It always sounds right to say that God is omnipotent and there is therefore nothing s/he cannot do. This becomes more problematic (morally) when it is suggested that God can do whatever s/he chooses simply because s/he is God: a might is right approach. Maybe less of an issue when that viewpoint is hidden behind such things being a mystery as to why God makes the choices s/he makes (predestination). While accepting that there are mysteries an over-appeal to that element does not sit well with me as in Jesus God becomes knowable. When the suggestion is that God can do something simply because s/he is God it might seem to elevate the otherness of God but makes this God unknowable. In Jesus this God who created and sustains all things is strangely more like one of us than not. So let’s get into this.
Omnipotence is a necessary affirmation that there is no ‘god’ greater than God, and that there are no limitations of power, however it cannot be taken to mean God can do whatever. There are the well known logical fallacies (can God make a four sided triangle, can s/he make a rock larger than s/he can lift) that are kind of fun to play with, but the more critical issues, though, surround questions of morality, with the very real question of ‘If God has all power why does s/he not stop suffering’. To suggest that s/he cannot stop suffering can sound as if that is a denial of omnipotence, but even Scripture is clear that the first line of defence of God is not one of omnipotence for we read: ‘God cannot deny himself’.
God is love, which is a stronger statement than God loves, and if we need to affirm that love is a choice maybe we have to go to a ‘love is an eternal choice’ by God. That kind of God-love is defined as a pouring out of life for others, even love that embraces the other, and that s/he cannot do anything that is not love. That love is not sentimental nor weak, but we can be totally assured that all s/he does is consistent with love. We have every reason therefore to trust totally in God.
So far I think no level of controversy there. It is when we push this into the realms beyond that it gets interesting. So:
Are there areas where God cannot intervene without our invitation (prayer being one way)? If I understood Oord (Uncontrolling Love) correctly he would be suggesting this. We could read that as ‘God is powerless to stop…’ which would be very insulting to those from a certain theological background, or we could understand this as ‘we can co-operate with God to change situations’. Certainly if we are not willing to travel any distance on that road we will find that defending God with regard to the problem of evil becomes more difficult. The free-will argument is surely necessary, what Oord has done is to push it further with God does not and will not control.
This, in simple terms, challenges us to determine whether love is the primary determining characteristic through which God is expressed and is known, or whether we resort to God is bigger than all other beings and it is power that is the primary expression of God’s own being.
Now if God has given freedom to humanity the issue of absolute foreknowledge is also raised – another post, another day. However, a post before that I think needs to explore the necessity of our invitation or co-operation for God to intervene.