By Drew Luther
On Nov.18, the Benne Center for Religion and Society hosted Dr. Bethany Sollereder of Oxford University for a talk on “God’s Voice in the Dark and Difficult.” Sollereder has a Doctorate in Theology from the University of Exeter, U.K., and a Master’s in Interdisciplinary Theology from Regent College in Vancouver, Canada.
Sollereder was introduced by Dr. James Peterson, the Schumann Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Benne Center for Religion and Society. She started off by mentioning the tragedies of recent days in Beirut, Paris, Syria, and Iraq, but stressing that the talk was going to focus on violence in the natural world rather than human violence.
Sollereder said, “God’s voice is difficult to hear when we most want to hear it.” Witness to God is fully ambiguous, and he can be found amongst the most deeply disturbing parts of creation. God’s voice is heard in violence, darkness, and the history of the natural world.
She related three different anecdotes of encounters with the dark parts of nature, including a large creature killing and eating prey outside of her tent in the Rocky Mountains, wasps that grew as parasites on caterpillars in a friend’s orchard, and a horse’s leg being broken by a falling tree in a windstorm in Alberta, Canada.
Sollereder then moved into natural theology, citing William Paley, John Calvin, and Charles Spurgeon to show the theory that all violence comes from human sin. She then refuted that theory and said, “They blame it all on sin, but scientific progress disagrees.”
Considering human sin as no longer the source of corruption, the next is a satanic influence, but there is a lack of scriptural support and it disagrees with the belief in God as the creator. “Too much of creation’s wonder would be attributed to Satan.” Sollereder said.
She also couldn’t accept that the violence of the world and the evolutionary process were the result of a mystery, and that left it being purposeful by God.
She disagreed with the theory that God was uncaring, and in doing so defined love as the combination of a desire of good for the object of love and a desire of a union. Sollereder said, “Love has to do with particular people in particular ways.” Love is never universal because God loves everything in different ways.
To actually be love, Sollereder said it cannot have limitation, it must be free of control, and it can’t be detached.
“God must commit to love without hesitation or calculation,” said Sollereder. God doesn’t create and leave it to itself.
Similarly, one can’t both love and control. Helicopter parenting destroys a sense of self and being, so instead God has to work patiently with sinners and have divine and transcendent love.
God is not detached, he chooses to be vulnerable to the suffering that love brings.
Sollereder said, “We know that creation is loved because it doesn’t look like God. God allows creation to grow up on its own terms.” God’s voice is clearest in the places where it seems the most at odds with a loving God, because it shows that God gives freedom to creation. “Evolution is an effect method of arriving at God’s own image without being a photograph of God,” said Sollereder.
Sollereder ended with a summary of her argument and answered questions from the audience ranging from divine intervention to the story of Job.