God is often described as being omnipotent, omniscient, & omnipresent (sometimes also omnibenevolent). I’ve noted elsewhere my agnosticism about some of those labels for God, but I’ve somewhat come around on God’s omnipotence. That is I’ve thought of a way of imagining and understanding what it means to be omnipotent that fits into how I think the world and the divine operate.
Omnipotence is often defined as God’s ability to do anything and frequently is a stumbling block for the problem of evil—that is if God can do anything and God does not prevent evil from occurring then how is God not culpable for that evil? There’s been loads written on that that is more worth your time than anything I would say about it here, but some wrestling with that question influences my reinterpretation.
Mormonism already in some senses calls standard interpretations of omnipotence into question (depending on how you read Alma 42 and other sections of scripture). We are all co-eternal with God and God derives His/Her/Their power and authority from adherence to principles or eternal or cosmic laws. God is therefore restricted in what He/She/They can do.
And honestly? I like that. That’s far more relatable to me than some kind of superman-deity with no weaknesses except some green rock. Boring.
Anyway. I believe that omnipotence is something closer to eternal perseverance. That true power is always getting up when you’ve been knocked down. As the Italian Stallion says to his son,
“But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward.”
God is determined and tough-as-nails. God’s got grit. God’s jamming out to “Tubthumping” yelling “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down!”
I should probably leave you with that image in your mind, but I’ll write a bit more.
I like to think of God’s true power being that He/She/They refuses to give up. God wins in the end because God won’t stop fighting until God wins. It’s not that God’s stronger or more powerful in more traditional senses of the word, but that God cares more about us. About me. Perhaps that’s another reason I’m drawn to this sense of omnipotence—it is rooted in love. God keeps trying because God loves me and you and everyone else. That is what motivates God. I have a harder time grounding some sense of absolute power in love for humanity, but perseverance easily fits into that paradigm. God is like the tenacious mother in so many stories, who will stop at nothing to save Her child.
I love that this model of omnipotence is scalable and feels obtainable. I feel that I can be like God in this way. Perhaps not to the same degree, but I too can persevere and commit to serving others. I too can refuse to give up when times are dark and darkness looms. God looks into our eyes and see the same fear that would take the heart of Him/Her/Them, but God bids us stand like Aragorn bid the Men of the West, for this day we fight.
I feel invigorated framing the Gospel as an epic, underdog battle of Good against Evil (perhaps at least partially because it gives me hope for what seems like a current political battle of Good vs Evil). A persevering God also rings true to the God of scripture for me. God is repeatedly coming to the aid of His/Her/Their Chosen People, saving them by the skin of their teeth, living to fight another day. Occasionally they prosper, but mostly they are marginalized and live on the outskirts and barely make it through.
God perseveres. God’s work is justice and though, as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, taught us “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We have a work to do. Reading the words of Amos and Joel in the Old Testament speak to me that we have a responsibility to preach against injustice, to stand up for what is right, to fight oppression, wherever we see it.
I join my voice with God’s, singing, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down!”