OMNIPOTENCE

Why is Catholicism fading away in Europe?

No one knows? Scandal, lack of democracy, lack of respect for women and gays, etc?  Hardly ‘secularism’ whatever that is.

Perhaps the reason is that theology has drifted so far from the ideals and teachings of Jesus, that there is nothing left that is inviting.

If God is now all-knowing and all-powerful (a relatively recent emphasis), yet permitting evil, can God be good? Many decades ago I asked a European why there is suffering.  He said, “C’est le bon dieu.”  So a “good god” makes us suffer?  He was being sarcastic, but the response came from his heart.  I still remember.

Is God a harsh judge throwing one’s neighbors into a Hell?  Nasty.  Not a gentle Abba as Jesus taught.

Will you go to church to greet this sort of nasty-god?  A sinister god who will not stop the suffering, and who has to restrain his ‘wrath’ to ration out his “mercy”?  The Vatican’s idol, their mascot really, not very likeable.

Especially in recent centuries among the Protestants, God was portrayed as a raging, punishing demon, ready to throw all sinners into Hell.  People liked that to a certain extent, mainly because I suppose they thought they were innocent and only their neighbors were sinners.  But we are all sinners.

Where is ‘Immanuel,’ that is, God-with-us? Where is Mary? Where is community? Easter? Is there any joy?

Sister Elizabeth Johnson says of modern theism in Quest for the Living God (pp 14-17), that the concept of God as all-powerful and all-knowing took a new turn during the “Enlightenment,” and is not fully compatible with Christian ideas of Christ-incarnated, Spirit-indwelling, God transcendent, God closer than close, if I understand correctly.

I was taught in Catholic high school that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present.  It was like a mantra – God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. The Vatican had swallowed this new definition whole.

My thought is that if you redefine God to be something other than what It was in the very early centuries, don’t be surprised if people abandon the religion.

Now you have fashioned an idol which is totally responsible for all the suffering in your life.  Now you are its victim.  Now you have an ‘all-powerful’ god (what does that mean anyway?), which begs the question of, “Is god able to make a rock that is too heavy for god to lift?”

Rather than spreading illogic, go back to God as our Good Shepherd, the one who clothes the lilies, who knows what we want before we ask, who searches for us as the woman searches for her coin, who transfigures, inspires, saves, loves, heals, feeds, empowers, restores, resurrects, in whom we live and move and have our being, for whom we are a sacred temple, etc.

I found like 500 Google results for ‘omnipotent’ on the Vatican website, but a quick glance at the results told me that maybe they are backing off from this definition of God, or trying to spin it??

Why have a definition of God that is unworkable and so easy for smug atheists to crumple?  Without a workable definition of God people won’t go to church.

But isn’t God called “Almighty” in the Hebrew Bible?  A blogger named Susan Harrison lets me know that the meaning of the Hebrew term “El Shaddai” is not clear, but it is often translated as “Almighty,” and the root has the meaning of “mountain” or to “violently destroy.”  Very interesting that the root may have meant female breasts in ancient times, as in God provides for us as does a mother nursing her infant.  (http://www.mothergodexperiment.com/el-shaddai-mother-name-god/)

For God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27, see also Luke 1:37)

Really? God can do anything?

Can God be malevolent? Can God make 2 + 2 = 5??

I will guess that the biblical authors did not know where the boundaries are, if any, and engaged in hyperbole to make us stretch our minds so that we could perhaps gain some insights.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Wow. If I can do all things, then maybe I am omnipotent too.

God was mighty powerful even before the Enlightenment, but my impression is that with the Enlightenment, there was an undue emphasis put on that power, which had the effect of making God take the blame for everything that went wrong.

If God is the prime mover and all-powerful and all-knowing, and directly or indirectly responsible for all that happens, then what?  Well, “God has a plan.”  That is, somehow the willful negligence and abuse that you have pinned on this god can be justified by this supposed plan.  But you don’t know how it can be justified. Because you don’t know the plan.

In 1870, Pope Pius IX made himself the first infallible pope.  He defined God as both ‘almighty’ and ‘incomprehensible’ in the same sentence in Dei Filius.  Pretty neat trick to have it both ways, even if one is infallible.

God is incomprehensible.  People should refrain from trying to make God into something like all-mighty or ‘all-this’ or ‘all-that.’  Especially when you have no ability to conceive of the extent of “all” and know what that means.  Even defining God as boundless puts God into a box.  You can’t do that.  If God is, It transcends your reality.

I think one can posit a relationship between God and us, that intersection, that closer than close point, where God is Providence and is creating in the midst of us, seeking us, guiding us, and we are the essential, indispensable, and beloved co-creators – we forgive, we make peace, we have goodwill, we build the Kin_dom.  But one should not attempt to define that “all” which heads off into infinitude where words and understanding fail.

God does not seem to have any interest in proving to us that It is good. Nor any interest in explaining the why of suffering.

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NRSV

 

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