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

Related Reading

Love and Free Will

God could have easily created a world in which nothing evil could ever happen. But this world would not have been capable of love. God could have preprogrammed agents to say loving things and to act in loving ways. He could even have preprogrammed these automatons to believe they were choosing to love. But these…

Cruciform Theology in Four Steps

The culmination of the biblical narrative of the cross reframes everything about who God is, what it means to have faith in God, and how we read the Bible! The entire Old Testament leading up to the crucified Christ must be interpreted with a view toward discerning how it anticipates and points toward this definitive…

5 Differences Between The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the World

Image by matthijs rouw via Flickr The kingdom of God looks and acts like Jesus Christ, like Calvary, like God’s eternal, triune love. It consists of people graciously embracing others and sacrificing themselves in service to others. It consists of people trusting and employing “power under” rather than “power over,” even when they, like Jesus, suffer because…

Judgment and Idolatry

Why was the forbidden tree in the center of the garden called The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Since the Bible depicts eating from this tree as the reason humans are estranged from God and the cause of all that’s wrong with humanity, eating from this tree is obviously a terrible thing.…

On the Language of “Revolution”

Nick Thompson via Compfight Question: The banner of your website and the thrust of much of your teaching focuses on “revolution.” While I can see a radical call in some of the sayings of Jesus, especially if he were addressing upper-middle class North Americans, I wonder if attaching revolutionary language to his teaching seems a…

Love Never Stops

Greg reflects here that he can be a very cynical person if you ask him about the state of the world around us, but the love of God demonstrated in the Easter narrative gives him confidence and hope. We hope this blesses you as you move through holy week. You can find more videos like this…