A short time ago my teaching pastor, Bruxy Cavey was teaching on Three Beautiful Words (God is Love) from I John 4:8 (if you’re interested in this critical message you can download the podcast for free).
After the message, as is the custom in our meetings, the floor was opened up for questions. A query was texted in by Peter (not yours truly) and from memory the gist of the question was:
A speaker on TV said that God being loving and being omnipotent was a contradiction. If God were loving, he would fix the world to take away evil and suffering. Since he doesn’t that means either he can’t (therefore he’s not omnipotent) or he won’t (therefore he’s not loving). This has bothered me a lot. How would you answer this?
Now when I encounter challenges like this, I like to think through them and this is the reason for my post.
Thinking about the definitions
Omnipotence is a theological term that describes God’s power as creator and sustainer of all things. I don’t believe it is ever used in the bible but rather is used by theologians to describe the sum of the teaching on God in the bible on the subject of His power and sovereignty.
Before one can examine the claimed contradiction, I think it is useful to understand the word “omnipotent.” The TV speaker and I likely agree that omnipotent means “all powerful” but does that mean that there are no actions that are inherently impossible even to an all-powerful being?
I think the answer to that question is “no;” there are actions inherently impossible even for the omnipotent.
For example, the following actions are inherently impossible or necessarily limit the scope on omnipotence:
1. Actions that violate the law of non-contradiction: God can’t make it rain and not rain on the same spot, in the same sense, at the same time. Choosing to make it rain means He has already chosen against making it “not rain.” The decree and its complement come as a single package.
2. In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision. After that, all future decisions are constrained by what has already been chosen. Often subsequent choices are impossible because they violate earlier choices.
3. Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do.
Allow me to elaborate on points 2 and 3.
In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision
As a writer I see this principle in effect whenever I start a novel. When my page is blank I may write anything I like. Perhaps:
“In a galaxy far, far away …” or
“He found the body after midnight on the moor.” or
“When Dolores opened the letter, she knew her life would never be the same again.”
After the first line, my omnipotence as a writer has shriveled enormously. I can no longer do what I want. Everything I write afterwards has to be consistent with what I wrote before. I think God faces the same limitation of particularity. When he chooses a certain course in creation, the contingent choices have to be self-consistent. When He steps into time, what He can do now, is constrained by the choices already made.
Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do
Omnipotence argues that God could lie. What prevents Him from doing so? He could put the lying words together, but choses not to because of His character. We have the same kind of power: we can all formulate a lie, but in our better moments we chose not to. This argues that there are some things God could do, but does not do them because they conflict with His essence or character.
Okay so why doesn’t God end all wickedness and suffering right now?
I think this is really the heart of the question that bothered the texter, Peter, and I don’t have a full answer. Here is what I have: what would God need to do to fix all wickedness and suffering right now? I think we would have to change the role we currently play on this planet and wrest from us all impulses and desires contrary to His will whether we want to give them up or not.
One of my favorite fantasy book series is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®. In it a group of gifted people, called channelers, have enormous powers over their fellow humans. One power they have is called compulsion. With compulsion they can make subtle changes the thinking in the ungifted or even the gifted they have overpowered. For example, a channeler might compel a highly competent general to make subtle mistakes in a battle that to lead to disaster. On the other hand, compulsion can be used to completely take over a person’s mind so that the compelled must worship the compeller and be willing to kill or give up their lives for him. In the books, compulsion was rightly seen as a great evil in all its forms because it turned humans into automatons.
If my memory serves me correctly, there was a vision in the last book in which all people were compelled to be kind, productive, generous etc. But their humanity was sacrificed to make them that way against their will. They were no longer human. The protagonist saw this compelled change as a great loss to evil.
I think this is the fundamental flaw in having God fix things right now—it would have to be done against our will and our nature and that action itself would be an evil even if the end were good.
So where does that leave me?
I believe God is fixing things (perhaps it might be more correct to say He has fixed things in Christ) but the full effect of the cure has not fully spread through the system yet. The need for the means and the end to be true and good means the process will take some time, but it encourages me enormously that God in Christ came down into creation as a man and suffered right along with us. He was born into a poor family, of an oppressed people. His father likely died when he was a young man. Finally, he was crucified as an innocent man, while dying for His enemies who did not value His death at the time. This gives me great hope that God deeply cares about our (and my) condition in this flawed and marred world filled with flawed and marred people.
