Saturday, October 22, 2005

feel safe now?

how do we understand the christian doctrine of God's omnipotence (the idea that God is all powerful)? how does this affect the way we live? d.j.hall gives an insightful critique of the "almighty-god of american evangelicalism" (with profound political implications).

"...this god can only produce a people that settles down, secure in the knowledge of the power of its deity, basking in the wake of divine triumph; a people, therefore, that shuts its eyes to the reality of evil, injustice, death, bondage, and sin- especially its own sin; a people that no longer struggles with evil; no longer searches for truth and justice, no longer hungers and thirsts for righteousness, no longer feels an evangelical responsibility for the world." (p.102) d.j.hall, professing the faith

10 comments:

Jaime said...

Word up! prechah

chrinisticles said...

sounds like the pharisee's and saducee's Jesus interacted with in the gospels. sounds like a lot of the people you'll interact with at your local church...

God help us not to fall into that trap and be so blind to the sin in our own lives, the plight of the poor, the fatherless and the widow. to be so arrogant or naive as to think that we have 'arrived' and gotten it all figured out.

Luke De Master said...

Very interesting and some profound truth. The state of the American mind and soul is all over the spectrum but it seems that D.J. Halle desribes an unfortunate majority here. Phil, you may find this radio show at the link below helpful in this converation as it talks about American Evangelicalism. Especially pay attention to what the guest Jamie Smith of Calvin College says about many "conservative" Evangelicals distorted perspective on justice is.


http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/evangelicalbox/index.shtml

elnellis said...

thanks luke, i'll look fwd to listening to it. we are enjoying the weekend hanging out with joy, wish you were here. peace.

nick said...

Phil, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through your posts... this one in particular is thought provoking. Could it be that our "evangelical" definition of God's omnipotence breeds complacency and indifference to the reality of evil and suffering? Somehow the fact that God knows everything and is “all-powerful” helps us reconcile evil and suffering with our conception of a good and loving God. It’s almost like the “omnipotence” of God fixes the problem because God knows all and therefore the pain of human experience must make sense. I think I agree with this statement to some degree but it is also reminiscent of Jobs friends who were condemned for “not speaking what is right” of God. When confronted with Job’s suffering they essentially used the “omnipotence” of God to justify their judgments on his character. There just had to be a reason for Job’s suffering, namely some undisclosed sin. Instead of embracing Job’s pain as their own, they distanced themselves appealing to God’s “justice” as the reason for Job’s plight. They refused to live with the profound conflict between Gods goodness and the suffering they were confronted with.

I think its important to acknowledge the fact that God is all knowing and such (its humbling I think). However, this should never give us cause to distance ourselves from the reality of evil and suffering which permeates our broken world. We need to sit with people in their suffering without spitting “God’s plan and purpose” (as if God were indifferent to their circumstances) and instead make their burdens our own. This isn’t easy... but somehow it seems right.

Sorry if this is long… I’m new to this blogging thing. By the way… what is your brothers email address? Thanks.

nicholas.m.kinnier@biola.edu

elnellis said...

nick? what the heck man, how did you find me all the way out here? glad you commented, i gather you are at biola from your website. anyhoo, i'll email you.
thanks for your thoughts- i totaly agree with your sum that all of God's omni-fill-in-the-blank qualities (while essential and good) often make us flee to inaction and positive-only places (either paralized or unable to move into negative spaces). i wonder how we can in a sense redeem God's omnipotence for a different way of being in this world?

pedro said...

Nick,

You make a great point especially in drawing the parallel between Job's friends and the American evangelical church.

These presuppositions that history has given the white American evangelical church (through the church's democratic predisposiiton and because of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy in during the early 20th century, among other historical causes) have led directly to the timbre of its contemporary political conservatism. This understanding (as exemplified in the Battle Hymn of the Republic) has led to the overwhelming support of the evangleical church for the American war in Iraq.

As alluded to, the problem is when we make god in our image or when we try to make ourselves gods. Justice can be present in war, but no war on earth that is declared and prosecuted by humand is perfectly justice. Amid justice, injustice abounds as the innocent suffer.

I find it interesting that people can claim omnipotence to justify our war in Iraq. A Norman Schwarzkopf quote I read which presumably refers to the events of 9/11 is telling: “I believe that forgiving them is God’s function. OUR job is to arrange the meeting.” Although he may not have had God's omnipotence in mind, I am pretty sure that many evangelicals who agree with this quote would.

Lian said...

Question: Would anyone who knows say that the Islamic faith has an even more developed sense of God's omnipotence than we do? That's the impression I have. And yet Muslims have shown themselves lately to be very concerned with holiness and social justice.

elnellis said...

i guess i see the omnipotent God of the muslims is one who mandates: we must obey because he is all-powerful. the omnipotent God of american evangelicalism is one who protects: we can kick back because he is all-powerful. but the omnipotent God of the Old Testament is one who calls his people into covenant relationship. in his omnipotence he enters into obligation with us, inviting us to respond. this seems like something to return to.

pedro said...

I think you guys are both correct, but a key distinction is that the Allah of Islam is an absolutely transcendent, absolutely omnipotent god; and The God of Christianity is is an omnipotent, personal, transcendent-yet-immanent god.

In spite of these importand distinctions, what I find interesting about both religions is that each has faithful adherants who synthesize their religion with a worldview that runs the gammut from fundamentalism to postmodernism.

In each interpretation, omnipotence is viewed in different ways. I'm sure that some American Christians see the God of the Bible primarily in the sense of the God who tramples the winpress of his vengeance and makes his enemies taste the cup of his wrath.

To me, the importance of context and experience are manifest in this ideological spread.