Rethinking the nature and shape of God’s power

A recent book by Thomas Jay Oord that presents God’s love as non-controlling has me thinking about how we might imagine this idea at its fullest extension. Tom’s rigorous way of following this line of thinking to a surprising conclusion left me wondering if we need to exercise our imaginations considerably more than usual to consider how much divine love can actually accomplish.

As a biologist (animal physiology/behaviour), I also thought there may be metaphors from science that would help in our imaginings. This exercise also fits into a long-time personal predilection to muse upon the relationship between love and power, especially for our thinking about God and Christian living.

With that introduction, here are my latest musings on these matters. I hope they will be helpful to some, and I invite discussion and constructive criticism.

Is it power or love?

It's not God's power that we need to focus on, it's our misuses of the power we are given. Just like God's power, our power needs to come under the supervision of love. We are not good at doing this. We are so bad at it, in fact, that we expect even God to put his power above his love.

Just like God's power, our power needs to come under the supervision of love. Click To Tweet

We are quick to insist that power is the centre of being for an all powerful God. But could what we see as the effects of God’s power not be, in reality, the effects of God’s perfect love? Perhaps our attempts to describe the source of what God accomplishes should seek to portray what can happen, has happened and ultimately will fully happen as the violence and the power of evil come up against perfect love?

The warrant for this view comes from the victory of perfect innocence and love at Calvary and on Easter. The resurrection does not celebrate the victory of violent power, but its defeat.

By celebrating the resurrection, through Spirit-given faith, we proclaim evidence of the victory of perfect love. Just like a great rocky costal promontory stands unconquered against the most violent storm, God's perfect love stands unconquered against any violence evil can hurl against it. God stands against evil and evil destroys itself against God’s love.

In Job we read:

Who closed the sea behind doors

When it gushed forth out of the womb,

When I clothed it in clouds, Swaddled it in dense clouds,

When I made my breakers my limit for it,

And set up its bars and doors,

And said, ‘You may come so far and no further’;

Here your surging waves will stop.

From the Tenakh JPS 1985

Or as St. John says about the reality of creation “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We can speak of all this in terms of might against might, which is almost universally done in world religions, even Christianity, but, in light of the Cross, we should instead accept the clear revelation that violence is wholly on the side of evil.

Complete impenetrability to the forces of violence and evil is what a holy God offers, and this is also our eschatological hope. Our best evidence of the indestructibility of God's perfect love is the resurrection.

A better way to imagine love’s power?

If God is love, if love is the essence of God, if God’s will can ultimately prevail, if we can utterly depend on this being true, then God-like love must have great efficacy.

We should avoid using the word ‘power’ and insist on using the word ‘efficacy’ for two reasons.

First, the word power brings to mind coercion and it does not require relationship to achieve its ends. By contrast, efficacy is a word used very effectively in pharmacology (for example) to express how certain chemicals (for example drugs and the natural products they mimic) can combine very precisely with their targets to effect molecular change.

The relationship between the molecules is so precise that it must be measured in Angstroms, which is the range we use for measuring atoms. Efficacy, in this usage, expresses great ability to accomplish something at the chemical level, and this occurs because of the precise relationship between two molecules.

Secondly, Love is relational too. Those who believe in it accept that it can accomplish a great deal. Divine love, by definition, can accomplish all that love can possibly accomplish. Perhaps it’s time we started thinking of love’s efficacy when we imagine what divine love can accomplish.

It’s the depth of the relationship between the loved and the lover that is a big part of the efficacy achieved. Then, when we think that in such a relationship each partner is both lover and loved, an efficacy that is a great as can be emerges. Part of this love comes from the divine, and the other part from the divine inspiration of the creature.

So, in the end, it is the efficacy of God’s love, in relation to the loved, and its reciprocation that will win.

And when you think about it, this is the example we are given in Christ. While Christ cannot be numbered among the created, he is fully human. The reciprocal love between Father and Son is so efficacious that at the resurrection it began a whole new being, the glorified human being.

Raw, coercive power was not involved and could not have achieved the same quality of outcome. The efficacy of reciprocated divine love was completely sufficient, and the quality was such that it had nothing of coercion in it.

The hope we can have in the ultimate victory of good over evil will grow from a better imagining of the efficacy of divine love.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Dr. Bev Mitchell is a retired experimental biologist, university teacher and administrator. He is an informal student of theology and is especially interested in participating in discussions that might help Christians who want to find more harmony between their faith and the complex world of biology. He is a regular commenter and occasional contributor on several Christian blogs.