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.

christianity philosophy theology


It’s a common charge that believers simply (or simplistically) attribute ‘good’ and ‘evil’ to God or the devil depending on the results.

  • Good happens to us: God did it.
  • Good happens to enemies: Devil did it.
  • Bad happens to enemies: God did it.
  • Bad happens to us: Devil did it.

However, the providential monotheism of Judaeo-Christian belief holds that God is able to use even ‘evil’ events to achieve ‘good’.  One interesting example is the prophetic interpretation of God using the Assyrians to punish Israel and take them into exile – and at the very same time holding the Assyrians responsible for their evil assault.  Or take the actions of Judas.  He did evil in betraying Jesus, but for the biblical authors this was no surprise.

This is nothing other than the simple belief in a God who is sovereign over history, and ((in true jujitsu-like fashion)) brings about results through the genuinely free actions of created beings.  The more real the freedom of the creature, the greater the sovereignty of the Creator.  Because anybody can bring about a result through manipulating, say, a machine.

Again, this of course is not a post about God’s existence, but merely aims to distinguish the superstition of a lucky-charm god ((Which, admittedly, believers of all kinds and all times are tempted to make God into.)) from the providential monotheism of Jews and Christians.