because we can imagine God’s power
being exerted on physical objects
like an actual hand would be exerted,
doesn’t mean that God actually works that way.
It seems very possible that the way God works—
maybe the way God must work
in accordance with reality—
is through the hearts and minds
and limbs of living things,
that this is the essential avenue
through which miracles occur,
especially within the human arena.
So for me, this understanding colors everything I witness regarding the harsher realities of life – realities like death, accidents, natural disasters and disease (which define natural evil), and realities like crime and other abuses (which define moral evil). It’s not that God is allowing these things to happen, but that God’s full power is filtered through the process of contention by the realities that make up this unfolding manifestation of God – realities that have the power to resist the Divine because they derive directly from the Divine and thus share in the Divine’s reality.
Through this understanding, I’ve come to realize that moral evil can be attributed to a person’s reaction to the lack of God’s power and love in their lives. For as St. Augustine has noted, evil is the privation, or absence, of good. Evil isn’t a real thing in itself. It is more like the absence or lack of the Ultimately Real Thing – or One – which is God.
This new philosophy of derivism helps me to not blame God for the essential way that the universe is evolving and developing, with all of its beauty and heartache. Indeed, this philosophy is compatible with an understanding of the mechanisms of random mutations and natural selection found within the evolutionary process itself. I haven’t encountered one scientific discovery that is in direct conflict with the core tenets of derivism. This worldview doesn’t try to mold the advances of science into its own framework, but rather asks, “What does this advancement tell us, if anything, about how the Divine interacts with this particular aspect of the universe? Or what does this scientific discovery reveal to us, if anything, about the nature of the universe as an unfolding manifestation of Pure Love?”
This philosophy of derivism – a revolutionary worldview, in my opinion – has served me well for over twenty years, through all kinds of inner as well as outer turmoil. I came to this worldview as a Christian, and it has strengthened and revitalized my faith. But I don’t see derivism as an exclusively Christian philosophy. I can see it being applied to other faith traditions as well.
So to answer the question “Why does evil occur if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good?”, I would have to say that God is doing everything in his, in her power to eradicate evil. God’s power is exerted in its fullness at every moment, but is contending with harsh realities and circumstances that consist – in part – of manifested realities that derive directly from God, and thus have the power to resist God.
So of the three classic attributes of God, two of them remain virtually untouched in derivism – God’s omniscience (all-knowingness) and God’s omnibenevolence (all-goodness). The third attribute – God’s omnipotence (all-powerfulness) – is simply revised to mean the kind of power that God’s power actually is, and the way that God’s power actually works. The boundaries of omnipotence are redefined from what we imagine them to be to what the evidence reveals them to be. If God’s omnipotence is real and our ideas of what constitute omnipotence are not, then we should be the ones changing our minds, and not expect God to change his/her reality.
Who would want to change God’s reality anyway? The Divine is all-inclusive Pure Love and the universe is unfolding in accordance with that. This world, with all of its pain and struggle, is still a wondrous, exciting, and fulfilling place. As a human being thriving down here on planet Earth, I can think of no other place I’d rather be. But that doesn’t mean that serious problems affecting this world should go unresolved. With problems like global climate change, pollution, and deforestation at our front door, much work needs to be done to restore this planet to a healthier state. An understanding of these problems in light of derivism can be of great value when addressing such concerns.
I hope this essay has encouraged you to read the following contents of ~SOUNDINGS~: Exploring the Depths of God and the Universe (PRESS 333). The beginning of the ebook can be found by scrolling below related posts to the one entitled ~SOUNDINGS~: Exploring the Depths of God and the Universe — Contents and Introduction, or by clicking here.
You can also find the paperback and Kindle versions here. If you like the book (and even if you don’t) please consider writing a review on the Amazon website for ~SOUNDINGS~.
It is my sincere desire that you discover for yourself that this new philosophy has both the potential to make better sense of our ever-changing world, and the ability to tear down some of the walls between us and the very source of all life, love, and reality.
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* The philosophy of derivism introduced in ~SOUNDINGS~ is not the religious doctrine found at the website or in the book Derivism: A New Understanding in a New Age. Each author arrived at the term “derivism” independently. The philosophy introduced here is specified as Jordanic derivism.