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Faithfully – The Power of God

Date: 20/08/2023/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Faithfully – The Power of God 
20 August 2023 
Rev Miak Siew 

First off, I want to talk about why we are doing this Faithfully series. We wanted to tackle some “doctrines” of Christianity so that we have a deeper understanding of how they came about, and explore where we go from there. 

“Theology is faith seeking understanding of God.” 

I believe theology has as much to do with knowledge about God as it is with our relationship with God. 

Knowing God is not just intellectual, but also relational. And the two are connected. Theology is sometimes thought of as just theory – illustrated with the phrase “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”  that is often used to describe wasting time debating topics of no practical value, or on questions whose answers hold little consequence, while more urgent concerns accumulate. 

Our faith journey is about seeking to know God, and to know of God. It is a continuing journey that I don’t think has an end – for us as individuals, and for us as humanity. We are always growing deeper in our understanding of God, and our deeper relationship with God. 
 
We don’t start from zero, we start from where others left off. Just as our spiritual ancestors built upon those that came before them, we are building upon those who came before us. 

We find out more about God, about ourselves, about the universe around us, and we develop a better understanding. 

I always wondered why people keep citing theologians from hundreds to a thousand years ago and assume that what they came up with is the final answer? Why are we always going back to the past, and looking at theology as though they somehow got it right back then, and that is Truth with a capital T that cannot be and doesn’t need to be examined, challenged, and reevaluated?  
 
That’s what we do with knowledge of any kind right? We have new information, new input, new discoveries and we reevaluate what we know, and we come up with an improved version and even abandon old ideas that are antiquated and proven to not work. 

I was re-reading Rob Bell’s book “What is the Bible” 

He writes: “ 

And you read and listen carefully, you start to see the story behind the story, the story about people waking up to bigger and more expansive understandings of who they understand God to be and what they believe God is up to in the world.  

Your questions, then, start to take on a new character, because you begin to realise that the more you enter into the humanity of their story, the more you discover that there’s something at work, something insistent, something enduring, something that won’t let these people go.  

And then you realise that the same force, presence, pull and call are at work today within you. And in those around you. And whatever it is that won’t those people go, won’t let you go.” 
 
The central premise of Rob Bell’s book is that The Bible records down stories that show the evolution / development of human being’s understanding of God. That’s the story behind the story. God doesn’t remain the same throughout the Bible.  

And Rob Bell invites us to see that it is humanity’s perspectives and ideas of God that has changed as God continues to invite us to a deeper understanding and deeper relationship with God. Too often, theology ends up being dogmatic and fixated on one understanding of God that should be let go of.  

I come across this recently –  

“A major problem we have is this – the question is never asked “does this theology cause harm?” but rather “is it true?” Once we have determined a belief to be “true,” harm caused is irrelevant and can be blamed on the moral shortcomings of the victim rather than blamed on the harmful theology itself.” 
 
Today, I want to explore this idea of an omnipotent God. 

What do you understand by the word “Omnipotent”? 

Traditionally, in Western Christian thought, God is described as a being that possesses at least three necessary properties: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), and omnibenevolence (supremely good). In other words, God knows everything, has the power to do anything, and is perfectly good. 

Omnipotent means all powerful. That God possesses unlimited or all-encompassing power, being able to do anything and everything that is logically possible. 

I highlighted Western here – because the Eastern Church – The Orthodox church doesn’t have this idea of omnipotence. Rather God is utterly and totally beyond comprehension or definition – so the idea is we will never be able to understand God, so we don’t need to understand. 

Earlier this week, i received a message (i edited some of the strong language)  
 
“I’m angry with God, and rapidly losing faith. I keep thinking about the injustice done to animals – 2 specific examples; the cat that was thrown down the block, kid only got a “stern warning” and the other is where someone complain and now many crows are being gassed to death.  
 
I tell myself that maybe karma will catch up with these people but I know there’s no such thing. In fact many evil people always get their way and they live good lives doing their evil deeds 
 
I am just one small person I can’t do anything to stop them! 
 
And so I’m very upset with God, not sure why I even believe that he would do anything about it. Not as if they would get smote by lightning or something.” 

Truth is, many of us have, at one point or another, felt something similar.  

