God's Omnipotence: Part 4, The Problem of Will

Beyond causality, in her Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God Katherine Sonderegger also thinks problems are created when we talk about God's "will" in relation to divine power.

The issue of God's will bedevils so many issues. For example, when we pray and God does or doesn't "answer," how are we think about God's will in those situations? Is it God's "will" to answer this prayer but not that other prayer? Is it the Lord's will to heal this cancer diagnosis but not that one?

Or if we're traveling, and pray, "We'll see you tomorrow, Lord willing." Yet people get into horrible accidents all the time. Was it the Lord's will that these people not reach their destinations?

In all this, the problem of God's will is the flip side to the problems of God's sovereignty and omnicontrol of the cosmos. Where Calvinistic views of God's sovereignty and providential omnicontrol make God 100% responsible for every cause in the universe, down to the last atom, the problem of God's will raises the question of God's situational and sporadic intervention in our lives, God willing this outcome but not that one, God dipping in and out of the cosmos.

So, beyond extracting God's power from causality, Sonderegger also suggests that we need also to remove it from the notion of "will."

The crux of Sonderegger's argument is that the notion of "will" is too anthropomorphic, too human in it's vision of decision-making. "Will" brings in notions of deliberation and weighing choices. All of which, according to Sonderegger, are not proper ways to think about God. She writes:
The traditional problematics of Omnipotence--the puzzle cases about necessity and contradiction in the exercise of Divine Power--stem, I believe, from this all-too-creaturely depiction of Omnipotence itself. "Doing what one wills," after all conjures a Divine Agent who will survey the objects of His electing Will; then select; then execute the decree...The mighty God who does as He will must be seen, at base, as One who reflects, meditates, and chooses, as One who prefers one path over another, one creaturely event to be favored against its opposite. The Power of this God is measured by His being able to execute His preference: what He prefers, He enacts. Such an imaginative portrait of the Lord underscores not His Uniqueness but rather His commonality, His likeness to His deliberative creatures...

But I believe there are strong reasons to tag [this] traditional portrait as altogether too anthropomorphic. The Lord who does what He will is not simply a Lordly Potentate, sitting on high, contemplating with great ease and pleasure His next good to be realized. No. Rather, the portrait of Omnipotence I have termed too earthy and human scale catches up in a concrete, agential image the perduring--and in this form, I say, insoluble--riddles of Divine Power in and over creation. The earthy image, that is, sums up and expresses the framework in which dilemmas of Divine Power are derived and, perhaps, resolved; it is this framework, the image lying behind the puzzles, that generates the puzzles--the Power behind the throne!--and dictates the form of any possible answer. This framework, I say, should be broken up and set aside; the dilemmas follow suit.
To summarize, many of our problems regarding divine power flow out of a particular picture of power: a King or CEO making choices and then having the power to make those choices happen in reality. Power is the ability to enact your will, to make the world conform to your choice. This is what human power looks like.

But the problem, according to Sonderegger, is that when we import this vision/definition of power into God's life we create all the horrible puzzles we've been talking about. For example, in the Calvinist vision God is an All Powerful CEO who micromanages the entire cosmos. And if it's not that, then we have a capricious Lord, a God who wills one thing but not another, answers this prayer but not that one. But either way, we're stuck.

To be sure, as Sonderegger notes, we can find answers to these questions from within this framework. Calvinists have a suite of answers to the criticisms they face. And we've all heard the answers about why God answers some prayers and not others. But the problem, says Sonderegger, is that these answers are leaving the regulating framework intact, failing to reject the all-too-human vision of power sitting behind and creating all the problems in the first place. According to Sonderegger, you can't solve the problem of divine power within this framework, because its this framework that is causing all the problems.

What we need to do, says Sonderegger, is rethink our deep image of divine power.

Perhaps, if we change our regulating image of divine power, many of our problems might go away.

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