Answering Theological Questions With a Perspective Change

The book of Hebrews gives the following description of Christ when it encourages us to have faith:

Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2)

That’s a wonderful and encouraging verse, but we’re going to put it aside for now.

An Absurd Objection to God’s Omnipotence Based on Absurdity

Now, to change topics a bit, I’m going to ask a dumb question that I used to hear from people arguing about the absurdity of God due to the claim of his “omnipotence” which means that he is all-powerful:

If God is all-powerful, can God make a rock so big that not even he can lift it?

Now, this is obviously a dumb trick question, which is something like “If Usain Bolt is a man on earth, and if Usain Bolt is faster than all men on Earth, is Usain Bolt faster than himself?” The question isn’t hard because you are stupid. The question is hard because the question is stupid.

But not surprisingly, the questioners probably miss the very clear answer in scripture:

And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. (Luke 23:26)

Why did they make a random man named Simon of Cyrene carry Jesus’s cross? Because Jesus had been beaten so badly, HE COULDN’T LIFT IT.

The answer to the question about whether God can make something so big that God can’t lift it — whether it is a rock or a cross — has an obvious answer. The answer is “Yes.”

Merging God’s Omnipotence With Jesus’s Divinity

But this Might make you nervous. It obviously presents a problem with a central tenant of Christianity: Jesus’s divinity. If Jesus is God, then Jesus has Omnipotence. If Jesus is Omnipotent, how is it possible that he got out-powered by some random guy from Cyrene called Simon? That’s quite a riddle.

Let’s solve this riddle with a demonstration:

Step 1: Take out a piece of paper, and write down a description of the largest, heaviest, and most massive thing you can think of. Don’t limit yourself to the Earth. Think of planets, stars, galaxies, and supermassive black holes. Do your best to create something absolutely, completely, unimaginably ridiculously massive and big.

Done? Good. The next step is a question.

Step 2: Can you lift the thing you have described? If the answer is yes, then you have a terrible imagination, and you need to repeat Step 1.

Got it? Good. The next step is also a question.

Step 3: Can you lift the paper on which you described the thing?

Bingo. See how that works?

God created our world out of nothing by the command of his word.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon,
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord!
    For he commanded and they were created.

And he established them forever and ever;
    he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
(Psalm 148:1-6)

Do you see how this compares to you, your pen, and the paper that is beneath you? God is Spirit, (John 4:24) and he is not matter or energy. In the same way, you are made of flesh and blood, not paper and ink. Additionally, the location of God in relation to the Earth is described as “up,” but not in a normal sense.

The place of God isn’t “the heavens” which is how the Bible describes the place where the Sun and Moon and Stars are:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.”
(Genesis 1:14-15)

Instead, we see that God is not in “the heavens” and his control is not merely over “the heavens,” which I suppose we would call “the atmosphere” and “space” in our modern English. Instead, God made and controls both heaven and Earth and the “heaven of the heavens”:

“You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”
(Nehemiah 9:6)

Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.
(Deuteronomy 10:14-15)

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.
(Exodus 24:9-10)

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But does it sound much different than a person holding a book and looking at the book? Can the person see the book? Can the people in the book see him? Would any of that change if the person holding the book is the author?

In this way of looking at it, the book and everything in it is “below.” The author and the world of the author is “up.” But no character in a book could ever climb out of the book by building a tower or using a rocket or flying through the infinite distance of space. The description of “up” is true, but true only when you incorporate a different dimension.

It’s the same way with the God of the Bible. “The heaven of heavens” is up. But we would be wrong to call it the “space of space.” It is a different dimension of “up.” It can see you, even though you cannot see it. In the same way, nothing on that page, no matter how big and powerful could even turn a page or flip a light switch in the room.

In contrast, think of an author reading his own book in his own home that he built for himself. You are a character in the book. That is your relationship to God.

That is why it is no accident that Scripture says the following about how people will be judged:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. . . . And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:11-12)

What’s in “the books”? Well, literally EVERYTHING is in the books. And just like any evil villain who you ever read, who thought they had gotten away with their plan without anyone noticing it, “the dead were judged by what was written in the books.”

So think about that relationship of an author to a book: No matter what your wealth and what your power and what your standing is, you have absolutely no control over the author. Instead, the author has his own plans. That is why he says things like the following:

But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:30)

But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16)

But then again, no good author would create a character like Darth Vader or Thanos or Hans Gruber or Lord Voldemort to make them WIN, now, would they?