Whether we felt angry, or disappointed because of injustice at what is happening around us, or helplessness about what is happening to us. We ask, “why does God allow this to happen?” “Why does God not do something about this?” 

 
Even people rush to Jesus with similar questions – in Luke 13 
 
At that very time there were some present who told Jesus[a] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you, but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.  

4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the other people living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you, but unless you repent you will all perish just as they did.” 
 
Jesus’ answer is that No – God didn’t allow that to happen.  
 
Jesus says unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Repent of what?  

Repent – in Greek meta-na-eh-o – to change one’s mind, to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins 
Could Jesus be telling them not only to change their minds from thinking that bad things happen to people because they deserved them, but also repent – stop living in fear, and doing things or not doing things because they are afraid that God will smite them, but truly ‘repent – change not only one’s actions, not only one’s mind, but also one’s heart so we do the things out of love for God and out of love for each other. 

It is through love that we are inspired and transformed. It is the kind of transformation that is not only on the surface but also deep within. It is the kind of transformation that comes from our relationship with God. 

I want to explore the harm that comes from thinking God is omnipotent. I want to start off looking asking “what could be harmful about this concept of omnipotence?” 

So -If we think that God is omnipotent, then God must have chosen to allow bad things to happen, and God must have decided not to do something to stop evil. God must have, for whatever reason, allowed evil to happen. 

Then we may end up drawing the conclusion that God willed that to happen – and that when bad things happened to us or other people happened to, we (or the people) deserved it. 

This is harmful because it continues to drive a wedge between us and God, if we thought we deserved It (especially when we are brought up with the unhelpful doctrine that we are totally depraved.  

It is harmful because if we think people deserved the terrible things that happened to them, then we think like those who spoke to Jesus in Luke 13 – that somehow these people have done something wrong. If we think people deserve what happened to them, then we won’t step in to help them. 

And if God is all powerful, then we don’t have to do anything because God will solve our problems. 

But if we don’t think God is omnipotent, then is God impotent? I think I want to be clear and bring you through this slowly.  

Omnipotence is about power – but what kind of power are we talking about here? 

Omnipotence – The power to do anything – is actually about the power to control. 

<M> When was Jesus most powerful? 

There could be many – but one moment that stands out was when he was most vulnerable – on the cross. The veil that separates the holy of holies was torn at that moment. 

That moment revealed the character of God’s power – not coercive (about control) but persuasive (invitational).  Love is not coercive by persuasive. That moment revealed God who does not want to be separated from us. 

The way of the Cross is not through control power over, but the opposite – surrender, vulnerability, and connection. 

You know what power is coercive? The kind that doesn’t come from God.  
 
What was one of the three temptations posed to Jesus? “Authority over all the kingdoms of the world.” Control. Coercive power. I often hear “God has authority over all the kingdoms of the world” but are we just repeating what we hear, and have we thought through it?  

I think this idea of omnipotence says more about us than God – because we human beings want to be in control. We want power over people, things, outcomes – we want to control. I don’t think God wants to control. Otherwise what’s the point of giving us free will? 

Jesus told the rich young man in Matthew 19 “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money[d] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But Jesus left the decision to the young man, who went away grieving. 

Rev Yap wrote in his autobiography: 

God has granted freedom to human beings. God will continue to persuade and lure people to do God’s will. God will not force or coerce us. God will continue to influence and guide, but human beings with the God-given freedom have to make the decision. 

David Griffin, one of the founders of Center for Process Studies argued that: 

The traditional view of God’s omnipotence is coercive, meaning it is a form of domination that simply overpowers resistance and forces a thing to do what God wants. This seems to be incompatible with free will however, since a human being who is truly free cannot be controlled, otherwise they would not have free will.  

Process theologians argue that viewing God’s power as coercive is thus incompatible with free will. Griffin claims it is a ‘common notion’ that we do have free will, and therefore we should view God’s power as persuasive, not coercive.  

This means that God cannot directly coercively control things in a way that would prevent evil. The best God can do is attempt to persuade things to be better which takes a long time. 

God continues to run after us, like the prodigal parent running after their child. 

Many years ago, I had an epiphany. We all have a weakness – a kryptonite – for those we love. God too, like us humans, has a weakness for those that God loves. Like how parents love their children, partners love each other, God loves us. We allow those we love to have power over us – not the controlling kind of power, but the connecting kind of power.  
 
