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Is God Almighty?

The question of whether God is truly Almighty has been proposed as being relevant to why suffering occurs. If God is not omnipotent, it could suggest that he does not or cannot intervene in every situation. Whereas if he is Almighty, and if this implies omnipotence, and he is also all-loving and presumably therefore doesn’t like to see people suffering, surely he could just zap the devil and put an end to all evil and suffering. (If he exists of course). Paul H suggests the bible does not portray God as Almighty, if our Greek thinking derived from Augustine is discounted (i.e. the assumption that God is only God if he is Almighty). He says that Revelation portrays a final struggle between good and evil in which the saints (i.e. all Christians) are involved through prayer and witness (and possibly actually fighting if you are a Crusader or a present-day American Christian), and they suffer for their faith.

Almighty is of course an English word used in translation of the Greek. I think I still have my copy of Vine’s New Testament Words, but God knows where it is (or maybe he doesn’t!). Revelation 1v8 and Genesis 17v1 are just two verses of many in which most modern versions translate the relevant word as Almighty. (Though regarding Genesis 17v1, Scofield says that it is to be regretted that El Shaddai is translated Almighty when the primary term El or Elohim signifies Almighty).

For a start, if we were to accept that God created the universe, either through initiating the Big Bang and then by guiding natural selection, or by ex nihilo creation as fundamentalists believe, then he must be as near to being Almighty as makes no difference. If he is that powerful but cannot control evil, then either he does not care about human suffering, or the Devil is very nearly as powerful (“Dualism”): neither of those options are acceptable to most Christians. In fact however, many Christians do subscribe to a Spiritual Warfare theory in which the Devil opposes God and the saints, and the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come into being, but they would deny that this makes them Dualists, and would be dubious about the implication that God is not powerful enough to avoid two thousand years of suffering since the Cross if he wanted to. Dualism, or even Spiritual Warfare as understood by many evangelicals, could be a good explanation for the way the world is, but they imply that God is unable or unwilling to take control of the situation. Or, if he is in control, then he witnesses untold human suffering, and either does nothing because “the time has not yet come”, or at best alleviates some suffering but allows some to continue, according to his Mysterious Ways. The Eden story in Genesis does suggest a Dualism where God does not have it all his own way, and the first chapter of Job suggests a universe where God negotiates with Satan: but these chapters are followed by portrayals of God as Almighty (a contradiction?).

But if we therefore accept that God is not Almighty, what are the implications? Revelation tells us that God will win the struggle between Good and Evil, but will he? It hasn’t happened yet. If Revelation is true, then I certainly hope he wins. But is it all propaganda? If he is not Almighty, then to assume a win at this stage is about as sensible as a football crowd assuming their team will definitely win, and getting very excited about it, just because they score in the first two minutes. And a very large part of Revelation is about all the heavenly beings worshipping Him for all eternity. Why should we worship a God who is not Almighty? Perhaps Revelation merely reflects the human culture of the time: people would worship an Emperor or a successful General, just as today some people worship Kim Jong-Un or Donald Trump. If God is not Almighty, then we are saying that the world is controlled by (in a greatly simplified list), Joe Biden, Xi JinPing, Vladimir Putin, Jeff Bezos, various hedge fund managers and commodity brokers – and God. Such a God may be many orders of magnitude more powerful than these people, but it would only be a question of degree, rather than being conceptually different.

If the reason that the violence on Earth continues is because of a struggle between two sets of celestial beings who exist in another dimension but somehow impact human life, then it seems like something out of the Marvel Universe, or the Greek or Norse cosmology. That seems even more difficult to believe, than to believe in a being with Absolute Power who cannot be defeated or contradicted. The first option cannot control the universe and stop suffering and evil, and the second chooses not to. So to downgrade God from Almighty causes just as many problems and illogicalities as an unswerving belief in an Almighty God, at least if we try to tie either of these concepts into the biblical narrative. If we feel that a Supreme Being is necessary to explain the existence of life, then the biblical narrative must be very far from explaining the Truth.


Adrian Roberts. 19 July 2021. 


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Paul wonders “is it a problem?” We don’t need to overthink this. Suffering is a problem because it is unpleasant and distressing. Humans don’t necessarily need a religion to realize that if they don’t like suffering they shouldn’t make others suffer. It takes empathy, which could be explained either by a God-given conscience or by evolutionary advantage, and of course some people have more ability to empathize than others.

