A Powerless God?

‘God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.”

Waiter Rant and Father Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Father Bonhoeffer (Saint? he was martyred I don’t know what that would make him) seems to have been a very thoughtful man. He wrote of a ‘Religionless Christianity’, but did not have time to expand on it during his short life.

A Powerless God is a fascinating line of thought. It really explains a lot about how the world seems to work. Taking the view that God cannot have power in this world, he could exist out side of the time stream, and many paradoxes go away.

But then why God? If he is indeed powerless, how can he communicate his will to us? If he is powerless what use is he, can he even forgive sin? With no power, how could he have caused the bible to be written, and rewritten by so many people with out error?

I guess that one of my problems with the philosophy behind modern Christianity is that of Original Sin. You are condemned to some eternal punishment, unless you ask for forgiveness. It seems like a problem was created just so that we would be beholden to God. Why even put the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ in the Garden to tempt Adam and Eve? We are told by many of the Christians out there that with out belief in God, we are dammed to Hell. Not really a nice, loving though.

To me, If there is a God, he should appreciate good works. Even if we do not give him homage. If we practice love and oppose evil, should he not welcome us? If he is such a petty God that he would not love us for who we are if we do not pay lip service to him… well, He would not be worth my respect.

I choose not to believe that. Since faith is belief in something that cannot be proven or disproved, I choose to believe that God’s Infinite Love™ allows him to look into our souls and see what kind of person we are. If he in fact exists, after I die, he will see that I was mostly good, mostly harmless and usually attempted to act with my and others best interest in mind. I also choose to believe in FSM.

12 thoughts on “A Powerless God?”

  1. An all powerful being that cannot do the impossible? Then He has limits, and is not <strong>all</strong> powerful. Just Really Powerful.

    omipotent means being able to do <strong>anything</strong>;

    <em>om·nip·o·tent (ŏm-nÄ­p’É™-tÉ™nt)
    Having unlimited or universal power, authority, or force; all-powerful.</em>

    Universal, unlimited. With out limits. Therefore, if he wanted to create a universe with out suffering that was still ‘good’ in your mind, he could. He has no limits.

    It almost sounds like we agree – God has limits. He is not really omnipotent – just really really powerful.

    I agree creating a universe where He could not intervene is a strange thought, but it’s the only way that I can find to reconcile Evil, Omnipotence and God.

  2. It is actually consistant to be ‘all powerful’ and still not be able to do certain things. That would mean you could do everything that was possible, but still couldn’t do the things that were impossible.

    It seems to me to be logically impossible for us to both have free will and for God to prevent us from doing evil. He can have all the power he wants, but he would still have to choose one course or the other. It seems impossible to me that we could ‘triumph’ if there was no possibility of failure, that we could ‘be good’ if we could not also ‘be bad.’ The very meaning of these concepts includes the existence of their opposite.

    The best explanation of this concept I have ever seen is in the Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card. In that book a group of powerful Psychics have removed all pain from the universe, erasing memories of loss and instantly healing any hurt. Their ancestor emerges from cold sleep and is agast at what they have done, in removing all the pain they have made the lives of everyone meaningless. It is of course an analogy, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

    A powerless god would have either never had power (in which how could he be God?) or deliberately created a universe where he could not intervene. I still don’t understand how deliberately creating a unverse where he could not intervene is any morally different from choosing not to intervene in a universe that he could intervene in? It doesn’t solve the basic question of how God could be ‘good’ and yet evil exists.

    I find the belief that evil is itself a ‘good’. That it’s existance makes the world a better place because the struggle gives us meaning. God could not be good, if he did not allow evil.

  3. So, God could not create a world where we we happy, we had free will and we still experienced triumph and glory? If he has limitless power, then he could.

    You really can’t have it both ways – either his power is limited, and he is suffering for his creation, or it’s limitless and he is at the very least negligent, if not out right evil.

    Some would say that the Devil caused this – again that is limiting his power. If he were truly all-powerful and all-seeing he would have known that the Devil was going to fall, and could have taken steps to halt it – or at least undo the damage that was caused. If the Devil cannot be overridden by God, then there is a limit to His power.

    I go back to the argument that a Powerless God would be a better way to explain all of these quandaries.

