>Is God strong or weak?
People generally seem to think that if there is a God then that being is very ‘God like’ and encapsulates all of the things we generally hope and assume that God is. “My God is so Big so strong and so mighty – there’s nothing my God can not do” seems to be the predominant thought on this. Most people, I think, are under the impression that God is strong. So I am not going to spend a lot of time on that. I think that people know that construct well.
I want to put forward a different theory. I believe that God is weak, that God works weakly and that we have to partner with that God in order for it work.
Here is my theory in the form of a word picture (Someday I will make it into a narrative or parable): it’s as if God broadcasts a signal weakly into the world. Picture a radio tower sending signals out into the surrounding area. There are three conditions or scenarios involved in this.
We have the right ‘equipment’ and often we have to learn to dial it in. You have be tuned into the right signal. This is often made easier by being around somebody who it ‘tuned’ in – or for that matter, who is not just receiving but relaying the signal ( a reflecting dish that radiates the signal)
The second component is that the signal is faint enough that some people don’t think that the signal even exists and others explain away or attribute it to something else. The signal is weak enough that some people don’t even think that there is a signal.
The third is that the signal is weak enough that you also have turn down other competing signals and sources of noise, in order to really tune in. Even those who want to tune in, often have to tune out competing signals or technologies.
Now I know that this is a radically new concept to some and it does not get the best reaction at first. People often want to quote passages from the Old Testament in order to reinforce the conception that God is strong. But I sort of feel like saying “You have heard it said that God is strong, but I tell you that what we see in Jesus is weak”
Two passages of scripture here just to think about how God works :
1 Corinthians 1: 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me
I think that Jesus is the best gift that humanity has ever received- better than life itself for this gift transcends life. What we see in Christ is the ‘Weakness of God’ (as John Caputo calls it) and it is counter to everything that this world upholds a praiseworthy and worthy of glory.
When most people talk to me about God it seems as if they are describing Zeus from Mt. Olympus, Thor from Valhalla, Ra of Egypt, Baal of the Cannanites, Dagon of the Assyrians, or Apsu and Tiamat of the Babylonians. When people talk to me about God I rarely hear them talk of the manger, the foot washing model of servant leadership, the shame of the cross, the questions around the resurrection or the small crowd of the ascension. All these are understated, off the beaten path, out of the spotlight … weak.
It’s almost as if we have the ancient ways that people talked about God, like Zeus. Then (as it appears chronologically to us) God revealed the fullest expression of the divine nature in Christ. We love what Jesus did for us. Then we went on talking about God in Caesar terms. Almost as if Jesus is a hiatus of weakness from the regularly scheduled program of Zeus and Caesar – sandwiched between the two.
Just think about the incarnation – the humility of the birth story.
Think about the foot-washing at the last supper.
Think about the non-violent response to the arrest.
Think about the cross.
Think about the events surrounding the resurrection (on this side of the stone) and how understated and gentle it was.
Think about Pentecost – this powerful redistribution of God’s spirit – and how it was interpreted as something else.
I think that this is how God works and I think that this is how God is.
Just to be clear: I do not believe that God is really strong and just pretending to weak (self limitation) and I am not playing semantics by redefining ‘strong’ as ‘weak’ in a theological flip-a-roosky or switch-a-roosky. (those are official Theological terms by the way and even if the weren’t real, they ARE actual things that I have been accused of).
I actually think that God is weak. It explains so much. It explains why He didn’t stop the atrocities of the Second World War (or any war for that matter). It explains why rape and child abuse are allowed to go on. It’s not that god, who is said to be ‘all knowing’, knows and doesn’t care. It is that God is weak. God is not outside of time watching things unfold and picking and choosing which situations to intervene in. God is here with us – in the moment – and God works through us. That is the weakness.
Sure, people long ago conceived of God in Kingly way. The Scholastic Theologians of church history had to answer the question ‘If God is all Powerful and God is all Loving, then how can He abide evil.’ The problem is called Theodicy, but it is predicated on the assumption that God is all Powerful (omnipotent).
I think that it is a conversation worth having and a concept worth revisiting. I am willing to redefine it but I know that others are quite apprehensive about making any changes to the old formula.
The truth is that I am really nervous. I am nervous that when people talk about God they are really talking about expectations of Caesar. That modern christianity is far more Rome than christ, far more Empire than kingdom.
I know that people react to the notion that is God is weak. We want a God who is strong. But I fear that what we really want is a Caesar, Zeus, Thor, Ra and not a Christ at all.
If you want to read a paper on John Caputo’s ‘The Weakness of God’ [HERE]
I will close with a quote from that.
“ The kingdom of God is the rule of weak forces like patience and forgiveness, which, instead of forcibly exacting payment for an offense, release and let go. The kingdom is found whenever war and aggression are met with an offer of peace. The kingdom is a way of living, not in eternity, but in time, a way of living without why, living for the day, like the lilies of the field – figures of weak forces – as opposed to mastering and programming time, calculating the future, containing and managing risk. The kingdom reigns wherever the least and most undesirable are favored while the best and most powerful are put on the defensive. The powerless power of the kingdom prevails whenever the one is preferred to the ninety-nine, whenever one loves one’s enemies and hates one’s father and mother while the world, which believes in power, counsels us to fend off our enemies and keep the circle of kin and kind, of family and friends, fortified and tightly drawn.”
P.S. A great book to read is “What would Jesus deconstruct” which is Caputo’s interaction with “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon.
August 9, 2018 at 7:35 pm
This “weak” God is for me the only possible conception of God – after the wars, genocides and catastrophes of the last two milennia cast much doubt on a traditional theodicy. I have travelled far from my evangelical, fundamentalist past to a kind of theopaschite theology which disavows notions of the Almighty Powerful God in any traditional sense of the word “power” – so your essay makes a lot of sense to me. But I am dogged by the contradictions in my own position – the Bible texts are strewn with the assertive, muscular war God YHWH, the militancy of God is hard to avoid. Add to His activities the angelic host and there’s a lot of Strong Power there. I also struggle to make sense of God’s weakness in view of the extraordinary power which would be required to create the universe. If God changes tack (as per “Christ: a Crisis in the life of God” by J. Miles) then He still had Strong Power once, even if God has laid this power down. I see texts which support the weak God, and texts which support the God of power and might. I know what fundamentalists and evangelicals would say to Caputo, and while I reject their narrow inerrancy they do have a point to make about the evidence for a Strong God in both Testaments. But my concern is this: if Strong God becomes Weak God, then is “He” not evading responsibility for the chaos and suffering in the world (and possibly elsewhere in the universe)? I keep stumbling upon this dilemma with the Weak God. I’m something of an agonistic misotheist and almost don’t want God to be let off the hook here. I don’t mean to sound trite.