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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Infallibility, Omnipotence, and Omniscience should be Banned from Faith

The pope, Benedict XVI is retiring and, in so doing, is losing his claim to papal infallibility. Up until February 28, 2013 anything that he says as the leader of the Catholic Church is considered to be infallible and a part of the church's doctrine. However when he ceases to be the leader, he won't be infallible anymore.

But was he ever? Really?

There are arguments for and against papal infallibility and there are similar arguments for and against biblical infallibility, but how do they really help the Christian cause?

I don't think they do. Really.

When we start off with the supposition that something is infallible that puts it beyond questioning, but that's exactly what we need to do with the bible and the doctrines of the church. The book of scripture that we have today didn't come about because it was deemed infallible, it came about because it was deemed useful by the people of God putting it into practice.

Put another way: they tried it and they liked it. The put the bible to the test of life and it passed. Not every book did, those ones were left out. The ones that remain contain a united story of God seeking out his people from the beginning of time to the end. It's a beautiful story. But we only have it because our faithful forbears had the audacity to question scripture.

Which brings us to the doctrines of omnipotence and omniscience - that God can do anything and knows everything. It sounds good, but it's actually a problematic position that doesn't come from the bible.

Go back to Genesis - what does God do immediately after creating the world? He rests. Now that might be because he was tired (we don't really know), but we do know that he rests. Later in Genesis God and Abraham are bargaining over the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham questions God's plan and God is willing to change his mind in response to Abraham's plea (we get this again from Moses, Job, David, and the city of Nineveh). If God knows everything then the appearance of free will and the necessity of prayer become mere playthings rather than relational necessities.

Rather than saying the bible is infallible, we should affirm that it is useful.
Rather than saying God is omnipotent, we should affirm that he is powerful.
Rather than saying God is omniscient, we should affirm that is is supremely wise.

When we step back from the precipice of the infinite we allow God and the bible to be in relationship with us and us with them. Relationship must allow for mystery, questions, conversation, and revelation. If one side of the relationship is unquestionable, unknowable, and unreachable then it's not a true relationship.

So, how big of a heretic am I?

1 comment:

Thomas Wood said...

One of the challenges we have in our relationship with God is forgetting our position in that relationship. We are the children and He is the parent. As children we don’t always understand the way He teaches or the subtle way we are lead to a better understanding of His ways. Have you ever thought of those moments with Abraham and Moses as God teaching His children about love and compassion?
We use words like omnipotent and omniscient to name things we don’t understand and by naming them we pretend we know them. Even the word relationship means many things, but one of the key things is knowledge of whom or what we are in relationship to. God wants us to know Him, not to put labels on Him and claim knowledge of Him.