Does Omnipotence Imply Divine Tyrrany?

Today I’ll look at the third supposed reason for which Tripp Fuller and Bo Sanders think Jesus wants you to apologize for thinking God is omnipotent. This reason underscores the dependence of the authors on one failed view of omnipotence in order to make their case.

3. An omnipotent deity runs eternity like a tyrannical dictator. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Paul said that, and I think it makes perfect sense. Of course, if Calvin is correct and God is actually the one in charge, then it becomes a bit odd…or flat our disgusting…to simultaneously think God elects people to suffer for all eternity for their sins. That’s worse than me spanking my son for eating a cookie I made and gave to him. This image of God is morally bankrupt and need not be defended. Instead we could imagine God to be a Woman who seeks out each lost coin until it is found, or a faithful and patient Father waiting to throw a party for the return of his son. These images sound like a God as loving as Jesus.

Frankly, the logic of this proposal is so faulty it need not be commented upon. It entirely depends upon the absolute dependence of the concept of omnipotence on Calvin’s (or Augustine’s) concept of election. But let’s see what it says and implies anyway.

Why must anyone who accept the idea of God’s omnipotence be tied to the idea that such a deity “runs eternity like a tyrannical dictator”? Let’s be clear about something suggested in the first post in this series. Our interest should not be in defending a philosophical concept of omnipotence, or of any other quality or characteristic attributed to God. Our interest is in seeing whether such terms adequately describe the God of the Bible. If the terms fit the data, we may use them, but never without reference to that data in favor of a purely philosophical definition and its supposed logical entailments. Attention to those logical entailments has, indeed, led segments of theology into some of the directions we now see as counter-productive, if not simply misleading. And if Tripp and Fuller have been led to believe that an omnipotent deity is necessarily a dictatorial tyrant, that alone is evidence that it has happened.

So what might this God, who is almighty and does not determine everything under and over the sun, look like? Quite simply, He looks like the God of the biblical story, including the images suggested by Tripp and Fuller from Luke 15. That chapter is hardly the first inkling we get in Scripture that this is God’s way. It is a summary of God’s willingness, God’s pleading, prodding, and proposing to humankind that they return to Him. The entire narrative argues strongly and clearly that God has not dictated what humans will do. He does everything to encourage them to act differently, including punishment–but not for eating cookies that He gave them and told them to eat.

But here is the critical point. The God who does this is not a powerless deity who has only persuasion with which to accomplish His
goals for humanity. It is the Maker of heaven and earth, the Ruler of the stars and seas, of storms and sunrises, and of saints and sinners. The latter pair is what we are most interested in with regard to the charges against omnipotence, but we must not consider it without reference to the other created things. God surely had the power to create a mechanistic world of human events; but it does not appear to me that He has done so. Instead, He exercised His power to create beings in His image, with freedom of action and thought. Yes, there is risk involved and damage to result from such a decision. And having made this kind of creature, deeming the results to be worth the risk, He could step in and override human decisions and directions at any time. Freedom is used in creative and destructive ways; but for the maturing of humans to take place, the results of one course or the other must be seen and experienced.

As parents we can stop our children from doing bad things by restricting their freedom; we have the power, but choose not to use it in certain circumstances. It is no limitation on the power of God to think that He will not move to immediately correct every misstep people make. How He actually does use His unlimited power to deal with human error and defiance will be the subject of the final entry in this series.