Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent – we’ve all heard these three descriptors for God that claim that God is everywhere, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Jesus’ incarnation and the promise of the Holy Spirit certainly cements God’s claim to being everywhere. Jesus’ knowledge of all our sorrows backs up God’s omniscience. Perhaps it is the miraculous power of God that underscores God’s omnipotence. But I’ve got a problem and it’s been brewing for a long time.
It’s not just about the first two of these descriptors. I can believe God is everywhere. I can even accept that God knows everything because knowing everything and causing everything are two very distinct things. Omnipotence is where I get antsy in my faith. If God is all-powerful then why is there so much violence, heartache, and poverty in the world? How can an all-knowing and all-powerful God allow the creation to be so corrupt?
My mental conception of God, probably like everyone else, is shaped by my relationship with my own father. Daddy was wonderful in so many ways, always helping, yet always demanding excellence and voicing high expectations. His nightly “knock, knock, knock” on his and Mother’s bedroom wall will always be cherished. His three knocks, and my return signal of the same were our coded messages of love. “Knock, knock, knock” meant “I love you.” Sure, he could be distant, demanding, annoying and a real pain sometimes, but his essence was love and love overlooks a multitude of sins.
Daddy quit school in the eighth grade so my education was important to him. He wanted me to have a better life than he did. I can hear his voice in the summertime yelling “Make haste!” when I was running the stockyard alleys with a walking stick in hand cutting cows, and then the same voice sounded pretty much identical the rest of the year when he voiced his opinion about schoolwork: “Make A’s!” “Make Haste!” and “Make A’s” were phonetically synonymous. Without elaborating further one can see how my perception of God was shaped by my Dad: loving, encouraging, high expectations, and more – some good and some not so good.
It’s interesting that tear-jerker movies for me are usually about father-son relationships and reconciliation. No matter how many times I’ve seen “Field of Dreams” I get choked up. “Build it and he will come” and the theme of father-son reunion really get to me. Another is the movie “October Sky.” I highly recommend it. I see my Dad and me in the relationship between the coal mining father, John Hickam, played by Chris Cooper and the son, Homer Hickam, a teenager fascinating by Sputnik and rockets, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s a poignant true story about chasing one’s dreams, and loving people in spite of differences. The reconciliation scene at the end of the movie after the father has constantly shown disdain for his son’s interest in rockets is so powerful that I can’t help but cry. Please watch the scene below and/or see the whole movie.
Our parent image really shapes how we view God, and some of us, if not all of us, need either to forgive or be healed from some of those influences so we can embrace God anew. This is especially important to me as I ponder the attributes of God in the face of uncertainty. I saw a sign yesterday on a church of another denomination that declared an opposite theology from United Methodism. The sign said, “God Never Changes!” and appropriately the church was on Blarney Street right here in Columbia. Yep, that’s right, “Blarney,” as in “Baloney.”
God never changes? God changed God’s mind in the OT Book of Jonah when God was about to zap Nineveh. God changed God’s mind when Abraham was dickering over saving his nephew Lot and Sodom because of the number of righteous people there. My word, if God never changes why did Jesus pray for his life to be spared in the Garden of Gethsemane, or why do we pray for God’s will to be done in the Lord’s prayer if it’s a sure-fire given that it always will be? Why pray if it doesn’t have the possibility of changing anything? This presupposes that God can change, right?
Sure, I’m close to heresy here, but, thinking theologically, is God immutable and unchanging? God’s nature is unchanging to be sure, but doesn’t God out of love always change as God responds to our minute-by-minute choices and vagaries? God is always in love with us and that love has to respond in different and changing ways given the particular circumstances. So never confuse God with a distant puppet master that has a “plan” for your life. Do you think God made you marry that abusing spouse?
Gracious, even in the news this morning, Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson gave me the creeps in what he said. He got his 200th win last night and he hit a rare home run for a pitcher. This guy is a lowly .179 hitter! His response was, “The stars were aligned and it was meant to be.” Yeah, tell that to Boston marathoners who were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the bombs went off. Tell that to Marcus Lattimore, football player from South Carolina, who is a United Methodist and has had two horrible knee injuries. It was the difference between being a first round NFL draft pick and a fourth! I dare you to say, “It was meant to be,” to uber-Christian Tim Tebow after his release this week by the New York Jets. Don’t dare say it to me about my daughter who is 33 and has a brain tumor! Fatalistic Calvinism says, “Praise the Lord!” when things go our way, and “Blame the Lord!” when it doesn’t.
We can say “Praise the Lord!” in all circumstances (Philippians 4:4-9) and let go of our anxiety because we have a God who never fails, especially when life is crummy. God does what God does best and that is to be with us and help us get through things. God will always respond to us because God’s unchanging nature is love. That’s God’s immutability! It’s blarney to accept an “It’s meant to be” perception that God never changes. Don’t let your skewed daddy-image put a barrier between you and the God in Jesus who is ever responding to our situations. God enters our suffering and redeems it. Jesus is a redeemer, not a schemer planning our next calamity. Who is God to you? Who’s your Daddy?