We are God’s kryptonite. But that really depends on our perspective – it can be a weakness, but it can be power. Because that’s the power of love.   

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 

God is always with us. God is running after us, persuading us, inspiring us to grow, to become more and more in God’s likeness.  

I think that’s how God works. I think that’s what we are talking about when we say we are inspired by the Holy Spirit. That is the power of God.  

And when we are inspired, we act – something happens. Often the results are far beyond what we expected. 

In the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels, Jesus could have turned stone to bread to feed them – and we know too, that is what one of the temptations Jesus faced in the desert. But instead, Jesus took what little they had to offer – five loaves and two fishes and multiplied it. That is the way of God.  

God inspires us to step up to offer what little we have, even though we may feel small, even though we feel insignificant. We can think “I am just one small person I can’t do anything to stop them!”  

Yet, there were many moments people stepped up, in spite of being small, and they changed things. 

One African American woman – Rosa Parks – refused to go to the back of the bus as what the law required – that African Americans were segregated. Her act of resistance became inspiration for so many people in and beyond the civil rights movement – one person can make a difference. Because God is with us. 

Rev Yap, in his sermon From the Attic to the Yangtze that he preached when we moved to the now demolished Pearl’s centre said: 
 
Jesus is challenging us to look for God in the changing world in which we live. The one constant in the world is change, how do we grow spiritually in such a world? The present is fluid and dynamic and always in the process of change. The future is open and inviting. God’s relationship with us is a living relationship, not a stagnant relationship, and any living relationship is always changing always developing.  

Our relationship with God always has and always will be changing, hopefully deepening. God’s supreme revelation was not in a set of laws or not even in a book or a collection of books called the Bible but in a person, in the Word made flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ. Our relationship is to the living Christ and not a historic creed or an abstract doctrine or even the human words of the Bible literally. 

So some people will ask – why do we worship God if God is not all powerful?  

Becauses God is still the creator of the universe and all. Because not being all-powerful doesn’t mean not powerful. God’s power is a different kind of power. 

If we worship God because God is powerful then we are worshipping power. We worship God because God is love. Because we have experienced that love.  

I think the idea of “Omnipotence” comes from the worship of power.  

We say that Jesus was most powerful when he was on the cross. 

Process theologian C. Mesle argues that the greatest strength possible is actually to endure evil and suffering without giving in to hate, as exemplified by M.L King, Gandhi and Jesus. We should reassess our view of what it means to be the strongest possible being to involve not coercive power but the willingness to suffer in pursuit of love and peace.  This is what God does and it requires much more strength than it would to simply crush anyone who stands in the way of love and peace. 

That is the way of Jesus. The way of love.  

And that’s what God is leading us towards – inspiring us towards.  

We know it when we see it. Moments where God is revealed in selfless human actions. When we transcend ourselves and connect to something far bigger. And it is not just a journey for each one of us, but also for all of us as humanity.  

There are some who would say a God who is powerless to stop evil is not worth worshipping. Process theologians like David Griffin argues it is better to worship a God who lacked the power to stop evil than to worship one who had the power but didn’t.  

One worships brute power but that isn’t the message we learn from Jesus on the cross.  

That message is love. This is the good news. This is the Gospel. The message, the good news is Love, God is love. 

And love that is the power of God. 
Love is the power that is not coercive. Love is the power that is relational. Love is the power that transforms us from the inside.  

That also means we need to rethink how we love. I cannot prescribe how we all do that in the relationships with people in our lives.  

I think every relationship is unique and how we love in each relationship would be different. I think the starting point of how we love would be learning how not to coerce and control, but invite and inspire. 

So we are invited to bring our five loaves and two fishes, and whatever we have, and all of our selves – weak, frightened, small, insignificant – and have faith that the power of God will work in and through us to transform, heal, restore the world. 

When we look carefully, listen carefully, we start to see the story behind the story, the story about people waking up to bigger and more expansive understandings of who they understand God to be and what they believe God is up to in the world.  

When we begin to realise that there’s something at work, something insistent, something enduring, something that won’t let these people go.  

And then we realise that the same force, presence, pull and call are at work today within us. And in those around us. And whatever it is that won’t those people go, won’t let us go.”