One of my favorite pictures is the one shown at the head of this blog taken of a framed print in my home. In Michelangelo’s fresco of The Creation of Adam, God is seen as touching Adam’s finger ever so slightly. Through this lightest of touches, He is communicating His love, but also His gift of independence and free will. The touch is there so Adam can choose to move toward Him or away from Him. Alas, we have moved away. He pursues us, but the touch continues to be light to preserve our free will. It is always my choice whether I move toward the touch or away from it. If I have to choose between becoming automaton or having God work the process to bring us home when we are willing to move towards Him, I choose His timing and process.
A final comment on theologically-skeptical snipers
I must end this blog with a protest about theologically-skeptical snipers. I can’t directly complain about texter Peter’s TV speaker because I never saw the program, but I have seen many others like it. The speaker, in criticizing theism or Christianity trucks out some challenge and then leaves it hanging. In my experience, they never go on to say: “This is my world view and this is how I answer this question that I have just asked.” That would reveal that their own answers are at least as problematic as the Christian’s and thus leave them open to challenge. In other words, these skeptics are often not skeptical enough because they don’t challenge their own views along with the Christian’s.
In my mind, these speakers are like snipers who are happy to lie hidden in the brush taking pot shots at their opponents. As long as their own position is undiscovered they can happily fire away without taking any return fire.
If you are interested in these kinds of questions and you find the musings of a non-theologian, Science Fiction author helpful, why not check out my book Questioning Your Way to Faith? In story form, it discusses questions I have wrestled with, in the context of a respectful conversation between friends who profoundly disagree on the answers. ©Peter Kazmaier 2018
I have previously published my review of Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Back to Virtue. In this post I wanted to provide a more personal view of how the book changed or perhaps broadened my thinking. At one point, Kreeft talked about how Christianity brought together the best of what Hebrew, Greek, and pagan thought and tradition had to offer. This is depicted in the diagram below (reworked to capture my own musings on this important idea from a similar diagram in the book).
The Hebrew Foundation
If one reads the New Testament, one can’t help but notice how Christianity is grounded on, and grew forth from Hebrew history, revelation, and practice. All of the very early Christians were Jewish. The Old Testament is cited again and again in the New. Even the Christians called out of Greek and pagan backgrounds were steeped in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. When Paul spoke in 2 Timothy 3:16 about “all scripture,” he was primarily referring to the Old Testament.
Jesus had to be born into Jewish society because they had a high view of God: his Oneness and His creation of the world out of nothing. Had Jesus been born in Athens, as pantheists and polytheists, they would have happily put Jesus alongside Zeus and so missed the whole point of the incarnation. The shocking incredulity of the Jewish mindset to the incarnation was absolutely necessary for us to get the message and import of what was taking place.
This Hebrew ground or environment for the incarnation did not come without cost or loss. As far as I can tell from my reading, the first century Jewish people were remarkably free of idolatry. A by-product of this achievement was a complete lack of development of some of the arts such as sculpting and painting because they were too closely associated with idol worship. Kreeft helped me realize how this temporary omissions were build back in to the Christian community after the significance of the incarnation and resurrection of Christ were recognized.
The Greek New Testament
The use of Koine Greek (the lingua franca of the Mediterranean and Middle East) as the language of the New Testament had profound consequences. Not only did it bring the Good News in the common language of the Roman Empire, but it could make use of the nuances of language and thought brought into Greek by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. So for example it enabled the distinction between the old nature (flesh – sarx) from body (soma), drawing a clear distinction between Gnosticism and Christian teaching by putting a high value on the body as well as the spirit (Gnosticism values only the spirit). It also made God-guided reason an important way of testing truth claims and made reason an integral part of understanding teaching.
When viewed as a religious system, pagan polytheism was simply a branch of pantheism. But pagan practice had given rise to stories, plays, and poetry that showed a wonderful imagination and a longing for truth. Here again, it seems to me Christianity was able to keep the good. Much if not all of the ancient literature was preserved by the Church as the Roman Empire collapsed and the anarchy of the Dark Ages replaced it. The use of imagination as an engine of the written arts and also of science has played a significant role and life of the church.
So What Does This Mean to Me?
Kreeft’s analysis and synthesis has allowed me to see a number of things in a new way. Here are some of them:
1. God is always working toward the summum bonum, the greatest good.
2. Sometimes because of our weakness and frailty, we miss out on some things as the Israelites did as they were learning to avoid idolatry and so gave up some of the arts. These temporary omissions are part of our growing process.
3. In the end all genuine good comes from God and we as his people are not wrong to seek it. You cannot go far wrong if one truly seeks the good.
