Monday, October 6, 2008

God, power and love...

Power and Love. Love and Power. This dichotomy is the source of much of the confusion over, frustration with, and hatred of the Christian religion that exists today. Nearly every major struggle within Christianity has to do with, in some sense, the debate over which of these two divine attributes ought to retain primacy and why. Because, as most theologians seem to agree, the orthodox understanding of the Christian God must include both omnipotence (power) and omnibenevolence (love). Certainly there are some who re-define the terms, so as to escape the dilemma, and others simply reject the traditional perspective outright. But if we are attempting to remain as non-heretical as possible (if that's even possible!), we have to face this difficulty.

The problem of evil is a prime example. Do we say God is Love, and downplay God's power by arguing that true Love would never allow the horrific evils we see around us (i.e. God must not be powerful enough to stop all evil)? Or do we argue for God's Power/Sovereignty, and suggest that God's Love is beyond our understanding, and that God allows evil to happen for an ultimately good reason? This, of course, implies that God's definition of "Love" is extremely different from ours. It requires drastically re-thinking our definition of Love and, if taken too far, leads to an untrustworthy, capricious deity.

Traditionally, the gift of human free will, which is seen as a good thing, has offered a possible path out of the "slough of despond" that comes from asking these questions. But this raises a host of other questions that often seem to do nothing more than push the argument back to a non-human level (i.e. Did the devil have free will? If so, why did the devil reject God?). In the end, our human minds simply cannot grasp the true character of the God in whom we are asked to place our faith. So, there is always a lingering question: How do we hold together both God's omnipotence and Gods' omnibenevolence? Is there a way to understand this, or do we have no other option besides simple fideism at this point?

I am not proposing a solution; I am merely asking the question -- Which way do you lean? Do you tend to emphasize God's Love, or God's Power? Why?

1 comment:

BenMc said...

I think as a scientist I tend to think of God's power first (rather than letting my "first thought be love"). That's mostly because a scientist has to look down or up more than around. Note that Paul tends to equate power and love coming together in the cross. Perhaps Paul tends toward power and John tends toward love ... but I still feel like we're setting up a modern dichotomy when the message of the cross is that God is power, God is love, God is near.