A God Who Is Not All Powerful?

A while back I picked up a book by Andrew Greeley called God Game. His premise intrigued me. A man is asked to test a new computer game. In this game, he interacts with characters who are people in a computer generated world. He types in commands which the characters perceive as an inner voice coming from their God. He uses this influence to shape the direction of the story in progress. In a process similar to writing a novel, he can create a tragedy, a comedy, a romance. He can use commands to influence the weather, or physical objects.

When our narrator begins the game he discovers the people are fighting a war, and likely to soon destroy each other. Being a benevolent author, he begins to direct them to make peace with their enemies. But soon it is apparent that the game is more complicated than that.

First of all, he learns that he can command the characters to take certain actions, but sometimes they choose to ignore his direction. The programmers have included freedom as one of the parameters of the program. He must work with the characters that are open to his leading, and use the actual abilities written into their personalities. Then to top it off, sometimes trouble arrives in the form of random events. Eventually, he become totally immersed in the game and finds he loves the people under his care. He agonizes over how to help the peace succeed.

The book explores the premise of a loving God who is not all powerful. I found myself feeling sympathy for such a God who might feel frustrated, and worried, and angry sometimes. He wants the story to come out well. He wants the characters to live happily ever after. But all he can do is offer assistance and inspiration as they face the problems of their world: he was not able to eradicate evil in one fell swoop.

In contrast, I grew up with the idea of a God who was supposed to be in charge of everything. All-powerful, all knowing, and all good. Whatever happened, it must fit into the will of God, and therefore be for the good. Even when bad things happened, we were to accept it as a part of God’s mysterious plan. But Elie Wiesel challenged such a view with his unrelenting questions: How could anyone accept a God who could ordain such an evil as the Holocaust? How could anyone trust a God who would stand by and let it happen?

Photo Source Unknown

Photo Source Unknown

Episcopal theologian, Carter Heyward, was deeply influenced by the questions of Elie Wiesel. For Heyward, as for Wiesel, the Holocaust was an indictment of the churches’ understanding of God as a supreme power who dominates the world. It was an indictment of the idea of obedience as morally desirable. Likewise, it found unacceptable a God who is merely an observer, a spectator in the face of such horrors. If God is indifferent to human suffering, then there is no use to us for such a God.

Heyward writes that for Elie Wiesel nothing is of more fundamental value than mutual relationship. The only ethical God must be found in loving relationships between people. In the camps, the opposite happened: the Jews were treated as if they no longer existed. The camps were a systematic assault on every element of personhood: numbers instead of names, meaningless hard labor, separation from family, arbitrary selection for extermination. The only ethical response to such evil would be to make a connection with those who suffer, to resist evil’s capacity to destroy the power of relationship.

Irving Greenberg put it like this: “…to talk of love and of a God who cares in the presence of the burning children is obscene and incredible; to leap in and pull a child out of a pit, to clean its face and heal its body, is to make the only statement that counts.” In other words, to face the problem of evil, we must resist violence and dehumanization by acts of connection and relationship.

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3 thoughts on “A God Who Is Not All Powerful?

  1. Pingback: Letting God run off leash Nov. 11, 2007 | Sermons, Poetry, and Other Musings

  2. I was taught that because God gave us free agency, he must allow the evil to seal their fate and not interfere in their agency. Much like “Minority Report” where humanity discovered that it was morally wrong to punish someone for something they had not yet done, no matter how sure you were that they would do it. Until they DO it, you cannot be sure.

    This post, as many of your others, reminds us not to search for meaning outside ourselves, but within ourselves, through our own actions, the way we will respond to the tragedies and evil of the world. God is within us.

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