Deliberations and Resources on Radical Christianity

The Powerless God

“God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

trinityThe notion of an all-powerful, all-encompassing, omniscient and transcendental God is so ingrained within Christian consciousness, and even in Western consciousness at large, that it can seem not only heretical but also somewhat odd to dare question it. While these terms might not be derived from the Bible in a verbatim sense, it certainly seems clear throughout scripture that God is infinitely above all things; whether this derives from Him having authority as the creator, or where it is spoken that His “throne is established from of old,” and is “everlasting.” (Psalm 93:2) Even in the plethora of instances that God is referred to as “Lord” indicates that, from the very beginning, His complete sovereignty and supremacy is taken as a foregone conclusion.

It seems more than a little strange, then, that a quote like that from Bonhoeffer above, might make any sense in a Christian context. Surely a powerless God makes no sense, for isn’t even the term itself an oxymoron? And what use is a “powerless” God in the first place?

This is, however, precisely the kind of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and is the true God whose power matters in the first place. The lofty imagery that had been used to describe the creator up to this point – Lord, King, Throne, Everlasting, Mighty – seemed to have been completely inverted on its head in the coming of Jesus. How little wonder that many of Jesus’ disciples doubted Him or else ended up confused by His teachings. Why does the Christ, whose title itself is a huge term on the cosmic scale, come as the humble son of a carpenter and a handmaiden? Why does God’s anointed warrior king teach us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek? Why does this prince ride a donkey instead of a war horse? Moreover, even after all of this, how in the world does the everlasting God who sits enthroned above all eternity become the form of a finite human being existing in the confines of space, time, and material as any one of us has to?

If this weren’t ridiculous enough in the first place, look who this “God” chooses to associate Himself with – prostitutes, lepers, peasants, fishermen, shepherds, tax collectors, the infirm, and the destitute. In a tradition where it was believed that wealth and prosperity was a sign of God’s favour, the God represented by Jesus chooses to align Himself firmly with the poor, even to the point of becoming one of them. And after a ministry demonstrating this, this Messiah ends up detained, beaten, bloodied, whipped, and crucified under the auspices of Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome). All but one of His disciples fled, and on objective terms, they can hardly be blamed. This “God” is an insult, a fraud, and a failure. The hope and light not only for Israel, but also for the whole world, ends up tortured and executed as a mere mortal.

As most of us know, of course, the narrative doesn’t end there, and indeed what would otherwise have been a tremendous defeat is turned into ultimate victory: after Christ’s death, He is resurrected, and through becoming so heralds the Kingdom of God and brings redemption for all of creation itself.

However, what is easy to miss is that God’s glory necessarily comes through His humiliation upon the cross, just as His victory is shown through defeat. Jesus’ life, right up to the point of death, subverted our traditional understandings of God at every level. He could have commanded the legions of Heaven to rescue Him from the profound and agonising death He suffered, easily avenging His enemies and liberating humanity from suffering by taking up arms. However, Jesus Himself says that violence is not a mark of His Kingdom (John 18:36), and so chooses to become bound to suffering and death. This is because, above all else, the God Jesus reveals to us is a God of unfathomable love (Matthew 5:43-48). Since Jesus acts out of this supreme love from beginning to end, the means by which He will bring salvation to humanity must likewise be loving: not through any form of destruction except that which He voluntarily undertakes of Himself. God’s love is so completely other, so all-encompassing, that He must necessarily make Himself powerless, and become overpowered by those who make themselves His enemies.

To date, the concept of God as “Almighty” has provoked images of a divine tyrant, one who descends on humanity with unquenchable wrath, and who demands blood from those who refuse to worship Him. This fallacy has led to some of the most abhorrent atrocities of the “church,” and even today such thinking leads us into the danger of believing in God as the great justifier of nationalism, imperialism, and warfare. The image of God as being all-powerful must be reclaimed, for His power was made perfect through weakness, not through strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).

One doesn’t have to believe that God is powerless in the sense that He is impotent and incapable of doing anything; but through the person of Christ, we are shown a God whose love compels Him to come into solidarity with us, His creation, and to bear with us in all of our constraints so that we might be liberated even as He has been. The suffering God is the powerless God, and as Bonhoeffer points out, this is the only way He can truly help us. Those who are suffering, destitute, and in pain within this world have little to hope for if their hope lies in a God who takes the same face as their oppressors. Blessed are they, however, for God has chosen to take their face instead. (Matthew 25:31-46)

This is not to say that God in Christ is not our supreme Lord. His Lordship, however, is shown through His example. The warrior king is also the suffering servant; the Alpha-Omega is also the slaughtered lamb; the enthroned Almighty comes to us as the homeless man executed as a failed insurrectionist, and His true power over all things is revealed in the powerlessness He undertakes for the sake of all things.

