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Moltmannia: The Weakness of Omnipotence

August 24, 2009

As a ‘blasphemer’, Jesus was rejected by the guardians of his people’s law. As a ‘rebel’ he was crucified by the Romans. But finally, and most profoundly, he died as one rejected by his God and his Father. In the theological context of his life this is the most important dimension.
…in his conflict with the law it was possible to speak of a ‘misunderstanding’ on the part of the Jews. In the political conflict of his crucifixion as a rebel it is customary to speak of a ‘misunderstanding’ on the part of the Romans. But is it possible to speak of a ‘misunderstanding’ in the theological context of his abandonment by God? If so, either Jesus must have misunderstood God in his preaching, or God must have misunderstood Jesus at the end of his life… (CG, 152)

In his masterful work The Crucified God, J├╝rgenMoltmann means to steadily and unapologetically bring us to face the true horror of the cross of Jesus. Which is not only that Jesus suffered and died a torturous, miserable death, but what was even worse: he was abandoned there by God. This is something we instinctively flinch at, and turn away from because it is so horrible, and hard to imagine, and so contrary to the feel-good lines we often hear about God and Jesus. Yet in this abandonment, there is hope. For in it, we can know that both God and Jesus understand what it is to be forsaken and alone.

This contrasts sharply with the training I received at a conservative seminary in my youth. It wasn’t a Reformed school, but we certainly heard from a lot of reformed professors. One of the main points they emphasized was the impassibility of God, which portrays God as unswayed by feeling and emotion. Sure, we were told that God feels love, and compassion, and that God cares about people. But above and beyond that, we were told that God was not overly affected by such human emotions, and that God surely didn’t sway based on such shifty things. No, God was literally impassible– unable to suffer and to to be affected by these feelings and by the actions of humans. This is what made God both God and good.

Which view Moltmann deals with directly:

…a God who is only omnipotent is in himself an incomplete being, for he cannot experience helplessness and powerlessness. Omnipotence can indeed be longed for and worshipped by helpless men, but omnipotence is never loved; it is only feared. What sort of being, then, would be a God who was only ‘almighty’? He would be a being without experience, a being without destiny and a being loved by no one. A man who experiences helplessness, a man who suffers because he loves, a man who can die, is therefore a richer being than an omnipotent God who cannot suffer, cannot love and cannot die. (CG, 223)

This idea of omnipotence as ‘incompleteness’ certainly resonates with me, and reminds me of Jack Caputo. His ‘Weakness of God‘ seems to some to be an assault on God, or at least of the essence/nature of God. But to those who have suffered (or, I should say, to those who are aware of and honest about their suffering), thinking of God as ‘weak’ or as more/less than omnipotent is a great comfort, and gives great hope. Where Caputo commends the weakness of God, Moltmann champions the poverty of God as he describes a God who has need and want and loss and absence. The traditional Reformation view of God as ‘unmoved’ (dependent as it is on Greek philosophy) depicts a God who ‘cannot love, and cannot suffer’ (CG, 253)

A God who is conceived of in his omnipotence, perfection, and infinity at man’s expense cannot be the God who is love in the cross of Jesus, who makes a human encounter in order to restore their lost humanity to unhappy and proud divinities, who ‘became poor to make many rich’. (CG, 250)

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2 Responses to “Moltmannia: The Weakness of Omnipotence”

  1. Jake says:

    I'm loving these. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Is God only omnipotent? Is He not omniscient, also? Along with the other omni's doesn't God really have the complete package? It seems to me that Jesus wept, and God was so sorry he had created man that he flooded the Earth, and started over with Noah. In His grace, he started over with another flawed family, since that was what he had to work with. Unless he wanted to start from scratch – which he could have. To be honest, I'm not grasping God's incompleteness, but I might just be a closed minded conservative :)
    Tom D.M.

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