(God, Limited or Unlimited?)
In the opening section of this chapter, we touched upon another of the areas in which theology, and the religions based upon them, often overstep their authority; as in, proclaiming that God is unlimited in Her Power. A more common way we see this expressed is: God can do all things. Of course, this often brings up such philosophical questions as: can God make a rock so heavy that He couldn't move it? Or, as in the example used earlier, can God make 2+2=5? And might it not be fair to ask: is it is not a contradiction when these same theologies which assert that "God can do all things," also claim She cannot commit a sin?
One of the reasons this type of problem surfaces in these dogmatic assumptions is because the theology has overstepped its boundaries. They have gone outside the realm of possible human knowledge and understanding to assert declarations, which cannot be proved or disproved - or for that matter, even known! The faithful are often required to accept these assertions in good faith simply because the religions say so. What is said is pronounced the Holy Truth, and anyone questioning such, is accused of being some type of enemy of God, a heretic or an atheist.
This omnipotent quality of the Divine is often cited to support events in the Sacred Scriptures that go far beyond the laws of physics which govern the universe. An example of this would be the sun stopping in the heavens as in Joshua 10:12-14. Obviously, such an act would have catastrophic consequences upon the planet if God did not suspend the laws of physics in some way - at least the laws, as we now understand them.
Yet, does it really seem likely that God would establish such a set of laws and then violate Her own law simply to impress people, or perhaps to scare them? Why would God even need to show Her power? Do we have to believe that the earth stopped on its axis and, make unknowable pronouncements about the power of God, to see any truth or relevance in this inspiration?
The answer of course is no. We can avoid this whole conflict with physics, and reality, if we look to Scripture for its symbolism rather than a literal interpretation. We will discuss this in more depth when we discuss Divine revelation in the next chapter. But, we need to touch upon this idea here, at least if we are to make sense of what we are trying to say about God's power.
If there is no other way to look at these stories then literally; then, they must either be false, or, we have to come up with rationalizations for our faith that simply do not make any sense in terms of our perceived reality.
For example, one might look at the many battles in scripture as metaphors for conflict; either internal or social.
On the personal level, the battle can symbolize the internal struggle between our selfish ego (which is the enemy) and our spiritual pureness (which is the Divine within). On a social level, the enemy can become the indifference to the greed, inhumanity, and inequality in a society; the battle becomes accepting personal responsibility to do our part to change these things and the struggle this may entail.
Often these stories are simply trying to convey to us that the social norm which forsakes our equality as children of God needs to be battled, albeit, they sometimes are extremely violent in their portrayal. They illustrate the difficulty we as individuals have in overcoming our own selfishness to establish a sense of spirituality that is harmonious with ego.
There is a psychological metaphor to these stories for peoples who had no benefit of psychological understanding. They are designed to illustrate that selfish egos, or indifference to the needs of others in a society, are not in line with the design of the human psyche. These things prevent us from rendering to God what is God's; namely, the equality of all his children. They help us to realize that we must battle indifference and egotism if we are to be victorious and achieve spiritual fulfillment at a personal level, which will ultimately lead to a better society for all. Divine Inspiration is not about God rescuing us from an external enemy; but rather, us doing battle internally in order that we may see the glory of the Divine within our own being. They are trying to convey to us that the Divine Power is within us but it can sometimes become a battle to see it.
In the story above, the sun stands as a symbol of light, or enlightenment. That in victory Joshua recognizes the zenith of God's power that was an essential part of his being victorious over the enemy. We can not get too hung up on the particular details of these stories, because we must always keep in mind the culture that recorded them. It was a violent and superstitious society totally unaware of the physics around them.
The whole Old Testament can be seen as the psychological quest of the Jewish people who were seeking a purer relationship with God, a sense of spiritual development and a wholesome self identity - something each of us go through as individuals and as a society. The Bible, read responsibly, helps us to understand our ability to see ourselves objectively, to know God in a healthy relationship, and recognize that the achievement of spiritual fulfillment is a war within the self.
To use the Bible, or any sacred work, as a proof to define the powers of God is to miss its greatest potential. It is to look for a headline without a story.
The archeological scholar John Romer points us in a wonderful direction:
Clearly, we have traveled a long way [Biblically] from modern history, and we have arrived at quite another world and one with its own logic and its own wisdom; IT IS THE WORLD OF MYTH, and there is much of this, too, in the Book of Genesis. Myth, that is, in the proper sense of the word, not, as in the common modern misusage a falsehood, BUT A SACRED TALE. A tale whose purposes are passed with the story's telling as precisely and as unconsciously as babies learn the grammar of their mother-tongue. MYTHS DIFFER FROM HISTORY, that mere continuum of events, in that they are carefully designed: and IT IS THESE DESIGNS THAT HOLD THE MYTHS REAL MEANINGS, and these are seldom simple moral stories, but deal with the deepest issues of the day...
