Question about God’s power

Chiedza asked:

I have a question on power. The idea of power is very complex. But my question is directly connected to God. You might not believe in God but let’s just presuppose His existence. One of the most difficult questions I’ve come across is the problem of evil in philosophy if religion. The argument many people present presupposes an omnipresent, all powerful God who is almost a puppet master. But I find is idea of power problematic and perhaps we just misinterpret the essence of power.

What if the problem of evil cannot be answered by the idea of the failure of an all powerful being but rather by the argument that God’s power is self-limited. Maybe power is not definitive of existence but rather responds to existence. What if to God power is not being able to make everyone bend to His will but rather, it’s found in granting a degree of freedom to His creation so that those who do yield to him do so out of pure understanding. Basically what if power isn’t all powerful but rather understanding the limits inherent in the idea.

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

I think your phrase ‘Let’s just presuppose his existence’ is the key to your question and my answer. You seem to be forgetting that Christian theologians have been debating and disputing precisely these issues with exactly those presuppositions for nearly 2000 years already. They were extremely clever, well-studied, highly intellectual and thoughtful people, and they had all your arguments and hundreds more to debate, because there was nothing else for them to debate on. Hence it seems to me that you have two options:

(a) As these ideas are not facts that can be solved by more or better knowledge, and as in any case we have no better understanding of them than the medieval, scholastic and modern theologians, you should consult them. The thoughts and deliberations of genuine experts on the subject are preferable to the opinions of mere moralists. Moreover, you will find so many answers, solutions and debating points in that literature, you could easily spend the rest of your life on them.

(b) The other option is not to presuppose God and look at power in the only context for which there is plain evidence that can be evaluated — human power. Then you have a lever by which you can discuss power (and especially evil) in a relevant human context, rather than to rely on speculation about things that no-one can assess with certainty.

You understand that I’m not answering your question, and there is a simple reason for this.

Just because the power of religion has been on the wane in recent centuries, does not mean that we are more knowledgeable and better equipped to face such issues. In fact the opposite is the case. For scholastic thinkers they were matters of the utmost importance, as their entire mental and physical existence was embroiled in them. For us it’s just a parlour game, or else a sign of growing desperation in the capacity of humans to face their self-made predicament.

I suppose the final answer is, that theological thinkers did not actually solve the problems. But the belief (or supposition) that solving the pseudo-problem of God’s powers is a useful path to a conclusive insight into the nature of power, is a very peculiar delusion indeed. At most, it could serve for a logical construction, which is perhaps what you are really angling for. But even this little exercise has been ‘done to death’; and I for one can’t see anyone being helped by it to an understanding of human (or God’s) power in any real world.


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