Chris Baker has written in his blog a review of the book Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It: Why We Suffer and How We Can Hope, by Gregory Knox Jones. The book, which I was unfamiliar with, addresses the problem of theodicy from a point of view not dissimilar from that of process theology. In introducing what Jones has to say on the subject, Chris writes,
It can rightly be asked how a limited God, a God who allows suffering to happen not for some mysterious reason that humans can never discern, nor for our own good or for any of the other reasons offered up in our formal and informal theodicies, but because God cannot do all things; it can rightly be asked how such a God who lacks the power to initially prevent suffering, to forcibly restrain the forces that cause suffering, can effectively respond to suffering.This is a very important point. To me, this false dichotomy comes from an all-or-nothing outlook on religious faith. Many people want God to be a divine magician, an all-powerful ruler in the sky who just can wish away problems by sheer dint of Divine will. They want simple, clear, and easy solutions, which an omnipotent God can offer. Without omnipotence, they take the other extreme and conclude that faith in God is worthless. They ask themselves, "What's the point of such a God?"
It has been suggested to me (by a former minister turned atheist) that we must choose between an omnipotent God who refuses to prevent suffering and an impotent God who is powerless to act in the face of suffering. This, I suggest, is a false dichotomy, and the sort of false dichotomy at work in the minds of many Christians who feel threatened by the statement that there are some things that God can’t do.
But a God who is not omnipotence is not really "powerless". It is just a different kind of power that we are talking about. Chris summarizes Jones's arguments in this way:
Jones asserts that not only is God’s power limited, but that power which God does have is quite unlike we often suppose it to be. Jones is wont to wax poetic on the power of God, saying in one of my favorite lines in the whole book, “God is the most powerful force in the universe, bringing order out of chaos and making life possible.” But this power is not the brute power to override other wills and impose particular outcomes on situations. Rather, it is what he calls “the power of persuasion."It can be tough for many people to move away from a spirituality of the God who will magically wish our problems away, to accepting the God who acts as the still small voice in our lives, a deep and abiding presence who calls out to us and who lures us forward at each moment. There are no magic solutions in such a spirituality. But for me, anyway, it makes for a richer and more evocative spiritual framework.
Jones sees God at work in the world trying to influence situations and bring about the best outcomes, not trying to override the respective wills of each actor. This view of God’s power is quite compelling, in part because it makes sense of things that many of use experience. Many of us have felt the presence of God in our lives. Many of us have “heard” without hearing the “still small voice” of God. Many of us have felt an inexplicable sense of calling, a calling that often takes us far from where we thought we would go in life. In these Jones sees the power of God working to bring about the best in the created order.