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This weeks DYK is about Einstein’s third argument, that religion is self-contradictory, is directed at the often-heard religious concept of “an omnipotent God who creates moral and physical evil although, on the other hand, he is supposed to be good and righteous.” But the idea of omnipotence, Tillich says, is a symbol, not a statement that God is an object who is active in terms of physical causality, as simply one object among all other objects in the omnipotence in biblical passages like the famous one from Deutero-Isaiah (Tillich here cites Chapter 40 in the book of Isaiah). To put this in context, we need to remember how the ancient near east had been swept by bloodshed and slaughter over and over again for two entire centuries, as first one imperialistic power and then another sought to gain control over the entire region:  the Assyrians (the Nazis of the ancient near east), the Babylonians, and finally the Persians. Through all of this the Jewish people had somehow survived, and were now going to be given the opportunity to return to Palestine and rebuild Jerusalem an   d the Temple. The passage, to which Tillich refers, was written at this point, after the “Edict of Cyrus” was issued by the King of the Medes and the Persians (modern day Iran) in 538 B.C. Since a good many of the people who are going to read this book are not great biblical scholars, I believe it will be useful to giv e an extended selection from Isaiah 40, so the reader can get a better idea about the structures of reality:

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nought, and makes its rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

The real God is far above all the meaningless battles of ignorant kings and dictators struggling for power. The real God is the power revealed in all the countless stars and galaxies that came into being out of the infinite ground of being in what modern physicists call the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago:

To whom then will you compare me that I should be like him? Says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

The symbol of divine “omnipotence” means that the force that created the galaxies can never be threatened or overturned by puny human beings, even so called mighty kings and world conquerors, who are like tiny grasshoppers madly jumping about on a planet that is but a speck of dust in a universe which extends as far as the largest astronomical telescopes can peer…

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Glenn Chesnut
About This Author
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.
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