Tuesday, September 23, 2014

God may not be omnipotent

I've been inspired to examine my beliefs about the world and God, and I started on this process in part 1 of what may become an ongoing series. I find it frustrating to make assumptions, but as this Dinosaur comic illustrates, every one of us has to make assumptions about the veracity of our physical experiences and the reliability of our sensory input in order to try to make sense of the world and survive and stuff.

The other day I was singing "The Spirit of God," which at one point says "the knowledge and power of God are expanding." Wait. If they're expanding, that means they're not infinite! So we have an LDS hymn that basically states that God is not omniscient or even omnipotent. This makes God easier for me to understand, because otherwise, why would They put Their son through all that suffering if They could just change the rules with all Their omnipotence. God's desire to rear little souls makes more sense to me this way too, because then our experiences, when exalted, can expand the knowledge and power of God (maybe too much of a stretch?). God knows all the rules of the physical and metaphysical universe, but maybe They didn't make them, and at least can't break them. So the answer to my question of "why would God make such a ridiculous rule about the price for repenting of sin?" could be "God didn't make that rule."

There's a great speech by BYU's Dr. Paulson on the problem of evil that my sister recommended to me. In it, Paulson states:
[Joseph Smith's] revelations circumvent the theoretical problem of evil by denying the trouble-making postulate of absolute creation—and, consequently, the classical definition of divine omnipotence. Contrary to classical Christian thought, Joseph explicitly affirmed that there are entities and structures which are co-eternal with God himself. On my reading of Joseph’s discourse, these eternal entities include chaotic matter, intelligences (or what I will call primal persons), and lawlike structures or principles. According to Joseph Smith, God’s creative activity consists of bringing order out of disorder, of organizing a cosmos out of chaos—not in the production of something out of nothing.
Basically, he's saying that, according to Joseph Smith, God didn't create the world ex nihilo, but that he organized it out of existing matter (although there's still the question of where that matter came from). My husband Adam and I were talking about the limits of God's powers--there are all sorts of quotes about how God has power over all the earth and is outside of time--but there's room for interpretation in it. God knows our thoughts, God knows everything on Earth, God can make stars and planets, and "all things." But perhaps there's room for God to be "bound," not just by when we keep covenants, but in other situations like how Jesus had to suffer for all of our sins, and how God cannot look upon sin with the "least degree of allowance."


Andrea Landaker said...

Yeah, I've been thinking a lot about temptation and agency - on the one hand, we know we will not be tempted above that which we can bear, but on the other hand, obviously everyone gives into temptation at times. So doesn't that mean God shouldn't have allowed quite so much temptation? But after reading in the scriptures some more, I've learned that we will not be tempted above that which we can bear *with God's help*. And He respects our agency so much He will only help us if we ask. Agency is so important He allows people to do awful things that really hurt others, because the point of this life is not to have the least amount of suffering possible, but for each of us to make our own choices and learn and grow, and increase in faith, understanding, and charity. Sometimes suffering increases those things, as unpleasant as it is.

G.K. Hall said...


The closest I've come recently to thinking God lacks omnipotence is in the first chapter (I think) of CS Lewis's The Problem of Pain. Though he wasn't so much arguing, if I remember, that God truly lacks omnipotence so much as that it may appear so by nature of the fact that he lacks the ability to contradict himself. (I believe it arose within the discussion of the problem of pain in the context of free will, ie: how can we wish God to spare us from all pain if we have accepted that God granted us free will? )