... Obviously if such subtle stories are attacked with the blunt instruments of rational explanation - 'Scientist says conception possible at ninety' or 'Dead Sea volcanic eruption dated to 1234 BC - the true purpose of the ancient Stories will run through our fingers like sand, READ SYMPATHETICALLY, HOWEVER, THEY WILL TELL US ABOUT A PART OF ABRAHAM'S WORLD THAT ARCHEOLOGISTS CAN NEVER HOPE TO FIND.
(John Romer, TESTAMENT, Henry Holt & Company, cl988, pp33,34-35)
These same criteria apply to the theologian. These stories need not be searched for historical accuracy or their literal truth. They are not about God's state of existence, but man's spiritual evolution. They are often stories from the depths of the unconscious filtered through the conscious minds of various individuals who were influenced by the beliefs, culture and knowledge of their times. To better understand the stories, we must better understand the people. In order for these stories to have any meaning for our world, we must look at how they might have been interpreted in their world (See Chapter on Revelations for further elaboration on this theme).
While theology can reasonably assume that the power of the Creator far exceeds human comprehension, we cannot assert this power to be, either infinite, or limited. We simply have no way of knowing if the Nature of God has any type of ethic or self- moral standard, which might govern what She can and cannot do. For example, maybe God would choose not to violate Her own law - which the laws of physics would have to be.
Another question which comes to mind when we talk of the Power of God, becomes, is the creation we live in and perceive the best of all possibilities? If the answer is yes, then God is in fact limited by the possibilities to creating things the way She did. If it is not, then God has not given us the best of all possible scenarios to exist in; and this would seriously call into question the love and justice of the Creative Force.
The truth we need to face is: WE CANNOT KNOW THE STATE OF THE BEING OF GOD! However, given the evidence of our scientific observation, we might reasonable conclude that God does not violate the laws which She has ordained (i.e. the laws of physics). There is simply no observation, other than what is recorded in ancient stories that things such as the stopping of the sun have ever occurred. It would seem that such an event would be recorded on a worldwide scale if it were a factual historical account. There were ancient societies who spent a great deal of time studying and recording events in the heavens, it would seem that they would notice a sun which didn't move for a day.
Responsible speculations do not rule out God playing an active role in the creation, or say: miracles do not happen. Even if limited in some way by Her own nature, God can participate in the creation by using the very laws He has established. Thus, miracles, and the like, would happen by God's power interacting within the framework of the creation in some manner. These miracles might be subtle and seem natural to us -never being really detected, but nevertheless there. We, as human beings, could also be an instrument of God's miracles by acting upon the inspiration She may inspire within us as individuals.
Logically, who better than God could master the laws of His own making in such a manner as to aid the whole without being noticed? In a sense, isn't that what evolution is doing?
One must also keep in mind that very often what our ancestors seen as miraculous or supernatural, might have in fact been natural phenomena. Northern lights, rainbows, comets, and eclipses were very often recorded as supernatural, or, seen as signs from God. Today we know that these things are very natural and pretty much understands what they are. But anyone who has watched a rainbow, or seen a comet travel across the night sky, could not deny the feeling of inspiration and awe such sights often bring. These things now understood? Yes. - Any less spectacular or miraculous? No.
And too often, all these supernatural events we read about, cause us to lose sight of the most profound miracle of all; which is, the very existence of reality.
So, theology does not have to rule out the power of God in our lives simply because it cannot assert that God violates the laws of His own creation. On the other hand, theology does not have to justify claims that the sun stopped in the heavens by declaring that God suspends the laws of nature on whims to do so. While a responsible theology would not assert that supernatural feats are beyond the power of God; the more responsible approach is to search such text for a message of sorts - rather than to try to read it literally. This helps us to avoid making claims about the Nature of God that we in effect cannot know. Just as the comet does not have to loose its ability to inspire because we understand it, the story of Joshua does not have to loose its value if we choose to view it for its symbolism rather than its literalism. In fact, many times this makes much more sense by eliminating many of the contradictions such tales create. It would also help the individual to seek the Divine within one's self; rather than, looking to the skies for some external sign. In looking for the miracles of God, one often looses sight of the simplicity of God in their own heart.
And there is one more ratiocination against the literal interpretations of miracles and too much emphasis being put upon them. For God to stop the sun for one generation and to expect blind faith from others, would be grossly unfair. If God is justice; then to prove Her existence in such a manner for one generation; would require that He do it for all generations. If we are all children of God, created equal, then we should be treated equally especially in matters, which pertain to a belief that might help us attain eternal salvation. Anything less of God is grossly unfair.
One must also reflect about the logic in some of our theological reasoning for a second. If the sun stopped in the skies today without everything flying off the planet, it would make faith a lot easier to accept than reading about it happening thousands of years ago. One has to wonder, why the people who had such miracles thrusts upon them, had such a problem remaining faithful to God? Yet, this happens over and over in the sacred text. Most of us could be sure that we would have little problem with our faith if God made it rain bread from heaven, or, stopped the sun in the sky for our benefit. The truth is, miracles still happen, but we just do not see them as such - The bread rains from the soup kitchen - The sun stops every time one gives of one's self. - the seas part every time we open a door of opportunity for another, or have one opened for ourselves. These are all miracles existing in the biggest miracle of all - reality Itself!
