But a strong vision of the weakness of God is going to create quite a few questions about how we understand God's omnipotence, particularly the show of power at the start of the biblical narrative. If God is not force and power how was the world created by God ex nihilo (i.e., out of nothing)?
There is an interesting convergence on this question in Boyd's God at War and Caputo's The Weakness of God. Both authors focus two different readings of Genesis 1.1-3 (KJV):
1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.The issue has to do with how Genesis 1.1 relates to 1.2 and/or 1.3. In traditional readings 1.1 sets up 1.2. In this reading the first act of creation (1.1) is God creating a chaotic and formless world--the deep (found in 1.2). From there God begins to impose order on the chaos (1.3 and following).
2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good...
But there is a second reading of these opening verses, one that originated with Jewish theology, where 1.1 is not read as an act of creation but read as a sort of Preamble or Chapter Title: "This is the Account of How God Created the Heavens and the Earth." The formal creation account then starts in 1.2 rather than in 1.1. Such a reading sets up like this:
This is the Account of How God Created the Heavens and the Earth:What is interesting about this second reading--where the creation account formally beings with Genesis 1.2 rather than with 1.1--is that the chaos and void are there with God at the beginning. To be clear, this is not to say that chaos is co-eternal with God. Simply that chaos pre-dates the biblical creation narrative in Genesis 1.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
More evidence for this reading is found in that the timing of creation is synchronized with the artistic acts which start in Genesis 1.3. The clock doesn't start with Genesis 1.1 and 1.2. We don't read: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The first day."
So in this reading first act of creation occurs in Genesis 1.3: The bringing of light. And this is less a creation ex nihilo than bringing order to chaos. Chaos is sort of the raw material for the Creator, like a lump of clay. Creation is bringing artistic order to that clay, the making of something beautiful and "good" out of that which was previously "formless."
In short, the creative acts of God recounted in Genesis 1 are less acts of creation ex nihilo than the artistic and moral ordering of chaos. Creation, biblically understood, is turning chaos into something "good."
Of course, this raises some questions: Where did the chaos come from? Did God create it or not? And when did God create it?
Those are interesting questions, but on this reading we can't answer them. On this reading, these aren't biblical questions as the biblical account of creation assumes the raw material of chaos and recounts God's ordering of that chaos into something beautiful and "good." Beyond that, we can't really don't know what else to say.
Maybe the source of the chaos was, as Boyd speculates, the cosmic battle of Satan's fall from heaven, a battle that destroyed the pre-Genesis world. Boyd suggests, speculatively, that Genesis 1 recounts God's "re-creation" of the world after this cataclysmic battle. Or maybe you go in scientific directions and think of the chaos as the primordial void or vacuum prior to the Big Bang. Opinions will vary about "the void," but the answers don't much impinge upon the theology of creation found in Genesis 1.
I think progressive Christians will find this bracketing helpful. It allows them to reconcile their sympathies with science with their desire to root their faith deeply in the biblical narrative.
And most importantly for our purposes, such a reading of Genesis allows us to praise God as the Creator of all Good Things in a way that is consistent with a robust understanding of the weakness of God.
God is creating goodness out of chaos, but that chaos isn't eliminated. That chaos is still with us, always there in the background, the raw material of physical existence. God is "at war" with this chaos, seeking to order, structure, shape, tame and redeem it. Even as the chaos resists. All of creation groans, as in childbirth, indifferent to or actively resisting the work of God and God's children.
For both Boyd and Caputo, creation is broken at deep structural levels. Just why the bible doesn't say. The bible simply takes as a given that there are chaotic forces at work in the world, forces untamed and hostile to the good ordering of God's Kingdom. The bible confesses that God is not the creator of this chaos. God is the creator of order and goodness. "It is good, very good." And God's children are called to participate in this creative work, bringing order and goodness into the chaos. God's children are called to participate in this battle, called to speak with their Father the primordial words of creation into the satanic and chaotic darkness around them:
Let there be light.