There is no over-arching, logical reason why a God should care about human suffering. Maybe he doesn’t. That is a possibly a bleaker thought than that God doesn’t exist. But suffering poses a particular problem for Christianity, especially 21st Century Evangelicalism, because it has to be tied into the concept of a Loving and Almighty God who is involved with humans. To be fair, in the Old Testament, Job and some of the Psalms and other Wisdom books try to address this subject. But in the real world, suffering does happen, including to Christians, and historically Christians have tried to deal with it using Stoic principles: sh*t happens, it always will, deal with it. Or at best, God and your fellow Christians will try to support you. Perhaps it is increasingly a problem for 21st Century Christians who have bought into the world view that we all have a right to a happy life and something is wrong with the universe if we have to suffer; but of course we can always find someone to sue.

So if there is a caring and loving and almighty God, the theology of suffering usually develops along the lines of “God has a plan for us; God is perfecting us through suffering”. In that scenario, I can see a reason why a mature Christian might suffer. My father, who was a congregation leader in Ichthus Christian Fellowship, died of bowel cancer aged 70. That was in 2004, about a year before our friend died in a car crash leaving two young children (that I mentioned in the Zoom discussion on June 10th), and however sad my father’s death was, it caused me less doubt and less cognitive dissonance about my faith than our friend dying. Dad still had a lot to give to the church and the community – he was involved in several social action initiatives – but his children were grown up and he had a pretty good life (once he left the Exclusive Brethren). So I rationalized it by telling myself that however painful the illness he would work it out theologically.

But take that a step further, and consider a younger Christian leader, full of faith and On Fire for Jesus, and be brutally direct and assume that his young child dies. Assume for the moment that it is a cot death; the child does not suffer, and has no concept of death. So maybe it is ok for God to take the child away to make the parents better Christians. (To be clear, I don’t believe that, but some Christian theology leans that way). Anyway, the parents certainly suffer. But they have spent years singing “You are the Potter, we are the Clay”; “Break me, Melt me, Mould me, Fill me”, “God is Good – All the Time”; “Great is thy Faithfulness”, and now this faith is put to the test. Emotionally they will need all the support they can get, and having scripture or logic quoted at them will not be helpful. But when they are ready to tie it in with their faith, they will probably attempt to do so along the lines of “God Has a Plan”; “God is perfecting us through suffering”; “Though He Slay me I shall Love Him”; or if all else fails “God Works in Mysterious Ways”. In less extreme circumstances, I tried all that myself at times.

But what if the child does suffer terribly? Maybe he or she has leukaemia or bone cancer. Can we really conceive of a God who has some Grand Plan which allows him to witness such an event from heaven as in a theatre, and let that child suffer in order to increase the parents’ faith? Even if he doesn’t orchestrate the whole thing, but merely lets bad things happen, why does he let the child suffer when he could stop it? That is where my head starts to explode. Maybe it isn’t God’s job to stop suffering, but where does that leave faith in a God of love, and what is the point of praying? If the answer is that there is a spiritual battle going on with the forces of darkness, how can God be almighty if he lets Satan get one over on him? Maybe the dualism of the first chapter of Job is true, but in that case most of Evangelicalism certainly isn’t. Some of the most sincere and thoughtful Christians (and Jews) that I know of may say that “God is with us in our suffering” or “God suffers with us” – as in “Where was God during the Holocaust? He was suffering with the victims”.. A great thought, and a radical one compared with traditional answers, but what does it mean exactly? How does it help? This is the thinking of the Christians to whom I turned to try to keep hold of my faith: Philip Yancey, N T Wright, Steve Chalke, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy etc., all of whom I respect but they are considered heretics by Conservative Evangelicals. These thinkers may also say that the meaning of the Cross is not Penal Substitutionary Atonement, as the Church has traditionally taught, but that God identified with suffering humanity, and continues to suffer with us. He gives up his Omnipotency, not his Love. That was very much my thinking when I was struggling with my faith, but in the end I am not convinced that it is enough: the logic is weak; it feels like clutching at straws. The possibility that there is no God and there is no meaning to suffering may be only one explanation, but I am not going to discount it purely because is too bleak a prospect.


Adrian Roberts. 21st June 2021. 


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A few thoughts about suffering

Is the existence of suffering straightforwardly explained by the evolution of our human life? Is the 'problem of suffering' only an intellectual problem once you seek to accommodate the idea of a loving and involved God? For me that the natural world clearly operates on an amoral basis - animals destroy and eat one another without compunction - and it is only the evolution of social cohesiveness in the higher animals, including us, that has given us empathy with which the idea of suffering (which is clearly a real thing) becomes associated with the idea of 'evil'.
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