It is fascinating what happens to conversations when you take away one word. Words are like little suitcases – people put understandings or concepts in them and then carry them around as self contained units. Its so easy! They come with these convenient little handles and you can you pack so much meaning in and mean so much when you just use one little word.
This can be especially dangerous in theological conversations. That one word can take paragraphs and pages to unpack. Sometimes it can be a very liberating experience to take a word off the table. Just say ‘if you can’t use that word, how would you talk about this?’ It is an amazing exercise.
A few weeks ago I had fun asking the question “what if you can’t use the word ‘demon’ – how would you talk about these same things?” I am suspicious that we who read the Gospels and New Testament don’t mean the same thing when we say ‘demon’ or ‘devil’ as those in 1st century region of the Mediterranean did.
So it was with great interest that I had an amazing conversation this past weekend with a group of very intelligent, but non-theological folks. We were talking about God and the subject of evil came up. What was fascinating is that I did not place restrictions on the conversation, it happened organically – they just don’t use the usual words! Never once did I hear
I started thinking “what if we had this conversation without those three words?” They are great words, and that is part of the problem! People assume that they know what is packed into the words and so they throw them around with ease (they come with convenient handles after all).
Here was my opening statement that sparked the debate:
God is doing all that God can do right now in the world. What you are looking at is the best that God can do. God is not holding back. God is doing God’s best to make the world a better place that more conforms to the divine will.
You can understand why that set off sparks. The questions, comments, and concerns started flowing. Is God more powerful than God lets on? Has God restricted Godself? Has God willingly emptied Godself of some of God’s power? Can God pick up that power anytime God will and God is just choosing not to?
There are specifically 3 groups that have shaped my thinking on this:
- The Kenotic Crowd – Multmaniacs mostly, but more generally people who think that God is who we have always said God to be but that some ‘emptying’ (see Philippians 2) or self-limitation has happened. God is ‘all powerful’ or ‘all mighty’ but has just chosen to act this way (free-will, etc.)
- The Process Perspective – Between Marjorie Suchocki, John Cobb, Catherine Keller, and Philip Clayton they have this thing covered. I thank God for Process as a conversation partner.
- The Caputo Contingent - with his book ‘The Weakness of God’ John Caputo shook some of us to our core and rocked our ‘foundation’. What if God’s strength was shown in weakness?
I have become very comfortable with the possibility that world as it exists is the best that God can do. I’m not saying that I believe that – just that I am open to that possibility.
What if God is doing all that God can do in the world right now?
What if God isn’t all-powerful but only very powerful?
Or that God’s power is a different kind of power?
What if God isn’t pretending or self-limiting?
What if God is giving all that God has to the moment?
So we don’t have to ask ‘why isn’t God stopping the genocide in Africa’. God can’t. It’s just not how it works. God is doing what God can but we are not cooperating.
Now, some will say “No, God could do more but has chosen to limit God’s self” or “God has emptied some of God’s power and given it to us as co-creators and free agents – we are misusing our power. It’s not on God.”
I just want to throw out the question “What if this is the best that God can do?” I am comfortable with that.
Looking forward to your thoughts! All I ask is that you try not to use ‘theodicy’, ‘kenosis’, or ‘omnipotent’ without unpacking them.