God Can’t: A Review

“I am convinced that God is love, this thought has for me a primitive lyrical validity. When it is present to me, I am unspeakably blissful, when it is absent, I long for it more vehemently than does the lover for his object.”

― Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

     There’s a good chance Dr. Oord’s new book, God Can’t, may threaten the very foundations many believers hold dear. I do not want to imply this book is divisive, far from it. In fact, understood correctly, this book has the potential to join very disparate groups of people in the commonality of their human experience. Unfortunately, many people may not be ready for the challenges this book brings. However, for those who are ready to be challenged, this book offers a path of healing. On the other side of that path is a deeper, truer, and more authentic faith. If you are ready for the difficult call of authenticity offered here, then I would highly encourage you to pick up God Can’t. In this post, I’m going to give you a brief overview of the book from an existential perspective, explain why I believe the ideas are important, and discuss how some of these concepts may be applied in therapy, the Church, and in theology.


     The problem of evil goes like this: God is all powerful and all loving. An all loving being would want to prevent evil things from happening to those they love. And all powerful being would be able to prevent evil things from happening to those same people. Evil happens to us, the beings God claims to love. This means God is either not all powerful (unable to prevent evil from occurring), or not all loving (doesn’t care if evil happens). Therefore, God does not exist. This is a legitimate issue many people have struggled over. In addition, there’s the issue of freewill and foreknowledge: If God knows the future, and God is never wrong, how can we have freewill?
    Dr. Oord has answered these questions through multiple publications on love (The most recent of which are: The Uncontrolling Love of God, Uncontrolling Love, and God Can’t). For Oord, freewill is a necessary condition of God’s love for us; an “Essential Kenosis” (EK). What this book adds to the already published works is a teleological application of the theological concepts. It’s one thing to talk about a general “trauma” and to offer platitudes like, “God works in mysterious ways”. That may be, but that doesn’t mean God is illogical, chaotic, capricious, and flippant. If we take seriously the idea that God is love, we must also take seriously the pain and suffering in the world.
   God Can’t explores the idea of EK, the existence of trauma (evil), and how we can respond. If you read this book, you take a big risk. You may have to accept genuine responsibility. And that’s not something everyone is willing, or ready, to do.


     Many therapeutic conversations work to distinguish the difference between fault and responsibility. Fault is about blame; who did what to whom, and when. Responsibility is about response: our ability to respond to a situation. We are not always completely at fault. We are always 100% responsible for how we respond. I have written about this in the past, but Yalom defined responsibility like this:

“To be aware of responsibility is to be aware of creating one’s own self, destiny, life predicament, feelings and, if such be the case, one’s own suffering. For the patient who will not accept such responsibility, who persists in blaming others — either other individuals or other forces — for his or her dysphoria, no real therapy is possible”.

What does this mean for those who have experienced trauma? It means so many things, but I am going to break it down into 3 sections: Be, Do, Have. The BDH model has been around so long, I can’t find out where it came from, but there’s a great explanation here: Be Do Have. Briefly explained, BDH is the idea that we must first know who we are (Be), and allow that to inform our behaviors/decisions (Do), and commit to altering and changing our actions until we get what we are working for (Have). The problem happens when we start with what we think we want (Have), then work and stress (Do) to try and get it so that we feel validated/ “ok” (Be). This process makes the security of our personhood dependent on outcomes and what we own. That externalization of self turns small threats into massive, existential, threats about our very being!