Powerless Love?

Today we’ll look at the second reason for which Tripp Fuller thinks Jesus wants you and me to take back any compliments we may have paid him that refer to his (or his father’s) omnipotence.

2. An omnipotent deity is not capable of genuine relationships or love. Loving relationships require openness, vulnerability, risk, and genuine duration. We intuit this. For example, when two lovers consummate their marriage in a passionate act of sweet love-making, it is their freedom vulnerability, and willingness to risk that make their intercourse an act of love and not rape. If one side of the relationship is determined, it just isn’t a relationship. I remember in my Calvinist past thinking that God elected me to love God, but being coerced sounds much more like a relationship to a gangster than God. There’s a big difference between a puppet and a person, an object and a subject. The God of Jesus created, sustains, and redeems people, children of God.

There we have it. The more powerful one is, the less capable one is of truly loving another person or other persons. Is that really the way it works? Is that a necessary conclusion?

The first glaring error here is that the author argues only against one (flawed, in my view) version of God’s omnipotence. Calvin’s doctrine of election is not a necessary entailment of either God’s love or His power. The idea that God only loves a certain portion of humanity and decrees that only they will love Him in return, and that this was decided prior to creation itself is simply not historic, orthodox Christian belief. The Synod of Orange declared as much in the year 529. There are certainly ways of affirming God’s power without also affirming that He uses His great might in ways that are contrary to His loving purposes. (More on that in tomorrow’s post.)

A further problem in this second reason is what was alluded to in the first part of this series. We cannot look at our experiences of love in one context, marriage, and extrapolate from there to what God must do if He truly loves us. While the love of man and woman for one another does indeed inform us, it does not circumscribe the idea of love. What about an additional family experience, that of parent-child? That may be closer to the point, though not completely analogous. After all, the love between a man and a woman is between two presumably different though equal human beings; it cannot tell us how a superior being properly loves one of lower status (ontologically speaking). Parent surely have greater power than the child; and we would certainly not want to conclude that love precludes them from using that power in the interests of the child. Nor does love demand that power be used to override the freedom given to the child whenever he or she steps out of line, even though it would be possible to do so.

“If one side of the relationship is determined . . .,” writes the author. But where did such determination sneak into the discussion of omnipotence? Rejecting omnipotence on the basis of determination is simply wrong-headed and unwarranted. I do believe that God takes certain “risks” in creating, out of his power, human beings who become objects of his love.

Biblical writers had no trouble whatsoever positing God’s power and love simultaneously. For one brief example, take the Prologue to the Gospel According to John. In those first eighteen verses it is not only the Father, but the incarnate Son who has made everything that has been made; sounds an awful lot like omnipotence in action. The same Word, when enfleshed, was beheld in His glory as full of grace (and truth). This is same God who so loved that He gave. Or take Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, the opening chapter of which again affirms the identity of one made flesh as the one through whom all things were made. The same Paul appeals to the God who loved us and gave himself for us.

It seems to me that Fuller and Sanders have a problem to which they would never admit—they are modernists! Christians prior to the Enlightenment affirmed with Augustine that, “I believe in order to understand.” Modernists turned that into, “I believe what I can understand.” If these authors have a problem understanding the conjoining of omnipotence and overwhelming love they find it necessary to jettison one part of the pair. I don’t think Jesus wants us to make that concession–or take back the compliment of praising his almighty power.