Love and Power

I recently had a conversation with someone about what it means for God to be all-powerful and all-loving.  Since I don’t want this to be just buried in the comments section, I thought I would bring up the main points here.  First of all, I have to say that there is a difference when it is a conversation between philosophers on a theoretical level and when it is someone who has personally experienced suffering.  Our instinct is that if God is both loving and powerful, he should intervene in some way.  I am sympathetic with these feelings.  There are times I think about how effortlessly God could heal my two autistic children.  I cannot put everything into a tight little box that would totally remove the concerns of people who struggle with this.  But I can offer some thoughts.

1) With regard to moral evil, we have to ask who is responsible: God or humanity?  Why did God allow the holocaust?  Why not ask why humanity allowed the holocaust?  If we followed God’s commands, we would have a heaven on earth.

2) If God took away free will for doing evil, he would have to take away the free will to do good.  If we are not free to hate, we are not free to love.

3) It is in the worst tragedies that we see humanity at its most noble.  Look at history.  Has society been the best when it is the most affluent and comfortable or when they band together to help those in need.

4) To define all-loving as giving us everything we want is an artificial definition.  I love my children.  But I sometimes seem very unfair, unjust and mean when I don’t give them what they want.  Loving does not require constant intervention.

5) Why does God not intervene?  How do we know he doesn’t?  We have no idea how much God intervenes in this world or in our lives.

6) This life is not all there is.  When a baby is born extremely sick and dies days later, it is heart breaking.  We think of all the things that child should have been able to experience.  But if there is a resurrection and there is an opportunity for the child to experience an eternity of activity, it should affect our understanding.  This does not take away from the need to grieve.  Jesus cried at Lazarus’ tomb even though he was about raise him from the dead.

7) We must see God’s power and love in the context of the cross.  Why doesn’t God do something about evil and death?  He did by sending Jesus to die on the cross for us.  Jesus was God’s power and love compressed into the form of a human being.

If you are going through a terrible time or know someone who is, seven points are not going to make your pain disappear.  But hopefully these things will help you to see that there is a bigger picture and will encourage you to not shut the door on God too quickly.

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14 thoughts on “Love and Power”

  1. Number two is clearly false. Imagine this scenario: You are walking down the street in a theoretical Eden world where evil is not permitted. You pass by a person. Now, you can just pass them by and do nothing or you might compliment them or offer to help with their groceries. Or imagine being in a dating relationship with someone. You can freely decide that you don’t love this person without it meaning you hate them. Choices are not only between good and evil.

    Most of the rest of the points are equally faulty, but I don’t feel like taking the time to point them out.

  2. Mike, I disagree (surprise!). How would God prevent people from doing evil? He could make us robots, programming us to do only good things. That would prevent us from choosing evil, but it would also prevent us from choosing to do good. We might do good as a matter of programming but it would not be a choice.

    Robin, thanks for sharing. That’s rough situation. Glad your church has such a great pastor to get them through this.

  3. I just had the free will conversation with someone yesterday. I will be sharing this link with them. Thank you for your thoughts and insights.

  4. A choice is having a decision that you can make between two or more options. There are morally arbitrary things in addition to a plethora of good things. I have a baby gate so my son doesn’t fall down the stairs. This doesn’t mean everything he freely chooses to do while the baby gate up is worthless. The gate is simply there to keep him from making a fatal mistake. You have not replied to this point (and you have no good answer). Instead, you ask how God could prevent evil. You think to do this we would have to be robots. This is actually pretty silly, especially considering your assertion that God is all powerful. Do you think we have unlimited choices now? No, our choices are limited. I might want to jump out of Earth’s orbit, but I physically cannot do so. Yet, how many of us think that gravity is some repressive force, Bo, we are usually thankful for its restraint. It would only require a similar level of restraint and you have no holocaust.

  5. Some thoughts from an amateur.

    1. Is the all-powerful / all-loving question not a false dichotomy? In all other rational beings we expect character to trump power. Why should God be different?

    2. If God has created a universe in which free, moral

  6. Sorry about that. I was writing it on my phone, in bed, to try and avoid waking my wife. (I woke up thinking about this.) I’m now on the computer and I’ll try again….

    Some thoughts from an amateur.

    1. Is the all-powerful / all-loving question not a false dichotomy? In all other rational beings we expect character to trump power. Why should God be different?

    2. If God has created a universe in which other free, moral creatures eventually come to be, his power is not constrained, but surely his choices are constrained by his character. Is that not why the great self revelation passages of scripture in Exodus always focus on his character, his covenant faithfulness, not his power. We know he can wipe us out. He constantly reminds us that he’s not like that, even though it would be a whole lot less trouble.

