"A powerful God finds more supporters than a compassionate God."


Here is a quote about theodicy from Uta Ranke-Heinemann's book "Putting Away Childish Things":

The question of the origin of evil, of what causes the tears and deviltries of the world, the question that no theologian has so far managed to answer, is one that humans have always posed. The Christian apologist Lactantius, who in the year 317 was called to Trier to be the tutor of Prince Crispus, cites an argument by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (d. 271/270 B.C.):

Either God wants to get rid of evil, but he can't; or God can, but he doesn't want to; or God neither wants to nor can. If God wants to, but can't, then he's not all-powerful. If he can, but doesn't want to, he's not all-loving. If he neither can nor wants to, he's neither all-powerful nor all-loving. And if he wants to and can--then why doesn't he remove the evils? (De ira Dei, chap 13)

On the question of the origin of evil, the theologians have always opted for the second possibility, that God can get rid of evil, but for whatever reason he doesn't want to. The theologians prefer to deduct points from God's compassion rather than from his omnipotence. A powerful God finds more supporters than a compassionate God. This is because people model their image of God on their own image. And potency and power mean a great deal to them--sometimes they mean everything--while compassion means less, and sometimes nothing at all. But we should rethink all this. God can't banish evil unless he drowns the human race. And so all he can do is mourn. (pp. 60-61)
When she says that "no theologian has so far managed to answer", I think it is fair to say that she really means no orthodox theologian. Certainly (and I hate to sound like a broken record, but I must repeat myself here) process theology does not conform to her characterization of "theologians" in this matter. But she raises a very good point. I agree with her when she says that "a powerful God finds more supporters than a compassionate God."

As an example of this, I consider a quote from Bart Ehrman's latest book that is found in James McGrath's blog. Ehrman writes:
Believing in a God who stands beside me in my suffering, but who cannot actually do much about it, makes God a lot like my mother or my kindly next-door neighbor, but it doesn't make him a lot like GOD.
How interesting that Ehrman so casually dismisses the idea of a non-omnipotent God who suffers with us. Ehrman simply takes for granted God's omnipotence--of course God must by definition be this way, and any conception that differs from this "doesn't make him a lot like God." Ehrman, a product of an Evangelical Christian background, betrays his presuppositions. Uta Ranke-Heinemann is indeed correct. A powerful God does find more supporters than a compassionate God.


Gary said...

I think 'God', the name and symbol, has become so weighted in baggage that it is almost altogether a useless term nowadays. This is something John A.T. Robinson suggested, following on from Tillich, in Honest to God. As a sign, I wonder if the name of 'God' can be redeemed to point to the Ground of all Being, or even the evolving Spirit?

Mystical Seeker said...


I think the word God has always had a lot of different meanings. Tillich called God our Ultimate Concern, but our ultimate concern might vary, so under that category you end up with a lot of different theologies. Karen Armonstrong's book "A History of God" gives a rather dizzying history of various monotheistic notions about God over time, and after a while it becomes a blur. "God" is a different term to pin down to just one concept.

Gary said...

The problem, as I see it, is what God means to the contemporary world at large. A lot of atheism and agnosticism would be largely due to the rejection of the traditional view of the great being on the throne, the 'powerful God'. It doesn't seem to be an option in the mind of many that an alternative can be purued.

Mystical Seeker said...

Gary, I agree completely.