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.

7 thoughts on “Powerless Love?

  1. gasp. You called them the “M” word. uh oh. Why don’t you just nuclear bomb their homes, or worse, call them misguided hipsters. Oh, the humanity! :)

    • Yeah, no holding back here. The point is how little people are aware of what influences they carry with them. Especially when they spout off as experts who ought to be listened to, a bit of more careful thinking might be in order.

  2. Using Fuller logic: the United States has the most advanced arsenal of weapons on the planet, therefore is incapable of providing humanitarian aid to anyone, plus is the cause of all conflicts worldwide. got it.

  3. …”I believe in order to understand”…
    …”I believe what I can understand”…

    …”I thank God that I can believe and know in spite of not totally understanding the how”…

    Thank God for the gift to believe what is not totally understood with the mind but is definitely comprehended by the spirit within and whose power causes one to become breathless when recognized. This All-Powerful God of Infinitum is also All-so-wise.

    I do not understand how this computer works. I also do not understand how this internet system works, but I know it does and it has a certain “power.” How is it that I can sit here in my home, type words on this machine, press a button, and my thoughts are transmitted over space and time to someone I most likely will never meet in person. But the power behind this silent space… This silent, but ever-present massive communication system that no one hears with their ears or sees with their eyes, is always at work, and every day the power of this silent, ever working system is experienced by mankind. Those affected by it include those with and without the equipment, those who choose not to have a computer or use the internet, and even those who do not know how it works or even that the internet or computers are in existence.

    Mankind, likewise, benefits from the Omnipotence of God everyday whether they believe in Him or choose to ignore His existence. His silent, but ever-present massive power system, that the world does not hear with its ears or see with its eyes is always at work every day and His power within this silent, ever working system is experienced by mankind with or without their recognition or affirmation. Those affected by it include those who know Him already, those who will know Him in the future as well as those who choose not to believe and recognize Him, His existence or His Omnipotence.

  4. I always understood omnipotence in terms of all-potent – ie the ability to potentially do anything, rather than the actual exercising of power.

    So Tripp’s own thinking, surely someone who is able to exercise power and does not, must surely be more loving than those with no ability to exercise power, for the loving act in the case of the omnipotent is a deliberate loving refusal to exercise power, ie a choice. Therefore the more “omni-potent” God is, the more loving he/she is.

    (PS new to this Blog so apologies for just diving in!).

    • No apologies needed; glad to have you in any discussions you care to join! I agree–the dismissal of the concept while considering only one version of it is unwarranted. I hope it’s not “just” a matter of being too lazy to dig in a little further before proclaiming what can only be construed as a different gospel.

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