Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Saturday, May 09, 2009


In a comment on my recent post The Stumbling Block, philobyte said:

the comment about God creating flagella of viruses that kill children, is really just a special case of why an Omnicient, Omnipotent God allows for evil in the world.

Some apologists are quick to defend the idea of God's omnipotence. Here is what Answers in Genesis has to say:

But the Bible says that God is omnipotent; He is all-powerful. He is a God of love. He performs miracles, and He speaks to us through His Word. We have reason to love this God. We have reason to trust and to worship this God. And above all, we have a reason to hope.

This line of reasoning strikes me as naive. Why should we believe that an all-powerful, all-loving God who stands idly by while our loved ones suffer is worthy of our love, our trust, our worship? How can such a being offer us hope?

That's too great a leap for me to take.

The Catholic Encyclopedia takes a different route. It asserts that "Omnipotence is the power of God to effect whatever is not intrinsically impossible." And just what does that entail?

As intrinsically impossible must be classed:

  1. Any action on the part of God which would be out of harmony with His nature and attributes;
  2. Any action that would simultaneously connote mutually repellent elements, e.g. a square circle, an infinite creature, etc.

Well, that's a very convenient loophole. The Catholic Encyclopedia goes further, defining "Actions out of harmony with God's nature and attributes":

(a) It is impossible for God to sin
(b) The decrees of God cannot be reversed
(c) The creation of an absolutely best creature or of an absolutely greatest number if creatures is impossible, because the Divine power is inexhaustible

The net result of all this, it seems to me, is that the term "omnipotent" can be preserved even though it has been sucked dry of all real meaning. I don't see how this is any better than the Answers in Genesis approach.

Tony Campolo is led to a different conclusion:

Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined.

Now I don't know the Hebrew language, so I can't say whether Rabbi Kushner or Answers in Genesis is correct about the meaning of the Hebrew words used to describe God's power. But Kushner's view makes a lot more sense to me.

I can't put it any better than philobyte does in his comment:

If he knows everything, and can do anything, and loves us, well then surely close to the top of his agenda would be stopping bad things from happenning to good people.

But this is not what we see happening. Rabbi Kushner wrote his classic book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" after the death of his son Aaron, who was born with progeria, a condition which caused accelerated aging. Aaron's skin grew wrinkled, he lost his hair, his body became frail, and he died at age 14.

Why would an all-knowing, all-loving God let children be born with progeria? For that matter, why would an all-knowing, all-loving God let anyone continue to suffer for years without relief?

Some people would say we just don't understand the ways of God, that God's love is so much higher than ours that what we call love might not truly be love. In some cases that might even be true. BUT, that's not an answer; it's an excuse. If God is trying to use needless suffering to teach us what love really means, his pedagogical skills are seriously lacking.

On the other hand, I don't see that we've really answered anything if we accept that God is not omnipotent. I like the view espoused by Kushner and Campolo, but it seems to me that this just leads to more questions: Exactly what IS God capable of, then? Can we trust a God who might not be able to always take care of us? Is such a being worthy of our worship? Do we have a reason to hope?

I have no answers, only questions.

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At 5/09/2009 10:51 PM, Blogger Steve Hayes said...

The term "omnipotent" is a bit misleading.

In the Symbol of Faith (sometimes erroneously called "The Nicene Creed") we say "I believe in God the Father almighty".

"Almighty" is in Latin "omnipotens" and in Greek "pantokratora", which is in turn a translation of the Hebrew "Sabaoth".

If you look at it in context in scripture, it means he is lord (ie has sovereignty) over the powers, the heavenly host. Read Psalm 82.

It doesn't mean (as atheists sometimes claim) that he can make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it. He is Lord of hosts, King of kings, and Lord of lords.

At 5/09/2009 11:13 PM, Blogger Blake said...

You said: Why should we believe that an all-powerful, all-loving God who stands idly by while our loved ones suffer is worthy of our love, our trust, our worship?I've seen good, sufficient answers to this question, but even when people find the answer to this question it never feels much like an answer. Knowing the answer to this question doesn't change the reality around us. People ask the question hoping to find meaning in the answer that will help them deal with reality. The answer can't tell us how to deal with what we are up against since the question is focused on the nature of God.

I think it isn't the answer that has the meaning we seek, rather the act of asking the question is more meaningful than the answer. It is the asking that brings forth our relationship with God, our understanding of what He's revealed of Himself in scripture and our faith (or lack thereof) in His self-revelation. The opportunity presented by raising such a question immediately calls us to decision and action. We will either grow deeper in relationship with God or further away. If we grow deeper we will deal with the situation presented to us in a more Christlike fashion or if we grow away from God then we will deal with it according to our nature.

At 5/09/2009 11:14 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

Steve -

Thanks for that explanation. I think Psalm 82 gives me even more questions: " the midst of the gods..."? (I'm reading the New Revised Standard Version.) And if I'm reading it right, God seems to be questioning the injustice of the world, but is not doing anything about it. Nonetheless, it's food for thought.

At 5/09/2009 11:15 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

Blake -

I think you're right that the questions are often more meaningful than the answers.


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