Tony Campolo suggests that the Old Testament never asserts the omnipotence of God. Thus, he advises that we should not suggest that God could have prevented Hurricane Katrina from devastating the Gulf coast. Raising the question, “Why didn’t God do something?,” Campolo responds:
Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God’s great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see “all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28)
I don’t doubt that God can bring good out of tragedies, but the Bible is clear that God is not the author of evil! (James 1:15) Statements like that dishonor God, and are responsible for driving more people away from Christianity than all the arguments that atheistic philosophers could ever muster. When the floods swept into the Gulf Coast, God was the first one who wept.
Campolo is clearly on solid ground when he reminds that God is not the author of evil. The Bible is consistent in asserting that fundamental fact. He is also right to warn of those would would dare to speak on God’s behalf to explain why this disaster happened to the people of the Gulf coast. We have no right to speak on God’s behalf in this regard.
But here is where Campolo’s argument goes off its wheels: Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined.
Well, Rabbi Harold Kushner did indeed deny the omnipotence of God. Indeed, he suggested that we should simply understand that God is doing the best He can do under the circumstances.
This is just not the God of the Bible. Kushner’s argument is one thing — rooted in the Jewish redefinition of God’s nature after the Holocaust. Campolo’s revisionst theology is something different, and more dangerous.
In the first place, we are not limited to the Old Testament. That is fine for Rabbi Kushner, but not for a Christian theologian. The New Testament expands upon the concept of God’s omnipotence found in the Old Testament. Secondly, the Old Testament does affirm God’s omnipotence. Our traditional term is rooted in the Greek language, but the idea is deeply biblical. Rabbi Kushner may believe in a limited God who does the best that He can, but compare this concept with Elihu’s testimony in the Book of Job. Elihu, whose admonition of Job is presented as true instruction, insists that God is actually driving the storms for His own purposes:
He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.
“Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know how God lays his command upon them and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine? Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge, you whose garments are hot when the earth is still because of the south wind? [Job 37: 11-17, English Standard Version]
The Bible simply does not leave room for the suggestion that God is doing His best under the circumstances. Nowhere is an event — tragic or otherwise — explained as due to God’s inability to prevent what happened. Biblical Christianity does not find refuge in redefining God’s power or in flippant interpretations of God’s will. Instead, it points us to the fallenness of the created order and the created order’s need for redemption. The Bible claims that God is both omniopotent and all-loving. The fact that these twin truths sometimes lead us into intellectual difficulty is no excuse for surrendering the Bible’s assertion of unlimited divine power and authority. The problem lies with our limited understanding — not with any limit on God’s power.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord,or who has been his counselor?” [Romans 11:33-34, English Standard Version]