I have put before you life and death. Choose life. Deu 30:15
Thomas Aquinas described God as all-powerful. He derives this from the infinity of God. How he does that would be beyond the scope here.
Many will point out that we find the expression God Almighty throughout the Old Testament. This is how El Shaddai is usually translated. This was done in order to make the Bible a little more safe for children, but also more patriarchal. Shadayim are the breasts, and the first verses in which God calls himself El Shaddai are all about fertility and reproduction. Did we want to hide the female side of God?
However, the translation of the name as an almighty God happened in the Septuaginta using the Greek word pantokrator. It means, in reference to the concept of El Shaddai of fruitfulness and provision, all-keeping and all-creator in the sense of: God creates and preserves everything that exists.
The Latin word omnipotens created a great shift: originally understood as the one who gives everything strength, Thomas Aquinas changes it to mean the one who can do everything.
Approx. 300 years after Thomas Aquinas, the German Allmächtig was introduced, referring to the theological principle of God’s omnipotence stated by Thomas Aquinas.
God changed from creator and guardian of all existence to facilitator of everything possible.
But what did the people believe before Thomas of Aquinas? A completely different teaching is found in Jewish sources in particular: God has persuasive power.
What does that mean: persuasion?
First of all: God is infinite. But that also means that all possible developments lie in God. If God were now limiting himself and rule out some possibilities, he would no longer be infinite.
If I prevent someone from being run over by a street car, I coerce this person into something by pulling him back with strength (for which he is probably even grateful). But despite the desirable result, I restricted the possibilities for this person.
This is not a problem for us, because we are not infinite. Each of our actions excludes some alternatives that were present and possible before this action.
If Thomas Aquinas regards God as pure action, then God in acting does exactly that: he excludes many alternative possibilities. God as a doer is therefore limiting, not infinite.
But if we are the actors?
Let’s suppose that the world does not consist of things, but of processes that make things happen and pass away. Then the smallest unit of change could be called an event.
An event is based on and acting upon an initial state, creating a new state, which in turn becomes the initial state for new events.
Events can be many things, from the subatomic field to the conceptual like a human decisions.
If we are the actors, what is God?
God is the treasure, the accumulation, the memory of all previous states. But God is even more: he knows all alternative events at all times and evaluates them on the basis of their desirability. God is therefore a mathematical space with a collection of functions and a mathematical order function on it, which assigns a value to every possible event (function). Like any description of God, this is of course very simplified and does not do justice to God, but serves here as an illustration.
If God now forces the best event, he restricts himself, as we have seen. So God will not force anything, but will place in us the desire to choose the best variant by trying to convince us. We can see that in the verse above. I call this a gentle lure.
He will even expand the number of possibilities by showing us alternatives, and his still small voice will try to guide us to choose the best variant.
But as actors, we have the freedom to choose freely from the alternatives. And so an initial state does not always result in the best new state. This “wrong” choice of a partially undesirable event is called missing the target, or theologically, sin.
By the way, in the beginning was pure potential. One possibility became realized, and from then on began the interplay between God as the source of all possibilities based on the actual state and God’s desire for the next event on the one hand, and creation as the realizer of one of these possibilities and the freedom not to realize God’s desired idea on the other.
So God does not coerce because it contradicts his divine nature. He’s trying to persuade.
The theodicy, or the question why God allows all the suffering in the world, can be answered satisfactorily from this framework.
God accepts our choice of how we act. He can’t coerce us to do anything, and never will. He would counteract his own nature.
The theodicy is a consequence of the omnipotence doctrine of Thomas Aquinas. Only when God is all-powerful can he be blamed for all the suffering.
All our answers to this problem fall short: if God is all-powerful, but we are responsible for the suffering, because we can determine our own actions, then God is responsible for the plan and realization of this model in which we make these decisions.
This model (at least in the common interpretation of the bible) produces a waste of people who experience suffering and go through hell, even end up there forever. Their number may be much larger than that of the people who make it (the small remnant).
If this is the best possible model, then there is a force that is stronger than God, namely the force that makes this model inevitable. Thus, God cannot be omnipotent.
But if God freely chooses this model, although there had been better alternatives, then he is not love, because he by his decision would send billions of people to the ultimate suffering, hell.
But if he is the source of all potential and shows us which potential action is the best possible, he is not all-powerful from the start and the responsibility for suffering lies with creation via the choice of the realized possibilities.
Now you could say that he could present us with possibilities with positive result only. But then he would lose his infinity. He doesn’t have that power, and therefore he’s not all-powerful.
The inclined reader will have noticed that this model also grants decision-making power to mere matter. The collision of two atoms is the realization of one of many possible events.
One could well call this decision-making power consciousness, but not in the sense of human consciousness. We further develop this awareness in our lives into a partially conscious decision-making process guided by planning, insight, foresight, knowledge of the past and principles.
This admittedly fragmentary knowledge of the past and understanding of principles is a divine spark within us. To a limited extent, we are a partially conscious memory of history and know some of the possible events, yes we even have certain functions to evaluate these events.
How do we develop these skills?
The “decisions” of lifeless matter are described by physics and chemistry.
Biology is added when talking plants and animals, describing drives, instincts, and environmental influences.
Humans are just like animals in the first period after birth. But something more will happen here soon. Self-awareness develops. Psychology.
Most people learn to live in the family and then develop a more or less healthy ego, with decision-making power and satisfaction of one’s needs.
That are actually the two animal forces, drives, and instincts on the one hand, and environmental influences including peer pressure on the other. We call the latter imprint or socio-cultural influences.
Another necessary step in our development is to improve our own decision-making function. Will we listen to God’s proposal and realize the best alternative for this situation? Or do we continue to listen to our ego, our drives and instincts?
This step is about morality and ethics. For us as limited beings, it is ethically better to coerce somebody not to get run over by a street car, even if we rob this person of the possibility of free choice and restrict them and ourselves.
Morality is formed by the cooperation of God’s gentle lure, our collective experience from similar situations in the past, and our ego. Obedience to the rules system results from an accompanying system of penalties and the threat of exclusion from the community.
In all this, however, our ability to think rationally, assess consequences, think abstractly is slowly developing. In addition to the two factors ego (drive and instinct) and community (socio-cultural group pressure), there is a third factor, the independent conscience based on a self-constructed hierarchy of values.
Few people manage this development of the third factor. Nevertheless, humanity is evolving because these few people have a socio-cultural influence first on a few, but then by multiplication on more and more people. This takes generations.
Over the millennia, people thus develop the faculties that are necessary to consciously and independently improve the function that selects the next action from all possible events.
In this way, they become counterparts, a complement to God, in order to create the best reality from the infinite potentiality, starting from the present state.
The past is an important part of our decision-making process, our choice of next action.
What has worked before, what we have always done has a strong attraction for us humans.
But God chooses the most desirable next action from all possibilities. And this gives rise to the opportunity for new things.
God is therefore a driver of development, of the new, and a guardian of tradition. However, unlike us, he decides not on the basis of prejudice and bias, but on the basis of all possibilities.
Is God powerless, or has he said goodbye? Neither.
On the contrary: God makes every event possible and creates by expressing the desired aim and lure. So without him, things would not happen in the first place.
He also remembers and preserves everything that was and is.
In this respect, God is the pantocrator, the keeper and creator of all existence.
In addition, God is outside of time and survives every actor within time. That means he finally will get his will.
Take gravity: Snowflakes may dance in the wind, but all of them fall to the ground at some point. There they may be picked up by a child and used for a snowball. But even snowballs only withstand gravity for a certain time.
Just as gravity struggles with counterforces, but wins again and again, so it is with God.
[God] is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness.Alfred North Whitehead