Rethinking the Power of God

When we view God’s power as self emptying, non-coercive, co-suffering love, as Jesus displayed on the cross, instead of a God that can do anything without consent, even if it involves killing people just to get what God wants, I think our view of God will allow us to not be so complacent to suffering, oppression, and othering of those who don’t “belong” one way or another in society.

But what about the stories of God displaying “power” in the Hebrew Bible? Like the flood destroying the entire earth’s population, the sending of the plagues killing men women and children, and the red sea destroying an entire army?

It’s funny and sad how complacent we are with the death of millions when we read these text in modernity as literal historical events and not in the literary genre they were written in, as historical memory(the ancients used story filled with myth, poem, political polemic etc to explain their origin). Much of scripture has meaning that transcends how we view history as we know today. It’s more true than historical truth.

Today, we use the Bible to justify war because God is on “our side”. Just like when we read the story of the Red Sea, the Egyptians deserved to die because they were wicked, right? We often don’t think about their children, who were fatherless the rest of their lives. Or the greaving widows. What about their suffering? Who cares, right? We don’t even think about how we would feel if that happened now. Would we celebrate the death of thousands? Millions? Would we attribute this to God?

What if sometimes the power of God shown in the Bible was a product of their time and thought. As a Christian and as a person who believes in modern science, archeology, and historical scholarship I view these depictions of God as true in that they display a God who rescues the oppressed, is on the side of the outcast and is merciful to the oppressor. And I look critically at modern scholarship and what we know about the literary genre of the text. As Rob Bell says “read the Bible literately not literally”

To me, the fact that God destroyed life in the sacred text says more about human thought on God than it does about God’s power that I believe was fully displayed on the cross. The power of God is forgiveness of the oppressor and solidarity with the outcast. The power of God is resurrection after death and peace, not violence.

We can read the stories of God’s violence as strictly allegory as the early church fathers did, like Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the great etc. Or with modern scholarship we can also read it as inspired literature that shows a God different than all other gods. A God that is for those that don’t have a home and through cooperation, supplies a dwelling place. A God that is for the weak, the captives, and the oppressed. Power in this view is extremely subversive because God is FOR the powerless.

The power of God in this view isn’t about physical force or political stance but about love. A love that transcends even modern thoughts on the divine. A love that is self emptying, non-coercive, and co-suffering. In this way “Father forgive them…” isn’t a plea but a power play that defines the true power of God.

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