God chooses to be powerless? What?!

I’ve been doing a lot of work recently that involves talking about the nature of God. When talking about the nature of God, you often find yourself trying to explain things that contradict God’s nature, especially the fact that we live in a world of suffering, evil and pain. Before we go any further, I just want to point out that this post isn’t going to be as morbid as I’ve started it out to be!

But seriously, two of the modules that I’m doing at University at the moment for my finals involve talking about God and suffering, but in different contexts. One is within the scientific context; of natural disasters, illness and so on. The other is a mixture of that and simply ‘stuff’ – human sinfulness, disobedience, a neglect of stewardship and discussion on the nature of God generally.

But what has intrigued me through this study of how God interacts with a suffering world is the theological concept of kenosis. Kenosis as a word comes from the Greek, and literally means ’emptiness’.

Sounds good so far, but then when you look into the theology of kenosis, the words emptiness and Jesus are married to one another. How is Jesus empty? Kenosis says that Jesus, by being incarnated – God in the flesh – is literally stripping himself of his Divine nature in total love for us; getting rid of some of those crazy powers of his in order to become like us, to go through stuff with us, to even suffer with us.

It seems quite poignant that I’ve been studying this so close to Easter. One only has to think of Good Friday and the sheer pain, suffering and torture Jesus endured. In fact, he went through suffering quite a while before the cross too.

And it is kenosis that theologians provide as an answer to suffering. Many have tried to argue various ‘theodicies’ (that is, explanations of how God works and intervenes [if at all] in the world). These range from suffering as being a result of sin and therefore God’s punishment is suffering, to a totally powerless God, to a God who has all the power, but doesn’t care.

Probably all people would have a problem with at least one of those theories. But what’s being offered in kenosis is God choosing to be unable, choosing to suffer, choosing to strip away Divine power.

Of course, being brought up in a chapel as a young Christian where I was often told from the pulpit that even as a baby, Jesus was holding the universe in his hands caused me serious problems when I first heard of kenosis. But the more you think about it, the more evident it is in scripture.

Am I saying that Jesus was/is unable to do anything he wants? No of course not. But indeed, there were things that Jesus didn’t know, that only the Father did and so on. And, there were things that he was limited in. The most obvious is the time in Gethsemane when Jesus asks the Father for another way to save the world. But there wasn’t. And Jesus had to go through with the only option available. Surely God cannot be limited like that?

Well… it’s not as simple as that is it? God chose to be limited. And kenosis says that when we suffer, God suffers. Because he knows what it’s like to suffer, and he loves all of us as his children. He especially suffers for those who don’t have a relationship with them; the suffering of a Father who’s lost contact with his children through no fault of his own.

What do you think of all this? Does kenosis ‘fit’ with the all powerful man-God, Jesus? I think it does, though I don’t have all the answers as to why, and I don’t expect any of us to until we’ve been enlightened!

But there we go – a deep thought for a Tuesday night, I must say!

Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • Sara Koozehchian

    Hi Dean

    Really enjoyed the post. But I’ve got a basic question:

    why God is suffering? or why should he suffer, really? when I think about this, I need to go deeper that what exactly suffering is. Where dose suffering come from? To my mind, the negative qualities, such as ugliness, powerlessness, loneliness, sickness, sorrows,… do not exist. In fact, when the opposite of these stuff (positive ones) come down, they come out.  Humans are the mixture of these both, because they are incomplete. we suffer when our convenience lessens or goes. When facing problems we think the life has over because can’t see the day after. As a human, our thoughts and qualities are relative & comparative, just see the moment that we are living in, not even the next minute and it’s absolutely suffering because we really don’t know what’s going on. But God knows everything. He owns the all positive qualities and those never come down because he is absolute and complete. So there is no suffering for God. If we say God suffers because we suffer, I will say we suffer because we have pains, problems and issues, but all of these are temporal and mortal and God knows that. But how about us? How much do we believe that? All of us face failure in our lives. At that moment, we think we are the only person in the world that has experienced that, every thing has finished, ….so we suffer. Does the God suffer as well? I don’t think so. He waits, watches, cares and helps even we don’t ask him. He knows those stuff are a part of human life and are not eternal.

    Sorry if that was long. I hope it makes sense. Loads of questions and opinions in my head and don’t know how much I was able to connect them together.



    • Hey Sara, I understand what you’re saying and you do have a point. However:

      If we look at Jesus, who is God, we see him weeping over Jerusalem that they don’t know who he is. We have him weeping over Lazarus who’s died. Just two indicators that God suffers.

      That doesn’t mean he’s any less powerful, but he chose to be able to suffer because he loves us so much 🙂

  • Sara Koozehchian

    Need to think about it.

    Cheers 🙂