can-of-omnipotence

Redefining Omnipotence

Traditional, classical theology has equated divine power with God causing and determining all things to exist. God supposedly acts on everything as their cause, but nothing in any way acts on him. Yet, these assumptions about how God causes things to exist starts in the wrong place. If we start with reason, it causes us to conceive of God as absolute power. However, if we start with the crucified Christ, we arrive at a conception of God as absolute love.

Indeed, in the absolute love revealed on the cross we are given an entirely different conception of power. The theologian Hans Urs Von Balthazar goes so far as to assert that “in the powerlessness of the Incarnate and Crucified One” we see “the shining forth of God’s omnipotence.”[1] Yet, Paul teaches that what looks powerless and foolish to natural reason is actually “the power” and “wisdom” of God (I Cor 1:18). When God puts his omnipotence on display, it appears as the foolish and weak omnipotence of self-giving love.

If we think about divine causation in terms of self-giving love rather than determining power, we would not assume that God causes agents to exist by exhaustively determining them. I submit that we should rather conceive of God “loving [agents] into existence” by making space for them. More specifically, since a loving relationship is only possible between agents that are distinct from one another and who have the power to choose the relationship or not, I submit that we should conceive of the power of God’s self-giving love refraining from determining agents precisely so they can exist distinct from him and be invested with their own morally-responsible causal power, the power of self-determination.

And, finally, I submit that this suggestion is confirmed in the fact that Jesus came as one who perfectly loved people who were distinct from him as well as in the fact that the biblical narrative consistently depicts humans as existing over-and-against God and as possessing the power of free choice.

[1.] H. U. von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter, trans. A. Nichols, U.P. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990), 34

Photo credit: solsken via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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