What God Can, Can’t, and Won’t Do
This is a follow up essay to my immediately preceding post and all the caveats (rules, guidelines) included there (and in previous blog essays) hold for comments to this one. Please read that immediately preceding essay about Process Theology. This one builds on it.
It seems to me important to distinguish between three things about what God does and doesn’t do.
First, however, I want to make clear that I am a believer in the New Testament and the Old Testament in light of the New. I do not see anyway to dismiss miracles and remain a believer in the New Testament. The miracle of the raising of Jesus Christ from death to a new eschatological form of bodily life is central to the New Testament gospel. Anyone who does not believe in it (viz., the empty tomb as a result of a miracle that only God can do) is not a Christian “in my book.”
Second, I acknowledge that some miracle accounts in the Bible are open to debate as to what really happened. Did an axe head really float? Did the earth really stop turning? I am not willing to defend those recorded events, nor am I willing to dismiss them as myths or legends.
So, laying my cards on the table, so to speak, I am here (as always) assuming a biblical worldview in which nature is not all there is and which includes an almighty God who acts in and upon the natural world, history, and human lives.
Back to my announced topic here.
I find it helpful, even necessary, to distinguished between things God does not do in the following way: God could but doesn’t, God can’t, and God won’t.
First, what God could do but doesn’t. God could powerfully and effectively coerce people to repent and trust him but doesn’t. Why not? Because God wants people to freely love and trust him, enter into saving and fulfilling communion with him.
Second, what God can’t. God cannot do anything that is contrary to his own character. God can’t lie. God can’t sin. God can’t fall into conflict with himself (e.g., disagreement between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Third, what God won’t do. God won’t permit evil and innocent suffering to continue in the world forever. This one, and perhaps other statement about what God won’t do, seems not quite to fit in the other two categories.
It seems clear to me that God is never arbitrary; when God doesn’t act there is always a reason—often “known only to him.” He doesn’t owe us an explanation. But inquiring minds often do want to know so we speculate—a dangerous business but one that’s difficult to resist.The promise of eschatological relief from evil and innocent suffering is central to the biblical message; I see no way to expunge the certainty of its fulfillment without amputating a major “limb” of biblical Christianity.
Someone has described Process Theology this way: A traditional paraphrase of a biblical proverb is that “Man proposes but God disposes.” For PT “God proposes but man disposes.”
No matter how powerful process theologians describe God’s “lure,” God’s persuasive power, as being, it never rises to the level of power to intervene and defeat evil and innocent suffering. Also, so it seems to me, any denial of God’s coercive, interventionist power exercised cannot provide a foundation for the certainty of future victory over evil and innocent suffering.
I believe the same about the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, including the empty tomb, the guarantee of eschatological victory over evil and innocent suffering. A God who cannot exercise coercive power over matter, nature, for example, cannot bring a truly dead body back to life. And to talk of persuading the elements of Jesus’s dead body to cooperate seems fanciful to me. Even if that was the mode of God’s action in raising Jesus from the dead, that could not have been certainly prophecied beforehand.
In brief, I am not willing to abandon an all powerful, almighty, omnipotent God in favor of one who, because he is love, “can’t”—except when it comes to God’s character. God can’t act in any way contrary to love and justice, but coercion is not necessarily or under all circumstances contrary to love and justice (as any parent knows).
Note: If you choose to respond, as always, be calm and civil, using respectful language that is consistent with true dialogue. I speak (write) here for no one but myself. Keep your responses brief. Do not post ONLY scripture passages or cliches. Do not post a sermon. Know that I moderate this blog and will keep responses here to those that are helpful in some way. Flames, arguments, angry responses are not welcome. Do not post more than one response (comment) daily. Disagreement is welcome so long as it is civil, respectful and explained with reasons. Those whose worldview is incommensurate with mine (Christian theism) may ask questions for clarification but may not misuse my blog to promote an entirely alternative worldview. Any comment that misrepresents what I wrote will automatically be deleted.