Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Terminology Tuesday: Omnipotence

Omnipotence: The attribute that refers to God's ability to do whatever is consistent with God's own character and being in effecting the divine plan for creation. God's omnipotence is primarily demonstrated in God's overturning evil for good. This is especially evident in the death of Jesus, which although it was the act of malicious people, has become God's means of human salvation.1

1. Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pp. 85-86.

4 comments :

NFQ said...

"God's omnipotence is primarily demonstrated in God's overturning evil for good." Does this statement mean that existing evil (which has not been changed into good) is evidence against God's omnipotence?

Also, how do you define "good" and "evil"? Are these judgments that can be made independent of theology, or are they simply "things God likes" and "things God doesn't like"?

Neil Shenvi said...

NFQ,
You asked: "Does this statement mean that existing evil (which has not been changed into good) is evidence against God's omnipotence?"

The present existence of un-redeemed evil in the world would only be evidence against God's existence if the Christian claimed that God's omnipotence requires him to exercise his power to destroy evil immediately. Instead, Christians have always claimed that God's ultimate justice and vindication await the end of history and that his purposes have not yet been realized.

You asked: "Also, how do you define "good" and "evil"? Are these judgments that can be made independent of theology, or are they simply "things God likes" and "things God doesn't like"?"

The judgment whether something is 'good' or 'evil' can be made independent of a knowledge theology just like the judgement of whether something is 'water' can be made independent of a knowledge of chemistry. You can indentify 'water' whether or not you know it is H2O.

The Christian claim is that 'good' and 'evil' are grounded in God's nature and character. You could technically refer to 'good' as 'what God likes' provided that you understand that 'what God likes' is not arbitrary but is a reflection of his necessary nature. Christian resolutions of the Euthyphro Dilemma deal extensively with this issue, if you're interested.
-Neil

NFQ said...

Some Christians have explained to me in the past that what appears evil in the world to us is actually part of God's good (perfect) plan, because it furthers the glorification of God and it may be working behind the scenes to facilitate greater goodness in ways we're not aware of. They really do contend that genocide, famine, etc. are "good" because given that they happen they must be part of God's plan, and God's plan is good. To me, this sounds silly on face.

I would tweak your water analogy slightly. There are plenty other clear liquids of similar viscosity. Without at least some basic knowledge of chemistry (philosophy/moral reasoning, or theology in your case) you might misidentify something as water (good) when it was, say, acetone or vodka (evil).

If your conception of the Christian god is a being who is capable of stopping all evil in the world, but has decided to wait thousands and thousands of years before putting this ability into action at all, that's fine ... but I think it's an unusual stance to take. I also think that if we were talking about a person who behaved this way - someone who had the power to separate a child from his abuser, say, but chose not to intervene for years - we would rightly deem their behavior morally repugnant.

Neil Shenvi said...

NFQ,
"They really do contend that genocide, famine, etc. are "good" because given that they happen they must be part of God's plan, and God's plan is good"

I have never heard a Christian claim that evil events are "good" bcause of God's sovereignty. The biblical and historical Christian position is that God brings good out of evil and that he uses evil for his good purposes, not that evil itself is good. That is the position of Eastern monism, but not of Christianity.

"you might misidentify something as water (good) when it was, say, acetone or vodka (evil)."

Of course, but that is a question about the reliability of our judgments, not the possibility of our judgements. It is still possible to make fallible judgments about whether something is 'good' or 'evil' independent of theology just as it is possible to make fallible judgments about whether something is water independent of a knowledge of chemistry.

"I think it's an unusual stance to take"

Do you mean 'unusual' as in 'implausible to me' or 'unusual' as in 'a minority theological position'? If you mean the former, then that's fine. But if you mean the latter, then I think you're wrong. The Bible repeatedly states that the ultimate vindication of God's justice will not occur until the end of history (it was also the theme of much of Jesus' preaching). The tension humans experience in trusting his character in the face of evil is one of the major themes of several books in the Bible (see Job, Habakkuk, Revelation).

It's also worth adding that one of the major reasons given for God's delay in discharging justice is his mercy (see 2 Pet. 3:9, for instance). If God brought perfect justice to the world tonight, there are billions who would be unprepared for it. While we long for the world to be put right, we also recognize that God's delay is evidence of his love.

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