1. For Goodness’ sake
If God is perfectly good and in complete control, why do not-good things happen?
Christians are supposed to believe that God is loving. But to put it mildly, it is hard to imagine that an all-powerful God who must’ve either caused or chose not to prevent the Holocaust is also accurately called “perfect love.” Love becomes meaningless if, given the opportunity, it can’t even stand up to genocide.
Perhaps we are right to think that God is good, but wrong to think that God is in complete control. How else could God be truly good?
But can a Christian even consider such a thing? Aren’t Christians supposed to believe that God is all-powerful? I don’t think so. Here’s why:
2. It’s not in the Bible
Lest any self-described “Bible-believing Christian” accuse me of abandoning biblical faith, please take a minute to find that verse in the Bible that says that God is all-powerful.
Hint: you won’t find it, because it doesn’t exist. The Bible never refers to God as all-powerful.
But isn’t God referred to as “Almighty” in the Bible? Doesn’t that mean all-might-y, the same as all-powerful?
Not so fast, hypothetical reader! Every time the NRSV translation uses that word, it links to a footnote that reads “Traditional rendering of El Shaddai.” Although today’s scholars agree that it’s not a great translation, they still use the word because it’s a familiar, traditional translation of an ambiguous Hebrew term.
3. God’s will is not always done on Earth
Consider the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, … thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Every Sunday, my church (together with churches across the globe) recite this prayer. Every week, we admit out loud that God’s will is not done on Earth as it is in heaven. Like the writers of the Bible, we look out at our world (and into ourselves) and acknowledge that God is clearly not controlling everything via unlimited power.
4. Good Daddies aren’t control freaks
Speaking of “Our Father,” the New Testament is full of parental language for God. In the Gospels, Jesus refers to God as Abba, an Aramaic term roughly equivalent to our word Daddy. Paul says that through Jesus, we become God’s adopted kids. Jesus is God’s Son, and we are Jesus’ brothers and sisters. We are children of the divine Light. The New Testament invites us to envision God as an awesome parent.
But ask yourself this: what makes a good parent? Is good parenting a matter of forcing kids to submit to Daddy’s will at all times? Are the best parents those who wield unlimited control upon their children? I think not. Good parents exert influence through persuasion, respect, relationship, and love; they limit their power in order to allow children to experience genuine freedom. How could an all-powerful God fit into that picture?
5. God is like Jesus (not Pilate)
Last Sunday, Christians across the world celebrated Palm Sunday. According to historians, Jesus wasn’t the only one entering Jerusalem right before Passover. At the same time, another man was entering by a different gate: the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.
Pilate probably rode in upon a steed, flanked by battle-hardened soldiers with pointy weapons, surrounded by crowds who were forced to show up and praise him. His message was simple: Rome is in control, and you aren’t. All who disobey will be crushed – or rather, crucified. By the end of Holy Week, Pilate had Jesus executed.
It would be hard to overstate the contrast between Jesus and Pilate. One leader entered Jerusalem with soldiers and a stallion. Another leader entered Jerusalem with homeless people and a donkey. One Kingdom seeks “Peace on Earth” by forcing the weak to comply. Another seeks peace by turning the other cheek.
Emperors and their admirers will naturally tend to think of God as an even bigger, more powerful Pilate. But what if this “wisdom” and “strength” of “the world” (to use Paul’s lingo) has got it all backwards? What if God actually works through the “weak” and “foolish” love demonstrated on the cross? If Jesus is the self-revelation of God, then God is not one big Pontius Pilate in the sky, forcing his own way upon everyone through unlimited power.
Do Christians have to believe that God is all-powerful? Perhaps the better question is how Christians (of all people!) came to entertain that notion in the first place. An all-powerful God should make little sense to Christians who insist on the goodness of God, read the Bible, pray for Abba’s will to be done on Earth as in Heaven, and consider Jesus (not Pilate) to be the image of the invisible God.
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