September 11, 2005


Katrina: Not God's Wrath--or His Will: The Hebrew Bible doesn't say God is omnipotent. When disaster strikes, he cries with the rest of us. (Dr. Tony Campolo, BeliefNet)

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.

In scripture we get the picture of a cosmic struggle going on between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The good news is that, in the end, God will be victorious. That is why we can sing in the Hallelujah Chorus, "the kingdoms of this world [will] become the Kingdom of our Lord."

Personally, I contend that the best thing for us to do in the aftermath of Katrina is to remain silent, and not try to explain this tragedy. Instead of asking "Why?" we should be asking, "What does God want us to do now?" The loving God calls all believers in the face of Katrina’s devastation to seek ways to express love in concrete ways towards those who have lost friends and family members; and to those who have lost homes along with most of their earthly belongings.

In the Bible, we read this passage: "And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." (I Kings 19:11-12)

Instead of looking for God in the earthquake or the tsunami, in the roaring forest fires blazing in the western states, or in the mighty winds of Katrina, it would be best to seek out a quiet place and heed the promptings of God’s still small voice. That voice will inspire us to bring some of God’s goodness to bear in the lives of those who suffer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2005 11:52 PM

but it is not in his Bible.

He needs to read his Bible again.

For nothing is impossible with God. Lk 1:37

Is anything too hard for the Lord? Gen 18:14a

"I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" Jer 32:27

What is impossible with men is possible with God. Lk 18:27

Posted by: Gideon at September 12, 2005 6:01 PM

Tony Campolo is a weird duck sometimes, but this takes the cake. Omnipotence (the word itself) may be a Greek construct, but the OT clearly describes God as He who created the world from nothing. God is the one who brings calamity and disaster (Isaiah 45). God leads the stars in their place, He gives life, He gives death, He stretched out the heavens, He nurtures his people and loves them, and on and on throughout the whole OT. In Ecclesiastes, we are even taught that man does not know God's purpose(s), even though we have eternity in our hearts.

It is a slander (against the people of the OT) to say that all these descriptions do not present omnipotence. Kushner's theology is a painful, cowardly cry in the night. Campolo's refusal to call it so is silly.

Now, his comment that the tragedy is not to be explained is much better - because we cannot give a good (or proper) answer, even as our humanity compels us to ask why.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 12, 2005 9:30 PM


How is any of that omnipotence rather than potency? The God of the Bible can't be readily reconciled with the three omnis.

Posted by: oj at September 12, 2005 9:52 PM

The Bible is unequivocally clear on God's nature.

Omnipotence - see earlier post. On Omniscience and Omnipresence:

For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 1 Jn 3:20b

And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Mt 10:30

Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since He judges even the highest? Job 21:22

Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Mt 6:8b

Would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart? Ps 44:21

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out! Ro 11:33

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God 2 Cor 10:5a

Posted by: Gideon at September 13, 2005 1:16 AM

Agree with Jim and Gideon. I find Al Mohler's take on Katrina (and on Kushner) much more compelling.

God in the Storm, Part I

God in the Storm, Part II

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at September 13, 2005 2:12 AM

Bad Theology.

Isa 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 13, 2005 2:26 AM

The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

--Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (March 20, 1865).

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 13, 2005 6:42 AM


That's not omnipotence, just Creationism.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2005 6:53 AM

The only real "answer" to suffering is that we need to suffer so that our pride is broken. Then we can learn to love.

Standing silently against all our tears, our complaining, and our whining, is the suffering of God - a witness to his love, because he suffered on our behalf.

With respect to the omnis, I suspect your comment has more to do with modern thinking than you might like. It's easy to imagine Moses or Elijah or Ezekiel as some ignorant rube who happened to see a 'miracle' and describe God as omnipotent, but we know so more much today, so we'll call it potency and leave it at that. But if God has the power to create something from nothing, and has the power to judge all people perfectly, than failing to use a word above 'mere' potency is an error, no?

The most concise Scriptural statement I know is in John 5, when Jesus tells the people, "Just as the Father has life in himself..."

God is not contingent. Now that's power.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 13, 2005 11:04 AM

But not unlimited power.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2005 11:29 AM

Remember, God is Spirit, and his 'power' is not something that can be measured in joules, watts, ergs, newtons, or horses.

The power to create something from nothing is pretty unlimited, if you ask me. The power to bind the conscience is pretty unlimited, too.

The physical universe is held together by that power, and it isn't even exertion on his part, now is it?

You write as if God is subject to Lord Acton's maxim.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 13, 2005 2:57 PM


God is subject to His Creator's limitations upon Him and, as the Bible repeatedly shows us, is prone to screwing up. Hardly a mark of one blessed with the three omnis.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2005 4:52 PM

Is "Men In Black" stuck in your DVD player, catspaw?

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 13, 2005 10:25 PM