    And – yes obidavekenobi – there are things outside our understanding. However, (if you believe that) God created us with questing and questioning minds then it is our duty to push the bounds of human understanding both in the material realm and the spiritual. Look at electricity. 1000 years ago, if you had shown some one a flashlight, they would have though you a witch. Now days, we understand how they work. For the dark ages person – flashlights were outside of their understanding.

    And, why should we differentiate between good works? God him self tells us to not judge others. I say that if someone is doing good, no matter the color of his skin or the book that he bases his life on, he should be supported and thanked. To do any other would be – well – unchristian. :)

  4. Why would a God of ‘love’ cause such devistation and misery?

    I think because without devastation and misery there can be no triumph or glory.

    What do we celebrate about being human? What makes us amazed at the goodness and glory that it is to be human if it is not overcoming adversity?

    Look back in you own life, I expect that like all of us you will find various amounts of pain and sorrow. Would you give up that pain? Would you undo it? I would not.

    Our pain, our suffering, our struggles against adversity define who we are.

    I think that a God that would take that away, that would keep us in a bubble of painlessness would be the evil God, not the God that lets bad stuff happen because he knows that letting it happen is the greater good.

  5. You have to be really careful with the "good works should be recognized" bit. In the days of Christ these people were called Pharisees. Today I think they’re called Mormons, but don’t quote me to the wife on that one. :)

    One more question: is it possible that there are things in this universe that humans may never understand?

  6. "<em>much of which we view as harm (and correctly) isn’t ‘harm’ in Gods eyes.</em>"

    Allowing torture, rape, and slow painful deaths is not harmful? I agree that we are not in his shoes – but if some one treated their dogs like a all-powerful God treats us, they would have their dogs taken away.

    The muscle cell analogy does not fit. Cells do not feel pain, they do not greive for one and another. They do not suffer.

    We do. God, having created us with that capacity would know that we had that ablity. It’s more like we are his pets. We know that cats and dogs feel pain, sorrow, anger. We take responsiblity for them, and their well being.

    Some times we have to do small things that we do not like – like give one a shot. However, we do not burn them alive – or knowingly allow some one else to.

    That is the diffrence. A theology based on a powerful God has all of these issues. Evil, Pain, Suffering.

    Free will is important. But what about senseless accidents (like Katrina). People suffered needlessly. Natural disasters that are not man made? God put this world in motion with full knowledge that Katrina would happen – if he in fact is all knowing and all powerful. Therefor he is directly responsible for it. He caused it.

    Why would a God of ‘love’ cause such devistation and misery?

  7. The Church (Churches really) have been dealing with this issue for a long time. It is known as ‘the problem of evil’ and the basic question is, how can evil exist if God is good.

    I would postulate, that ‘creating a place where he could not act’ doesn’t get you out of this problem any more than chosing not to act at specific times does.

    My take on the answer to this is twofold: one is that much of which we view as harm (and correctly) isn’t ‘harm’ in Gods eyes. For an example, from the perspective of a muscle cell in your arm, exercise is ‘harm’ as the muscle is torn and damaged. Of course we know that the muscle will be better off for that, and that exercise is ‘good’

    The second is that sometimes fixing, or preventing, a harm has worse consequences than the harm itself. If, for example, our freedom to choose is important, than if God were to constantly interevene and prevent us from being ‘evil’ that freewill would be destroyed. Presumably freewill is more important, more ‘good’ than preventing evil.

    I guess the corrolary is would you think it a proper use of the Wiccan Rede to administer drugs to the population to make us all docile and happy if that would largely stop violence?

  8. I think that Christian Theology indeed can support a god with out power after all

    <em>Bonhoeffer’s letters and papers from prison included vague statements that have intrigued many theologians, including a remark about a "religionless Christianity". It is unknown what Bonhoeffer exactly meant by this and other ideas, but they have sparked a movement in Christian theology labeled, "Secular Theology" popularized by Harvey Cox’s book, "The Secular City." Christian theologians since Bonhoeffer have been struggling with how to construct a theology for what Bonhoeffer called, "a world come of age." <strong>Bonhoeffer is one of the few theologians who are embraced by both liberal and conservative Christians</strong>. It is universally agreed that, with his death, the world lost one of the most insightful theological minds.</em>

    –<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietrich_Bonhoeffer&quot; rel="nofollow">Wikipedia</a> (emphasis mine)

    If God is indeed omnipotent, and he is good, but he chooses to limit his power to allow suffering and pain, then he fails your own test of the Wiccan Rede. He would have the power to change things however he has chosen not to. Being all knowing, he would have known the outcome of the universe before he created it, and yet he still did.