4. My own Christian walk is founded on my personal interaction with the Lord Christ through His received word and His Spirit. Imagination and reason play an important role in that interaction.
Note Added on “Reason”
In The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, Kreeft points out the differences in the way the word “reason” was used by Aquinas and how it’s used by modern philosophers. Aquinas and other ancients used reason to denote knowing, judging, as well logical processes such as inductive and deductive analysis. Modern philosophers, according to Kreeft, tend to use it only in the third sense.
For your convenience I have also reproduced the questions and answers here. I welcome any questions you might have. Thank you Andrea!
Why do you write?
I love to read Fantasy and Science Fiction. First and foremost then, I write books that I would like to read, but no one else has taken the trouble to write them. Specifically, I like books that are plot-driven and keep me riveted wondering what happens next. But I also like books that ask the Big Questions, as people do in real life. Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? Why should I try to be good?
When did you decide to become a writer, and what was that process like?
For a large fraction of my life, I was a researcher in chemistry and much of my writing appeared in technical journals or as patents. My career as a novelist had a curious start. I was a member of a book club and during one of our sessions I mused how I would love to write a novel. One of my friends said, “Well why don’t you do it?” The gauntlet was thrown down and I had to do something about it. It took me four years of attending writer’s conferences, and writing in my spare time while still holding a full time job before my first book came out, the first edition of the colonization epic The Halcyon Dislocation.
So, what have you written? (Include everything you have published)
As I mentioned I have more than sixty technical publications on chemistry and about 175 US patents, but I’m sure your readers are not that interested in them. In terms of novels I have written three (in the order of publication):
- The Halcyon Dislocation (two editions)
- Questioning Your Way to Faith
- The Battle for Halcyon
The Halcyon Dislocation and The Battle for Halcyon are the first two books of a four part series that I call The Halcyon Cycle. They deal with a science experiment that transports the island University of Halcyon to a parallel world. In the story we experience how various members of the university deal with the trauma of the dislocation and the challenges of surviving in a new world.
Questioning Your Way to Faith is a much shorter book that arose because of requests I received from some of my readers. In terms of a time line, Questioning Your Way to Faith is set before the dislocation and involves two university friends having an extended discussion about whether or not Christian belief is reasonable.
Where can we buy or see them?
My books are available as either e-books or as trade paper backs at most major bookstores and online outlets. In alphabetical order here are some links:
- Amazon/Kindle http://tinyurl.com/qbyw5b8
- Chapters-Indigo/Kobo http://tinyurl.com/odmn6j6
- Google Store http://tinyurl.com/qbnxs6j
- iTunes http://tinyurl.com/pkteyj5
What genre are your books?
My books are Science Fiction that read a bit like Fantasy. I say that because my books have a strong science component and I worry a lot about whether events like the dislocation are feasible. Having said that, once the University of Halcyon is in the new world, technologies begin to fail (because modern technology requires enormous infrastructure) and then one has much more of a Fantasy-style landscape.
Do you do any research for you books?
I try hard to get the details right in my books, so I do quite a bit of research to make sure that the phases of the moon are correct, the fish found off the island of Halcyon are correct for that locale and that events like the dislocation are not unreasonable from a physics perspective.
Are you working on at the minute?
I’m working on the next book in The Halcyon Cycle which I have provisionally called Descent into Abaddon.
Do you mind telling us about it?
Not at all. I listened to a wonderful lecture a few years ago that described how our relatively low atmospheric pressure limited the size of land mammals and also the size of flying birds. My next book is centered on a continent so far below sea level that the high atmospheric pressure removes these constraints.
What is your favorite book that you have written so far and why?
I would probably say The Halcyon Dislocation. I like the Crusonian aspects of being marooned in a new world and all of the discovery that entails.
How often do you write a week?
I write in fits and starts. When one has several books in print, one has many duties. I work better when I work at something for a concentrated period of time.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
No I don’t set pages per day. I like long books, so I aim for more than 100,000 words for my books.
What do you find is the easiest thing about writing?
There’s nothing easy about writing well. Of all the hard things that must be done to produce a good novel, I find imagining new worlds and new inhabitants of those worlds easiest.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I suppose it takes me roughly four years from start to finish to write a book. However that’s highly misleading since I start the next book right after the first draft is complete, so there is a good deal over overlap when I’m writing the first draft of one book and editing the last.
Do you ever get writer’s block and if so do you have any tips on how to get through it?
