bible christianity philosophy theology

kenotic God

A true swordsman is recognised not simply by ability to swing the largest of swords with great speed and strength, but by the skill and agility to wield any sword in the best way.  Likewise, the vision of God in Christian Scripture (not only in the NT – explicitly in passages like Philippians 2:5-11 – but in the OT) is of a God who does not mindlessly brandish the sword of omnipotence around like a brute or side-show stuntman, but rather wisely wields it in ways that are not about mere strength but intent, skill and purpose.

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that basically no Christian doctrine about God makes any sense at all if God’s omnipotence is not seen in this particular way.  Just as a skilled swordsman most probably indeed could swing a sword quite fast and powerfully, but would only do so at rare occasions or perhaps only once, so also there are many things that an omnipotent God is able to do, but not willing.

The kenotic, or ‘self-emptying’, God is not shackled to ‘logical’ expectations for what omnipotence would do.  God both a) refrains from doing things he has capacity to do, as well as b) does things he does not need to do.  God could have not created.  It’s not as though there could be any force or person or will ‘above’ God that caused God to create.  But create he did – and does.  To venture into the conversation of sovereignty and process theology and ‘free will’, etc., God could have chosen to have a very deterministic and micro-managerial rule over the world.  It’s not as though that would be un-fitting or impossible for omnipotence.  But his sovereign rule is far more respecting of freedom, and what we have is a mixture of inability to do many things (i.e. breathe in space, fly, etc.), and ability to direct our own courses of action.  We are dependent enough upon the world and each other such that the degree of indifference we can fall to has limits, yet we are also independent enough from it and others such that an annoyingly persistent responsibility for our actions is perpetually ensured.

5 replies on “kenotic God”

But create he did – and does.

Other than a lack of any credible evidence for this truth claim, there is also the absence of evidence that should be there if it were indeed true. But note how none of this matters to the person already convinced by a faith-based assumption that the claim must be true. This reveals a line of reasoning that is only concerned with promoting and protecting a faith-based assumption without regard for its truth value. This is a clue…

Tildeb, This is another case of an opportunistic easy dismissal, that barely touches the topics/contrasts of the post. I give you kudos for it not being too long though. I make it my policy to not delete/block comments unless they are abusive, but please understand I have no obligation to spend time answering comments like this that have every appearance of leading to a stupidly long and fruitless session of talking past one another. If you can engage what I’m saying and not just post the same ‘theism-is-stupid’ dismissals on every post, then you can expect me to engage. If not, then I hope your ranting does something for you.

“God is not shackled to ‘logical’ expectations for what omnipotence would do.”

Then it looks like your god is either dumber than me or more immoral than me.

ah, yes, we’ve been on the powerful/wise/good triple merry-go-round before. I will grant you that skepticism of omni-benevolence is probably at the heart of modern challenges to faith in the biblical God. I’d like to find time (no promises) to explore that more explicitly in a different post.

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