This parallel existence and an author’s complete control and omnipotence doesn’t confuse us when we think of our relation to a world made of written words.

  • We never think of how evil Kevin Feige was for “killing” Tony Stark or “unleashing” Thanos on the Marvel Cinematic universe.
    • But we blame God for the existence of evil, don’t we?
  • Nobody calls the duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the Empire Strikes Back “Literary child abuse.”
    • But the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross is called “cosmic child abuse,” isn’t it?
  • Nobody says “Because of the existence of Death Eaters in Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling may be good, but she cannot be the actual author. She may be the actual author, but she cannot be a good author.”
    • But that question about evil and God really stumps a lot of people these days, doesn’t it?

Thinking Through the Bible with a New Perspective

When you get that different perspective on these theological objections, they kind of fall apart, don’t they? It also helps you understand what’s really going on in part of the Bible, too.

Take the book of Job. It tells the story of a righteous man — who actually IS righteous, and yet who is also severely oppressed by Satan — all with the explicit permission of God. Because we have read the first few chapters of Job, we know why it is happening, but Job does not. God has a bet with Satan, and God wants to win his bet. In his sadness and despair, he cries out to God about why it is happening. And God answer Job, but he does not tell him the reason. Instead he says this:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
(Job 38:1-7)

In case you were wondering, it is true that is God calling Job ridiculously puny and telling him that his questions are worthless. Additionally, he gives him absolutely no answer to his honest questions.

And yet strangely, it seems to be effective for Job:

Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

Why does this work for Job? Why is he okay with these non-answering answers? Because he SAW God, in all his power. He had heard of the creator of all things, but now he SAW him. It’s like a character made of pen and ink on a page being able to see an actual person of flesh and blood, who can lift entire pages and BOOKS without an effort, and who has a library of worlds behind him.

After seeing this, Job had no further questions.

And if that doesn’t make sense to you, perhaps we can ask Job’s questions of God with the perspective of the different worlds that we’ve been discussing:

  • “Listen, George Lucas! What do you have against me with killing all of my family except for my totally evil father who just cut off my hand? Why do I have to be Luke Skywalker?”
  • Listen, Director John McTiernan! What do you have against me celebrating Christmas with my family and sticking me in this evil plot of Hans Gruber? Why do I have to be John McClain?
  • “Listen, J.K. Rowling! Why did you kill my parents and unleash a horrible monster into this place who also is trying to kill and enslave all of my friends? Why do I have to be Harry Potter?”
  • “Listen, Kevin Feige! What do you have against me that you keep unleashing ridiculously powerful villians against the Earth and making ME protect it, even sacrificing my own life? Why do I have to be Iron Man?”

Answer:

But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:30)

But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16)

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” The Lord said to Moses “. . . And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:13-18)

That’s how you solve the riddle.

Another Exercise, Just for Fun

And here’s a final exercise: On that piece of paper, write about yourself. Make an exact copy of who you are in the real world.

Then return to that giant thing you created. You know, the thing that can’t be lifted. But let’s up the ante. Not only should it be massive, let’s make it evil. Give it intelligence. Give it a personality. Make it sinister. Even more: Make it completely opposed to you. Make it attack what is good and capture and torture the people you love. Add it it’s mass intelligence and cunning. Even more: Make it so that you have to follow rules and be good, but the evil thing you’ve created doesn’t have to. Stack the deck against yourself.

Then, using only the pen and the paper and a plan you create before you even write “Once Upon A Time,” write your story. Tell me how that massive and sinister character of immense power and intelligence and evil gets overthrown by an ordinary character… …who just HAPPENS to be the Author of your book. Tell me how, at the climax of the plot — or, to use another Bible phrase, “the fullness of time,” — that insurmountable foe is overcome, and cast into the outer darkness, like a mountain thrown into the sea.

Make it so good that even the people in THIS world “eagerly await” the conclusion of your story. Make it so good that even humans of flesh and blood praise your story and your writing and your character. If you can do that, then I bet you’re a pretty good author.

But if you struggle to know how such a great weight of your can be moved and thrown away, and if you need some help on how to write such a story, then maybe you should be doing the following:

“looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

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