“Long live the Slaughtered Lamb.”

9 responses

  1. Interesting posts you have, though I think Christianity is dead and will be redeemed and brought to fruition and perfection through Thelema. Check out my blog at http://christianityisdead.wordpress.com/ if you will. Love is the law, love under will.😉

    January 2, 2010 at 8:32 pm

  2. gail

    to become powerless when your the God who created the universe certainly does speak of an unfathomable love, that’s for sure. i doubt any human being would willingly become so powerless and be tortured and humiliated when they did nothing wrong. yes, supreme love for mankind was certainly displayed in his humble submission to God, and also the authorities at the time. what a God we love and serve! good writing, adam. i’ve never thought of it this way before.

    January 3, 2010 at 3:00 am

  3. Am reading “The Myth of a Christian Nation” at the moment, and this fits in perfectly. Thanks very much!

    January 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm

  4. jean

    i thought so too, with all the confusions, atrocities and random disorganization of countries in most part of what we call earth, the disease, hunger, obesity, loneliness, too much reveling, divorce, extra marital affairs, stubborn children, incompetent parents, single mothers, abusive husbands, it seems like God just cannot do something about it. There is no balance in how the world and its people move around. My uncle described him as a weak God. i hate him for that because in those days that his faith turned to different direction (a believer in communism) i was escalated to Christianity. but the older i become, the more i see his point, and the more i feel hopeless to wait on
    god’s promises. Most of the time I am lonely and living a life without a secured future to look forward to. in a relationship with a married man who i hate but who i love dearly too. maybe because i am just too scared to live alone, and that i believe strongly that I cannot live without a love partner even if this partner only gives me his “extra” time. I just get tired of setting up goals and doing the “law of God” by faith no matter what. It is lonely to obey those laws. When all people are doing the way of the world, how could i stand behind, when i am still in this fallen world. I am in this world and it is an imperfect one. so how could God possibly expect me to live it perfectly. His requirements are not met with helpful provisions. Many years I have prayed, cried out to him for a good man, a partner to share my life with, but he never answered me. It seems to me that he wanted that I am in a difficult situation and in a discontented relationship which he calls sin but can’t do any solution about f it. I am disgusted and might be losing all faiths. Whatcha think??

    July 4, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    • Anonymous

      There is no god… but your imagination, wake up apes!

      May 15, 2013 at 4:27 am

  5. Anonymous

    Perhaps the opposite of power is love….

    July 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm

  6. I have been exploring this idea myself stimulated by John 13. Jesus knowing who he was got up from table, took off his outer garments, tied a towel around his waist and began to wash the disciples feet. If this is a parable for the whole of the ministry of Jesus then I think what it tells us is that divinity when viewed as humanity looks like servanthood which some might suggest is powerlessness.

    The act of foot washing was an act that a slave could not be forced to do, so what Jesus is doing is willing servanthood – which of course means it is not powerlessness as we might understand it but absolutely as the world would see it.

    Where I am going now is, IF God when viewed in humanity looks like servanthood (Isaiah) and we approach the scriptures through that lens where might we find God revealed in his true nature and how might that affect our understanding of ourselves, our lives and our purpose.

    Thanks for you thoughts they have further inspired me to go deeper. I also think the comment above, that Love may be the opposite of power is very profound.

    March 17, 2013 at 7:28 am

  7. this is the second time im reading this post. I think there is great truth in it.

    December 11, 2014 at 12:33 am

  8. the christian god(jesus) being weak and powerless to the extent of being killed and tempted by mortals does’nt deserved to be worshiped.why was he crying seeking help from another god at point of cruxifiction? it means jesus is not all powerful god who cannot be defeated or killed. it is this all powerful god who deserve worship.to say this all powerful god is the father of jesus is a clear fallacy. had it been that this all powerful is the father of jesus , jesus will be all powerful himself who could not be tempted or killed(son is always like father). christians, why dont you abandone this pagan doctrine borrowed from old satanism and accept islamic solution that jesus was mere servant who derived his power from the all powerful god ,the creator and sustainer of all.

    December 31, 2015 at 8:39 pm

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