Why make this Power of God such an issue, one might ask? After all, we have already stated that this power of God's would be so far beyond human comprehension it becomes easy to explain why we would see it as infinite, even though, we have no idea of what the infinite is.
The answer to this has to do with the psychological suggestions miracle doctrines leave upon the conscious mind.
These doctrines, when focused upon too much, lead to delusional thinking that removes responsibility, allowing for projection on the part of individuals. If God can stop the sun, He can clean up our nuclear waste. If God can flood the earth, She can also clean up all our pollution. If God can make it rain bread from heaven, He can feed the world's starving without any problem. This last one brings up another moral dilemma. If God fed Her chosen people in the dessert, How is it He lets children all over the world go undernourished today - many of which do in fact believe in Her?
The concept that all these acts of God are symbolic is a much more credible explanation than trying to rationalize their reality. It is also much more responsible because in the first place, God doesn't become an arbitrary tyrant. Secondly, by seeing the symbolism in these events, we can draw upon the inspiration in a manner that gives meaning to the reality of our everyday lives. God's power does not come into question, but the way we look at it does. By drawing upon the symbol, we can take advantage of the power of God that is manifested through us. The stories, seen in such a way, no longer tell us what God is going to do for us, but they help to guide us so that we may see the reality of what God has already done. When we face this reality of what has been given, we are in more of a psychological condition to give thanks by responsible actions for those gifts.
example, one of the most common and universal stories is the flood myth (the
word "myth" here is used to denote a sacred story rather than
implying untruth). We are all too familiar with Noah and the
On the other hand, there is a psychological implication to this story that is both beneficial and inspirational. In that scenario, the sin and decadence that leads to the flood is a symbol of selfishness and narcissism. The waters of the flood are the forces of the unconscious, or the spiritual connection to our Maker. In egotism and selfishness, we are doomed to drown ourselves and to destroy that with which we come in contact with. The familiar flood story tells us that Noah tried to warn the people, but they would not repent (change their hearts). They had it within themselves to change, but they refused. Thus, the rains of an unfulfilled spirit destroyed them. The moral of the story: Greed and selfishness are in the end self-destructive.
The Noah story also can be useful in today's world. The selfishness of the people ended up destroying the world. The Noah's of today could be seen as the scientist who continue to warn us if we do not change our selfish ways, the environment and life as we know it could be destroyed. This is not to say we need to go without, but, only that we act responsibly and unselfishly in the pursuit of our goals.
These wonders of scripture are often used to communicate an idea to us that is an abstract. To the people of Noah's time, psychology and the unconscious were not even pondered, yet alone, practiced. The myths taught them beautiful concepts in terms they could understand and relate to their daily lives. Living in the regions, which they did, and being farmers: the destructive powers of flood were easy to relate to. The mystery and power of water were recognized, as well as its paradox as both giver and taker of life. Such things do have there origin in the inspiration of God; but they would be no different than telling our children about the "boy who cried wolf" to point out the values of not making up stories. Admittedly, the complexities of these stories go far beyond this simple example.
The point is, theology and religion must stop making assertions about God based upon human assumptions, be they scripture, or otherwise. We cannot know God's Power, Her Will, or His State of Being, or any limitations upon Her Nature.
Theology needs to reverse the religious approach it takes. Instead of looking to what God has done, or is going to do, for us; we need to ask ourselves what we are doing for God? We need to search our sacred text to seek solutions to human problems, rather than, making declarations about the Divine.
Present theologies, for the most part, have a tendency to place everything in the lap of God. God's Grace becomes our salvation, and while this might be true, the way it is presented shifts personal responsibility for taking advantage of that Grace from the individual to a dependency on the generosity of God. It shifts the responsibility of actualizing that grace in our interactions with other, replacing it with belief in a redemption outside the self.
In a like way, the idea that God is going to create a New Heaven and a New Earth, even if true, lessens our appreciation of this world. And the focus on the Supernatural Powers of God causes us to take for granted the on going Power of God we experience every day.
The stopping of the sun in the heavens may be quite a one time feat, but it is nothing in comparison to the power and energy of the sun that is generated every day. Theology needs to make people aware that if you want to see God's real Power, just look up at the sun that keeps us all alive! The scientists can tell us how it works, but the theologian can help us answer the question of the miracle of why it works at all. The wonders of the "why" reality works are the true miracles we need to see. When we begin to recognize God's Power in these everyday realities, we will begin to appreciate them enough to start cherishing them. Such a focus cannot help but make this world a better place.
The Power of God can be seen every day in the workings of the creation. Theology needs to focus its attention upon this concept instead of seeking to define God's Power as a whole. The knowledge of what God is capable of is of no use if it blinds us to His power working around us everyday. If theology leads people to see the miracle to what is, they will have to look no farther to see the Power of God.
Please email us with your thoughts.