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“I don’t think that I can worship a vulnerable God.”

I had just pitched a synopsis of my book idea over breakfast. I said that we might have the idea of sovereignty all wrong, and that Scripture reveals a God who intentionally limits his own freedom in order to give humanity genuine involvement and input. I shared how God’s desire to have beings who loved like he did required the freedom to choose otherwise. Jesus, I argued, demonstrated that godly power was gloriously revealed in vulnerability.

My friend’s response that he couldn’t worship a vulnerable God made me smile.

I knew I was on to something.

What is power?

When we think about power, we think about sheer, brute force. We think about people who, through compulsion, influence, bribery, or intimidation, are able to make things happen. This is the power that humans recognize—and secretly long for. And it’s this kind of power that most religions attribute to God.

I’m not suggesting that the Christian God is not powerful. I believe wholeheartedly in God’s omnipotence (Omni = all, Potent = powerful). It’s just that I wonder if God wields it like we imagine. For many Christians, sovereignty means that—from cancer to parking spaces—God dictates every single thing that happens to us. This is what we believe power is.

While I think that God can and does occasionally influence events, I don’t agree that this is the primary way that he exercises power. Instead, I think that he empowers others. And by doing so, makes himself extremely vulnerable.

The choice at the center of creation

In the creation story, the first people are placed in a garden and given a singular prohibition. They are not to eat of one particular tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He gave Adam and Eve a choice, and this choice had the potential to open a Pandora’s Box of horrors. He had the power to remove this temptation and protect his creation, but instead he prioritized the relationship with Adam and Eve enough to “share” his power.

The decision to let them choose disobedience put everything that God had already declared “good” in jeopardy. Offering them this choice wove vulnerability into the fabric of creation.

Most Christian theology traces everything broken and disastrous in our world back to the moment when the first couple put this fruit to their lips. This introduces a significant quandary—what does love look really look like? If the wrong decision would plunge humanity into a nightmare, why allow it?

Think about it; God could have spared himself the pain of watching an endless timeline of brutal inhumanity. If he loves us like we’re told, our history must be more painful for him than we can ever imagine. Why not curtail the implications of Adam and Eve’s choice? What if—instead of completely poisoning the human race—eating this fruit just gave them explosive diarrhea for a year?

Unless . . . God’s desire to have an creation with the ability to truly love him—and love like him—required an ability to make choices that have staggering, irrevocable consequences. What if our capacity to do all the good we’re capable of is only as valuable as our potential to choose otherwise?  If God wanted people who truly practiced love, they couldn’t be programmed to do good—they’d have to choose it.

By making this choice, God decided to make himself (and the rest of us) vulnerable to humanity. This doesn’t diminish his sovereignty— it was a sovereign choice.

In the next couple weeks, I’m looking forward to unpacking some more examples (and potential implications) of worshiping a vulnerable God.