Writer’s block, in the sense of reaching an impasse in a story is not usually my problem. My problem is sheer laziness. I have many duties to complete and I get caught up in all of these urgent matters and let my writing time slip.
What is your editing process like?
I have friends who have taken a great deal of time as “beta readers” who critique my book and often see blind spots that I as a writer have missed. I always enlist the services of a professional editor to complete the edits. I can’t stress how important it is to find an editor who is not only technically competent, but has a genuine love for your books.
Self-publishing is a very broad term that includes vanity publishing. I prefer the term micro-publishing. By that I mean running a very small publishing business with an emphasis on the quality of the books produced and a severe eye on the costs.
Why self-publish or micro-publish? In my journey, I have seen many writers who spend years producing a novel and then spend years writing to acquisition editor after acquisition editor trying to interest them in their work. Often the writers eventually give up in discouragement without ever having provided their book to the people who really matter—their reading public. [For more on micro-publishing check my blog http://wp.me/p4cZo4-1l .]
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Force yourself to be a “finisher.” Make sure you sell some version of your book to your reading public to get feedback from them.
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
In my role as a research scientist I had a chance to see the Print-On-Demand technology develop. I think this trend will continue and will favor the smaller publisher. Traditional publishing will not disappear but will continue to be under increased cost pressure because of their extensive infrastructure.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
- The best books become part of our intellectual scaffolding. Remember as a writer you are an artist first. You want your books to be entertaining, but also to make a difference in your readers’ lives.
- Don’t mistake sales as the primary indicator of your success.
[On re-reading this second point, I realized that my brief comment could lead to misunderstanding. Sales as a primary indicator for success can be highly misleading for an author starting out for two reasons. First of all, selling books is an annuity business and so sales build over time. That is to say, you have many upfront costs (Realistically one should charge at least minimum wage for all the time one invests writing and setting up one’s business. Many writers mistakenly think they are getting as bargain if they can find a traditional publisher that will pay them an advance and a royalty. Often these writers haven’t accounted for the enormous time they invested in preparing the manuscript for consideration by the traditional publisher.), but sales only begin once your book lists. However, once your book lists, it stays listed for a long time and generates an annuity stream. Secondly, there may be two reasons why a book doesn’t sell: (1) the book is poorly conceived and written; (2) the author is not well-known and so few readers get as far as even trying the book and so they never find out if it’s good or not. Unless one is well-known for other reasons (e.g. you’re a U.S. President), being unknown will always be an impediment when you start out. To distinguish these two barriers to sales, one needs to get the book into the hands of readers and get feedback.]
What is your favorite book and why?
My favorite books (on an equal footing) are C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I re-read the Narnia books because of the profound spiritual insights that Lewis offers. I re-read The Lord of the Rings because of the sheer beauty of the work. Even though I know the plot almost line for line, I love the beauty of walking through the vale of Ithilien and the terror of the Mines of Moria.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
I’m always delighted to hear from my readers. They can contact me by email directly or leave a comment on my blog.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00JB0IWE6
CBC’s Fifth Estate presented a series by Mark Kelley entitled War on Wheat. Personally, I have enjoyed wheat products all of my life and I have no reason to change. However, several members in my circle of family and friends have changed to a gluten-free diet and so I was interested in hearing Kelley’s perspective on the subject. I had another reason for listening. As a scientist I am interested in examples of how scientists interact with the general public. I hope to learn how I can make my own communication more honest, open, and effective.
Every news program has a point of view. From the title, from the arrangement of the segments, and from the questions that were asked, it was clear to me that Kelley had organized the program to convince the audience that wheat is good, that “science” is almost unanimously on the side of eating wheat, and that going gluten-free is a fad promulgated by “food evangelists.” Remember, I am saying this as a person who loves his slice of bread and has found no reason whatsoever to change. Read the rest of this entry
When I was an undergraduate, I was told by a fellow student who knew that I was a Christian that a Professor of mine had said to this student that he (the Professor) did not really believe one could be a researcher in science and a Christian. Now do not misunderstand me. I am not writing to show another example of “anti-Christian bias,” but rather the contrary. I believe the Professor in question, if this hearsay is accurate, was expressing a personal conviction. This Professor, despite his personal convictions about the predetermined outcome of being a Christian and a scientist, did everything in his power to give me a chance to prove him wrong. He helped me at every turn of the road. If you think of his conviction as a prophecy, he did not conclude he had to make his prophecy come true – it was either true or false without any help from him and he chose to work against the prophecy.