Posted by: smstrouse | September 23, 2010

Is God Really Almighty?

It may seem blasphemous to even ask the question, but is God really almighty?  I mean, how else can we get at the problem of why bad things happen to good people? Historically we’ve come up with various answers:  ‘It’s a mystery.’  ‘Everything happens for a reason.’  ‘God must have wanted another angel in heaven.’ ‘God is testing my faith.’ ‘We’ll understand it better by and by.’

But what if the answer is none of the above.  What if the answer is that bad things happen.  Period.  Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of  When Bad Things Happen to Good People, says that expecting the universe to make exceptions for you because you are a good person is like expecting a bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.

That means that God doesn’t send hurricanes to punish cities; hurricanes are a fact of nature.  God doesn’t give you cancer; the toxic environment humanity has created causes sickness and disease.  God isn’t a great bully in the sky – choosing to arbitrarily afflict some and not others.  Nor is God a capricious autocrat – choosing to grant favors to those who can pray with eloquence or have the most people on their prayer chain.

In an article called Almighty? No Way! Coming to Know the God We Already Love*, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson tells the story of being confronted with the diagnosis of his 3-year-old son’s autism: “I had been taught that God was all-powerful, which would mean God could have prevented Jacob’s autism but didn’t.  I could not pray to someone who could inflict autism (or choose not to prevent it).”

And that’s the problem.  If God is all-powerful and chooses not to prevent a child’s autism, then God is cruel. But God is not cruel; God IS love. and that love is poured out for all who suffer the slings and arrows of life’s misfortunes.

I would rather have a God who is part of every microsecond of my life, who is always working in and through me, always calling me to be my best self, always with me  – even in the hard circumstances that may come my way than a capricious old guy up in the sky.  Yes, there are times I wish that God was all-powerful and would suspend the rules of physics and biology and just come and fix ______(fill in the problem).

But that is not the way God works. God works with us from within, not from without. and ultimately, as far as I’m concerned, that is the better deal. However, not referring to God as ‘Almighty’ is a pretty bold step. Are we ready to give up our need for an all-powerful God?



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