A prior Ethical Musings’ post explored power that corrupts and corrodes. This post explores power that gives life.
Much theology, especially Christian theology, envisions God as almighty. Historically, theologians and church officials insist that almighty is meant literally, i.e., God is omnipotent.
Insisting that God is all powerful presumes that humans can use language to characterize God accurately. That presumption is false. God is the mystery that exists beyond the limits of human language, a view often labelled the via negativa. That is, every statement about who God is can be denied, pointing to a reality that lies beyond human description.
Furthermore, the characterization of God as omnipotent developed in the pre-scientific era, an era dominated by a worldview based upon a three-story universe (heaven, earth, and hell) in which humans were the pinnacle and center of creation. We know now that the cosmos has at least four dimensions, is vaster than humans can measure, and that earth with its human occupants reside not at the center but in a corner of the cosmos. God’s power may be far greater than any human power and thus inspire claims in scripture and other sources that God is all powerful. Nevertheless, human perceptions of God’s power are not logically synonymous with God actually being omnipotent. Thus liturgical, scriptural, and theological assertions of God’s almighty power are best understood as devotional rather than factual statements.
Prayers by faithful people to end, or at least to alleviate, great evils that appear to avail nothing have led theologians since the nineteenth century to argue that God is not omnipotent. Among these evils are the Holocaust, widespread famines, the suffering caused by natural disasters (hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, droughts, etc.), and painful, unwarranted suffering from diseases like pancreatic cancer and childhood blindness.
Some theologians now contend that in creating the cosmos, God surrendered certain powers as a necessary step to infusing creation with a degree of limited autonomy. Other, bolder theologians have proposed that God was never all powerful. These ideas, along with other conceptualizations of a non-omnipotent God, are speculative, an assessment consistent with the via negativa. Nobody can truly know whether God is all powerful.Critically, for persons of faith, God is active in the cosmos. We may conceive of God as love, light, or more philosophically as the force that lures actual entities towards more abundant life. This is the presence or force to whom Jesus bore witness. This is the presence or force that gives life without corroding or corrupting.