Omnipotence

by hamiltonmj1983

I ran across an interesting blog post from last month, where Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders guest posted on Rachel Held Evans’ blog. The post is also found on their blog, Homebrewed Christianity.

The point of the post was to declare God not omnipotent based on how loving he must be.

While I totally agree with the idea that God is loving based on the fact that Jesus is loving and Jesus is the fullest revelation and realization of God, I disagree that God is not omnipotent. Check out these reasons that Mr. Fuller and Mr. Sanders offer for their argument:

1. An omnipotent deity is responsible for the evil in the world.  When God can do whatever God wants to do, whenever God wants to do it, everything that happens is either the direct will of God or permitted by God.  Of course Calvin, in his obsession with making God uber-powerful, rejects the idea of God’s permissive will and keeps God as the prime actor in all actions.  That means God has willed genocide, murder, rape, cancer, abuse, and the torture of children.  When God is omnipotent, one can read history as the will of God, and history is way too full of evil, suffering, and violence to imagine it as revelatory of God’s will.  If God ever willed the violent death of an innocent child, then that God is not Jesus’ Abba or worthy of a Christian’s worship.

2. An omnipotent deity is not capable of genuine relationships or love.  Loving relationships require openness, vulnerability, risk, and genuine duration.  We  intuit this. For example, when two lovers consummate their marriage in a passionate act of sweet love-making, it is their freedom vulnerability, and willingness to risk that make their intercourse an act of love and not rape.  If one side of the relationship  is determined, it just isn’t a relationship.  I remember in my Calvinist past thinking that God elected me to love God, but being coerced  sounds much more like a relationship to a gangster than God. There’s a big difference between a puppet and a person, an object and a subject.  The God of Jesus created, sustains, and redeems people, children of God.

3. An omnipotent deity runs eternity like a tyrannical dictator.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Paul said that, and I think it makes perfect sense.  Of course, if Calvin is correct and God is actually the one in charge, then it becomes a bit odd…or flat our disgusting…to simultaneously think God elects people to suffer for all eternity for their sins.  That’s worse than me spanking my son for eating a cookie I made and gave to him.  This image of God is morally bankrupt and need not be defended.  Instead we could imagine God to be a Woman who seeks out each lost coin until it is found, or a faithful and patient Father waiting to throw a party for the return of his son.  These images sound like a God as loving as Jesus.

4.  An omnipotent deity builds crosses.  The cross and resurrection are the center piece of the faith.  The cross of Jesus was not simply a convenient way for Jesus to die so that God could raise him from the dead, but a symbol of Rome’s power.  Rome and only Rome built crosses and put people on them.  Jesus died with the power of empire inscribed on his cross-dead body.  It is that body that God raised from the dead, and it is the future of the Cross-dead Christ that we as Christians share. Yet for some reason, we so easily speak about God’s power as if God was being revealed in the building of crosses and not in their bearing. God’s self-revelation in Jesus was a rejection of the coercive, determining, and controlling power that the empires of this world love so much for the power of love.  Infinite divine love, the freedom it gives, the risks it takes and the possibilities it continuously creates offer an alternative ultimate theological principle for Christian theology and one I think coheres with the story of Jesus.

 The basic idea behind this view of omnipotency is that God would have to lack his own free will or not allow free will for humanity. Look at number (1): “When God can do whatever God wants to, whenever God wants to, everything that happens is either the direct will of God or permitted by God.”
God could choose to either (a) remove free will so that everything that happens really is God’s will, or (b) remove the consequences of our actions, so that bad things do not happen. The fact that God is loving, however, directly prevents both of these possibilities. God can, and has, intervened in specific points in time (particularly the cross!). He does not intervene in every thing that happens. If a person chooses to drive under the influence of alcohol and kills another innocent driver, then how is that God’s fault? To say that he is not omnipotent because something bad happened reduces the importance of the free will that God gave us out of love, as well as the consequences to our free will choices.
Numbers (2) and (3) seem more at odds with Calvinism than omnipotence, with the idea of free will being the key that is missing. Finally, number (4) is a fair assessment of how many groups view God. The problem is in people’s understanding of God, but not in the omnipotence of God.
Personally, I feel that your issue is not with the omnipotence of God, but instead of the basic principles of Calvinism. God certainly is omnipotent, but he chooses to limit himself to allow us to have free will. God limiting himself is an act of love, and free will from an omnipotent God truly embraces the character of God as revealed in Jesus. A God who is not all-powerful, however, does not limit himself through humanity’s free will; no, in that situation God is not the force behind giving humanity free will, but instead humanity dictates everything while God is simply a bystander.
I guess that as a Methodist, I have never had to deal with the issues that you are working through because Calvinism simply was never presented to me. I cannot see how it lines up biblically at all, and it really just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. “Free Will” has always been the focus for me, and the idea that predestination and omnipotence have anything to do with each other just kind of boggles me. It is interesting to enter into conversation with people with such a different background, so I want to thank you guys for posting this! I apologize for entering so late into the conversation, but I did not come across your post until just this morning.
Also, I would recommend a book by a couple of my seminary professors entitled, “Why I am Not Calvinist.” It can be found on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Why-I-Am-Not-Calvinist/dp/0830832491
There is a similar book, “Why I am Not an Arminian,” which is written by a couple of Calvinists. If someone is reading this and is unfamiliar with the differences between the two theological viewpoints, I would suggest reading both books in order to avoid succumbing to my biased position!
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