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After passing through any kind of historical cataclysm, however, this passage from Isaiah proclaims that human beings can turn to the real of the sacred and the infinite, and draw power and grace to rebuild their lives. If Solomon’s Temple has been destroyed and Jerusalem lies in ruin, this does not mean the end of the people of God. They can turn to the source of all spiritual power again, just as their ancestors did in the midst of earlier historical periods of destruction and calamity, and build the Second Temple and the New Jerusalem.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint; or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

The symbol of divine “omnipotence,” Paul Tillich says, does not refer to a mechanical system where God is purported to be a this-worldly physical cause (an object among all the other objects in the universe) who somehow or other prevents bad things from ever happening to good people, which would simply be total nonsense anyway to any human being of even moderate intelligence. It was obvious to the biblical authors too. Of course, vast numbers of innocent human beings died when the cruel Babylonian army took the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., even more died during the thousand mile march which followed, when the survivors were forced to march across the burning deserts under armed guard, to concentration and resettlement camps in Babylon.

As a religious symbol, omnipotence means that the word of God refers to something so huge and powerful that the existence and integrity of this infinite ground can never be threatened by anything human or earthly, no matter how earthly, no matter how cruel or evil or powerful. And it also means that God always remains as a source of power and grace and courage for finding new meaning and creating new structures of being, which can be called upon by human beings in any kind of possible situation. Tillich had had to do that during two different periods of his own life, first during the First World War, and later during the period just before the Second World War when the Nazi’s drove him from Germany and he had to rebuild his whole new life in America.

But we cannot get involved, Tillich says, in trying to argue that the sufferings of young men in the trenches of the First World War, lying maimed or blinded and screaming in fear and pain, were the direct causal result of a decision made by some imaginary God. And theology turns into nonsense when we try to use logical trickery and special pleading to insist that this cruel imaginary being could nevertheless somehow or other be construed as good and loving. As Tillich says in forceful language in his essay:

The concept of a “Personal God,” interfering with natural events, or beings “an independent cause of natural events” makes God a natural object beside others, an object amongst objects, a being amongst beings, maybe the highest, but nevertheless a being…No criticism of this distorted idea of God can be sharp enough.

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Glenn Chesnut

He was Professor of History and Religious Studies at IU South Bend for 33 years, winning IU's Herman Frederic Lieber Award for excellence in teaching in 1988. He has written a number of works that primarily focus on Christianity & Alcoholics Anonymous. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer