“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Power(lessness) of God

I was sitting in the silence of the Quaker meeting house this lunchtime, pondering the phrase "there is that of God in everyone."

I take this to mean that there is a divine spark - whether you call it "God", "the Spirit", "the Light within", "the still, small voice" or "conscience" - in each and every one of us. The Hindus have a word for it, which they use as a greeting: "Namaste" - "The divine in me recognises and honours the divine in you."

And it came to me that the only power that God has in our world is through us. I don't believe that He (or She or It) is omnipotent, otherwise how would bad things be allowed to happen? If God could truly do anything He wanted, surely He would simply "reach down from heaven" and stop evil-doing or natural disasters in their tracks? As this obviously doesn't happen, I am forced to the conclusion that He must have something different in mind.

I believe that God is all-loving, but powerless to intervene in the affairs of the world. He can influence what happens in only two ways:

1. by giving us the attributes - kindness, compassion, strength etc - to deal with whatever comes our way, and
2. by working through us as that of God within, to make the world a better place.

Rabbi Lionel Blue recalls a conversation with God "in a south German church by some railway lines leading to a former labour or concentration camp:

LB: 'Where were you during the prayers which were said in those cattle trucks of human misery?'

No answer.

LB: 'Were you drunk or dozing? Would it have hurt you so much to take a hand?'

No answer.

LB: 'But you've got no hands - so you're useless!'

As I go through the door, raging within me, my inner voice answers,

Him: 'You're the only hands I've got in the world - over to you!'
LB: 'I've no answer, but now I know the next step for me.'"

This means that each one of us is responsible for our own words and deeds - God can work through us, but the responsibility is ours. So we need to learn to become aware of that divine spark within us, and pay attention to what it is saying. So far from our fate resting in God's hands, the world's fate rests in our hands.


  1. I have always thought this poem illustrates this point rather well:

    Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
    no hands but yours,
    no feet but yours,
    yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion
    is to look out to the earth,
    yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
    and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.

    St Teresa of Avila

    There's also a great poem called "My Disabled God" which makes the same point.

    Personally I believe that the Divine is a process or an experience, not a person, but I think this idea of powerlessness, which places the responsibility to solve the world's problems squarely back in our court, is a good thing.

    1. Love the St Teresa poem - thank you.