I haven’t theologized much lately. Not that I don’t care to but rarely do I come across something that strikes my fancy. A friend posted a link on her facebook page that struck me though. At the link, the blog author included a short piece (not written by her) entitled “Omnipotence: A Compliment Jesus Wants You to Take Back.” The gist seems to be that God is best described as “all-loving,” as revealed in the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. If God is all-loving then he must not be omnipotent because an all-loving God wouldn’t allow the atrocities that we humans face and have faced for millennia. If God were all-powerful he would intervene because he is all-loving.
This pits all-loving over against omnipotent. God must be one or the other. An omnipotent God who does not act is in fact willing the evils and atrocities that ravage humankind, which obviously renders God not to be all-loving. The alternative is that God is all-loving but is not able to act because he is not omnipotent. In other words, God is naturally limited and incapable of acting but instead responds with sympathy and love (to the point of sending Jesus). This dichotomy seems to be the only set of explanations available to tackle the problem.
This dichotomous view is where the authors (and process theology as a whole) runs amok. Like in many areas of like (e.g. politics), people want nice, neat black/white answers to make things relatively easy but there are virtually always shades of grey that color the world. The same is true here. The first part of this I would take issue with is the author’s own admission that previous experience in Calvinism helped influence his thinking. The idea that God has determined the fates of every person ever created (including their eternal destination of heaven or hell) certainly seems to conflict with the picture of God as all-loving. But the notion process theology, where God is struggling along like the rest of creation, and a denial of God’s omnipotence only swings the pendulum the other direction. Instead of a God who determines every single thing that happens, we end up with a God who, although he loves you and wants you to be happy, he just can’t do anything about it. But he loves you…that’s the important part. Neither of those options seems to be a very good description of the God revealed in the Scriptures.
Let’s assume Jesus is the standard here. Jesus was compassionate, sure. But let’s talk about his power. I’ll skim through a couple of examples, referenced from Matthew but they can be found in other places in the Gospels as well (all from the TNIV, emphasis added):
Matthew 4.23 – “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” No problems there.
In Matthew 8.1-4 a man with leprosy approaches Jesus and says “‘Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!'” If nothing else, Jesus’ act of healing is volitional, which implies there is a choice involved.
Matthew 8.5-13 is the story of Jesus healing a centurion’s servant. The man comes to Jesus and simply states the problem, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus then responds to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” It’s like Jesus is saying, “Do you want me to come heal him? I can do that, you know. I have the power and ability. Just give me the word and – Wham! – he’ll be healed.” Seriously, if Jesus was the all-loving reflection of God, why ask? Just heal the guy, right? Everyone would be amazed, astounded and so forth. But no, Jesus restrains and asks the centurion if he wants Jesus to come to heal him. The centurion recognizes Jesus power and says that it’s not even necessary for Jesus to come to him, he can just say the word and the centurion’s servant will be healed. And that’s exactly what Jesus does.
While these anecdotal passages do not necessarily disprove the idea that God is not omnipotent they do offer an alternative understanding to that point of view using Christ’s own life as an example, viz. God is omnipotent but chooses not to exercise his power at times. In fact, this makes the relationship between omnipotent God and limited humankind (a relationship Shipp and Sanders say is impossible) possible. God allows humanity, creatures with free will, to both enjoy and suffer the consequences of it’s own decisions. It’s free will that makes relationship possible, not God’s lack of omnipotence. God restrains his omnipotence in the interest of creating genuinely loving (i.e. give and take) relationships with the human race he created.
So…I disagree with the conclusion that God is not omnipotent. To me, Process Theology turns God into a being who is struggling along as much (if not more) than we are, and I have no reason to pray to, trust in or give worship to a being who is as lost in the universe as I am.
Where I do find myself in agreement with Tripp and Sanders is that God is omniscient so far as what is possible to be known. As they put it, “God is omniscient in that God knows all there is to know – but the future is undetermined.” It’s how God deals with that future that I disagree once again. While I find the out of hand jettisoning of all things Hellenistic that characterizing both Process Theology and Open Theism to be a mistake and disingenuous to the social and religious milieu in which Christianity was born (that’s another blog for another day) I do find an idea from Open Theism useful here: omnicompetent. God is omnicompetent in that, while he does not know the future, he is able to know all possible contingencies and respond to them in a way that violates neither his sovereignty nor human free will. This, I believe, is the key to the tension between God’s omnipotence and the results of human free will.
I’m not really sure what Tripp and Sanders mean by “God is omnipresent in an even more radical way than traditionally thought.” With God being omnipotent, omniscient and omnicompetent there is no need for omnipresence. God’s power and knowledge extend to all points of Creation without requiring his “presence” as we think of the term. Certainly the Holy Spirit is present with God’s Church but that does not require omnipresence. This may or may not be what Tripp and Sanders have in mind but it’s where I am with the idea.
I guess in my final analysis, to boil down my own ramblings, I would assert the following:
- God is omnipotent.
- God is omniscient.
- God is omnicompetent.
- God is not omnipresent (as the word is typically understood).
In any event, I have to plead ignorance about the true essence of God’s being simply because the portion of God revealed in Scripture is meant to lead humankind to reconciliation with God, not give us an exhaustive inventory of the personality or character or God.