    3. Mike is right. He can put a baby gate at the top of the stairs without restricting his son’s other choices many of which are morally neutral, e.g. to play with this toy or that. But neither does the baby gate remove his son’s options to hug or beat up his sibling, to pet the cat or pull its tail, or to pull the wallpaper off the wall. Scripture has a baby gate. Surely that is what the imagery of the flaming sword guarding the tree of life is about, restrictions on our power to catastrophically alter creation. But that kind of restriction cannot be applied all the way down the scale of choices since the choice to play with the toy train may conflict with his brother’s choice to play with the same toy, resulting in conflict. Or the choice to see how far he can throw this block might result in it smacking his sister on the side of the head. In a universe full of unintended consequences, there are no choices that do not have potentially “evil” outcomes for someone, somewhere.

    4. However, eventually his son will grow up and baby gates won’t work any more. So, on the subject of creation, we tend to talk as if God’s love only extends to humans, but surely he is faced with loving (choosing the best for) his entire creation? That may sometimes turn out badly for humanity. Again, scripture talks of the land “spitting out” its inhabitants, a scarey image for a society that has become like gods and is in danger of catastrophically altering creation.

    I’m up now (even though it’s my day off) so I guess I’ll go make some coffee.

  7. Stephen may have his own thoughts, but here are mine:

    1. There really is no such thing as all-powerful, etc. The omni-properties cannot be actualized. I’m sure you’ve heard the famous question, “Can God create a rock so big even he can’t lift it?” Well, that isn’t just a silly head scratching riddle; it’s a philosophical point that all-powerful leads to logical impossibilities. So, Christian philosophers don’t really postulate any such thing as a true omni-property. Rather, they qualify and say things like God can do anything within the realm of logical possibility. Or instead of all-knowing, William Lane Craig says that God knows all true propositions. People still use these terms because they are familiar, but we’ve known for a long time that these were problematic.

    2. It’s not good enough to talk about after we’re created and now God is constrained. If God chose how to create us, then he also chose the consequences knowingly. So, if there is a problem worthy of criticism, then God is still culpable.

    3. The baby gate analogy is meant to be more all encompassing. I used it just to draw out a certain intuition, so I wouldn’t take the specifics too far. Let me try and be clearer. The stairs represent choices that lead to evil in general. So, just because we can’t go down the stairs (choose to do evil), it doesn’t mean we don’t have other things to freely choose to do (which you recognized). As a side note, I would not expect it to extend to choices like playing with your brother’s train. I would simply say to remove (not at the moment but during creation) the desire to hit your brother, throw something at your sister with intent to harm, etc. This seems like a very reasonable solution to me.

    4. I think this point also takes the analogy too far (at least from how I meant it). Hopefully I’ve clarified in the previous answer.

  8. A couple of thoughts on this. My point is that by taking away evil choices, you are taking away the ability to choose good, it does not mean you have one choice. Imagine having ten balls in a basket. Five are various shades of blue and five are various shades of red. I take out all the blue balls. Yes you still have choices as to what shade of red, but I have removed the freedom of whether to choose between blue or red.

    As for all-powerful, no one (except perhaps atheists) describes it in that way. Omnipotence does not mean God can do anything logical or illogical. It means he has all power and thus can do whatever it takes power to do. Take the square circle or the rock so heavy he can’t lift. Those limitations are not based on lack of power. It is not as if we could crank God’s power to eleven that he would then be able to do that. These are not power issues. Omnipotence is simply he is able to do what ever it takes power to do.

    Regarding God being responsible for what we do with our choices. I assume you teach your children that they are not be robots, simply obey commands but that they are to think for themselves and make choices based on what they learn and experience. If your child grows up and chooses to kill someone, are you responsible because you taught them to make choices and to think for themselves and not just listen to society? I think not.

  9. Why is only being able to choose shades of red (or more accurately shades of red and white) bad? You have said so far that we wouldn’t be able to make free choices. That’s wrong. You said we would be like robots. That’s wrong. Now you say we wouldn’t be able to choose good. Why not? We could live a life never doing a good thing, but committing genocide would not be among the list of available options. This is so obviously false that this will be my last response.

    Your God and parents analogy fails due to God’s creator status, foreknowledge, etc. Our culpability as it relates to our children is not the same as God’s. Imagine you create a mounted gun that randomly fires shots in different directions. You can see that this machine will kill people, but you don’t force anyone to walk into the gun’s path. Are you not culpable for the deaths it casuses? Again, this should be so obvious that it shouldn’t require explanation.

    I think perhaps you just don’t see when bad reasoning is being deployed. For example, I watched the video you just posted and the reasoning is atrocious. And I’ve encountered several serious philosophical errors on this blog.

  10. You seem to think that free will would still work, even if all bad choices were taken away from us. I am trying to understand how that would work. You find a wallet with $500 and with all the identification in it. How would free will work if it was impossible for the person who found the wallet to keep $500 himself? Are you suggesting that God should kill the man if he seemed tempted to keep the money? Or should perform mind control and force the man to return it against his will? If the person returned the money, there would be nothing admirable about that as they would have no other choice.

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