As a child in elementary school I already had a reputation among my peers as a Christian. Other kids called me a goody two shoes. Boys would try to get me to swear. One day a boy asked me if I believed God could do absolutely anything.”
“Of course,” I replied.
“Can he make a stone so big he can’t lift it?” he responded.
I was speechless. I saw in a flash that if I said he could then I would be admitting there was a stone God couldn’t lift, and if I said no, then I was admitting that he couldn’t make such a stone. Either way, I had to admit God was not omnipotent. I thought long and hard about this conundrum.
I finally decided that what I was being asked to admit was that God could not do what was logically impossible. There can’t exist both an unliftable stone and an omnipotent being who can lift any stone.
Christians tend to take God’s omnipotence for granted. Yet it raises a lot of questions. How can God stand by and allow horrors like the Holocaust or the Cambodian killing fields or the Rwandan genocide to occur unchecked? And if God allows such things because they fall under the free will of human actors, then how can he stand by and allow natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Maria, or the tsunami that claimed so many lives in southeast Asia or the earthquake in Haiti? Some Christians propose that such catastrophes are punishment for sin. Yet what kind of punishment sweeps away the innocent with the guilty and visits the worst disasters on the poor while sparing the rich?
There are only two possible conclusions. Either there is no God, or God is not omnipotent. Many of my friends on Facebook have opted for the former explanation. Some of them were raised in Christian homes, and their disappointment with God has fueled their disbelief. I have come to conclude that God is not omnipotent, at least not in the way we commonly think of omnipotence. In fact, I think that belief in God’s omnipotence is one of the most successful lies of the devil. There are things God cannot do, not because he lacks the power or will to do them, but because he lacks the authority. To act without the authority to act would call into question his goodness.
The New Testament is very clear about who the ruler of this present world is, and it is not God. It is the devil, Satan, the serpent who beguiled our original parents into giving up their authority over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the field. It is the devil, along with those deceived by him, who are responsible for the evil in the world.
Jesus revealed God as a loving Father who cares for his children and wants them to love as he loves—without condition or favoritism. Jesus demonstrated that love by healing the sick, curing those who suffered from inner demons, and by eating and drinking with the outcasts of his society. He touched the untouchable, forgave the unforgivable, and esteemed the worthless. What he did is what God does, and it is in this context of putting forth extraordinary effort to find ways to be kind that we must understand that with God all things are possible. You can be kind to those who hate you. You can love those who say awful things about you. You can contribute your hard-earned income to help those unfortunate enough to have been born in poverty in a place where upward mobility is all but impossible. You can use your own influence, however small, to bring God’s rule into the world ruled by the devil. This means war. It is inevitable when kingdoms are in conflict.
There will be casualties. Don’t give up.
One of the worst sins I am often guilty of—and my wife and children can attest to it—is scorn. You know what I mean. Scoffing, diminishing the excitement or wonder of others. Parents often do it to their kids. Why do we do it? I think there are two reasons, both based on fear.
The first is that we fear being thought naive or innocent. When I was little, I wanted to be one of the big kids. I wanted to be included, wanted to belong to the group that was more privileged by age, getting to stay up a little later, getting to watch TV shows for more mature audiences, getting to read books with adult language and themes. I tried to present myself as knowing, even when what I knew was nothing or very little. With a little luck, I could pass myself off as more experienced, less innocent.
The second is a deeper and worse fear. It is the fear of wonder itself. Wonder takes us out of ourselves. It makes us feel awe at the world around us. It involves acknowledging that we do not know everything, that what we can control is very limited, that uncertainty and vulnerability are part of life. In wonder we yield ourselves up to something greater than we can understand, and there’s always the terrible possibility that we will not matter. Wonder exposes the insecurity we feel at our own insignificance.
To defend ourselves we—or at least I—practice scorn. I adopt a knowing, superior air. Oh, yes. I know all about that. What? You didn’t know? I act as if nothing surprises me, when in fact the capacity to be surprised is essential to every new invention or discovery. Scorn acts as an armor protecting me from the derision of others who might mock my naivete. It makes me invulnerable—or so it seems.
Scorn builds a safe space for a fragile ego, but it does so at a cost. What I gain in invincibility, I lose in delight and wonder. I lose also in trust. Acting superior doesn’t make anyone trust me more; it makes them afraid to share their own wonder with me. It doesn’t prove me more knowing; it shuts me off from new experiences and those who want to share them with me.
When Jesus took a child and stood him among his disciples and told them, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” I believe one of the characteristics of childlikeness he was commending was the capacity for wonder. Children are full of wonder. I see it constantly in my granddaughter, how freely she oohs and ahs over things I have long since considered mundane. The whole world is new to her, and if I choose to enter into her experience of it, it becomes new to me again too.
This coming year, I resolve to cultivate wonder. I will let down my guard. I will enter into the delight and excitement of others. I will be on the lookout for opportunities to behold the world as God sees it—always new.