On April the 4th the world woke up to a chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun. Dramatic footage of hopeless children dying made it across the globe. We all saw that and, heartbroken, have all asked that infamous question: where the hell was God on that Tuesday morning? Why wasn’t he there? Why has he allowed such a terrible massacre?
Believers or non-believer?
In order to answer these questions, we need to make a step back. God-wise, the world splits itself into two categories: the non-believers and the believers. With the term believers, we refer to those who believe in the existence of a God, whatever his name is. The non-believers group, on the other hand, includes both atheists, believing there is no God, and agnostics. This last “label” is (regretfully) unknown to most and refers to those people who do not believe in what cannot be demonstrated. As the existence or non-existence of God cannot be scientifically proved, there are no reasons to matter with it. Why do we need to make this distinction? For the sake of the argumentation. Now let’s go back to our question and analyse it under both points of view.
For the non-believers, answering this question is extremely simple. There is no God or we do not know if there is any, ergo the guilt falls on men and on men alone. The end.
For believers, on the other hand, the situation is much more complex. As I said before, we are not the first ones to have asked this question. As a matter of fact, during every war, every massacre, every genocide and every rape someone invokes a deaf God.
Some people might argue that God has his own design for mankind. Well, if you live on your own little island in the Pacific Ocean, you might as well think so. This, however, doesn’t hold in front of the footage from Syria. Not anymore. There has been one breaking point in humanity when this question widely resonated without an answer. I am talking about the after-war period. When the truth about the holocaust got out, people could not believe it. When the world crumbled under their feet, they begged for an answer. And Hans Jonas replied.
Who is Hans Jonas?
Hans Jonas is a German Jewish philosopher and historian from the 20th century. Aware of the Nazi threat, he flees Germany, escaping the brutality of the holocaust. Years later, a friend of his, whose mother met the same tragic end than his in the polish countryside, asked him to answer the elusive question. This is how Mortality and Morality: A Search for Good After Auschwitz (1984) is conceived.
In his finest essay, Jonas creates his own version of the creation myth. During the shaping of the world, God loses himself in the act of creation. This challenges the belief, or misbelief, that God is somehow omnipotent. Jonas looked at the facts from both a theological and a logical point of view. Theologically speaking, how can we describe God? Well, first of all, God is knowable. We can know God. Secondly, God is good. Omnibenevolence, it cannot be otherwise. And finally, God is omnipotent.
With a God like this, then the world should be perfect and peaceful. But in fact, the world is far from this ideal picture. Yet God is good, he is extremely good. It, therefore, follows that either God does not exist or he is not omnipotent.
If we assume God to have created mankind, then we must also assume that he has given up his omnipotence in the exact moment in which the first man was shaped. Controversial and heretical, I know. Yet logically it is crystal-clear. Power only exists in a relationship with another power: a power not encountering any resistance thus equals the total absence of power. In order to give man free will, God had to renounce to his omnipotence.
Jonas analysed the situation within Judaism, but if we glance at the other big monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, we find (almost) the same attributes: omnibenevolence and omnipotence. Yet they cannot coexist.
So what have we learnt?
At the beginning of this article, we split humanity into two groups: the non-believers and the believers. While for the former it is easy to answer our pounding question, for the latter it can be a real struggle. You do not question the existence of God, less than all his (or her?) qualities. Faith and logic do not really go hand in hand. Hans Jonas has demolished the misbelief of the divine omnipotence in a crystal-clear and logical manner. God is not omnipotent. It thus follows that we are all, believers and non, in the same boat: the faith of the world is in our hands. No matter how bad things could get, no father will come clean out the blood from our hands. So stop praying to an impotent God, and do what is in your power to make the world that peaceful place we all dream about.
Featured image: Creazione di Adamo, Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1511 (Wikimedia Commons)