    If you had the power to stop a death – say some one was trapped in a burning car and you just watched them die with a fire hose in your hand – would that not be an evil act? The police would certainly think that you were guilty of negligent homicide.

    If God in fact is all powerful, and all knowing, then he is guilty of mass negligent homicide. There are literally millions of people that he could have saved. If, as you posit he chooses not to – that is the definition of negligent homicide.

    So, it would be much better if, by creating this universe with free willed creatures in it, he made a place that he could not act. He would watch in horror at the things that his children have done to one and another – but he could not lift a finger to help. Not a place that I would want to be.

    Perhaps there is a ‘finish line’ when he takes the reigns again – judgement day as it were.

    I could stomach a God like that. My question is why the church has not embraced this though process and talked more about it. I think that it would help people deal with thinks like we have seen over the last few years better, knowing that God hates this as much as we do – he is just bound by the law of the universe and he is waiting for the day that he can come back and make all right.

    I dunno – just rambling on :)

  9. More later, but you can cause harm through inaction. If you see someone attempting to murder, and you do nothing, did you not indirectly cause harm to the victim? That is my take on the Rede.

  10. While I don’t think Christian theology can support the concept of a god that is powerless, it certainly supports the concept of a God that limits the use of his power. The only way mankind can have free will (which is certainly disputed in some Christian theology) is if God intentionally limits his power, either on a constant basis (as much Christian theology would argue) or in the initial creation of the universe, which would be a Deist belief.

    A God with self-limited power, who chooses only to engage his power in certain ways and at certain times, very neatly explains the ‘problem of evil’ and yet allows of an omnipotent and good being.

    I disagree with the concept of ‘Orinial Sin,’ except as the related concept ‘Knowledge of Good and Evil’ applies to it. Without consciousness, there can be no sin. A shark does not sin, even when he eats a person, but a man may sin when he kills a shark. In Christian mythology, Adam (and Eve) chose the capability of sin, and since we are capable of sin and none of us are perfect, we are all sinners. An fundamental part of humanity is our sins and how we deal with them.

    This is where I have me exception with the Wiccan Rede. It seems to me that it is perhaps the beginning, but hardly the end, of morality. As <a href="http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/2298.html&quot; rel="nofollow">Edmund Burke</a> said: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

    Evil will exist in the world. It must be oppossed both within ourselves, and at times external to ourselves. Sometimes, and very rarely, God may smite evil in the world. More often he relies on good men, who are not content to merely not harm anyone.

  11. As with my Buddhist leanings. One of the things that I like most about the philosophy that I am trying to learn is how universal it is. It’s like the Buddha took the teachings of all of the positive religions in the world and extracted just the core teachings. Love one an another. Work towards being as happy as you can, but accept suffering and loss because it’s part of life. With a positive outlook, your emotional state will be much better.

    It’s all really simple stuff, but some most people just don’t "<em>get it</em>". I have been a people watcher most of my life – an observer rather then a do-er. What all of that observation has taught me is that people who have a negative outlook, people who grouse and complain, who expect others to conform to their wishes tend to be unhappy.

    The <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiccan_Rede&quot; rel="nofollow">Wiccan Rede</a> sums it up: <em>An it harm none, do as thou wilt</em>. People who hurt other people generally are either not happy, or very sick. It seems that in our psyche there is a hardwiring of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karma&quot; rel="nofollow">karma</a>. As we are negative to others, we get that same treatment in return. We become bitter and unhappy. There is enough suffering in this world with out creating more.

    People that expect others to conform to their wishes and desires forget that those others are not objects, but rather are living creatures just like they are. They might follow your command for a time, but they will let you down. Why walk that path to eventual disappointment?

  12. Martyrdom doesn’t give you automatic sainthood. There’s a whole process you have to go through, miracles are generally required, etc. etc. It’s a big, drawn-out thing.

    I find my polytheistic beliefs help me to understand a lot about the Christian God.

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