The relational power of God: Considering the rebel voice

Eleanor O'Donnell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In this thesis I join the chorus of voices that question the long held view that a key attribute of the God of the Christian faith is omnipotence. Omnipotence is characterised with omniscience and impassibility to describe God as all powerful, all knowing, and unable to suffer or change. This view is questionable on several grounds. It denies genuine freedom to creature and creation. It generates an intractable problem of theodicy, for a God who knows the future and brings about every event and circumstance according to divine will is responsible for evil. It portrays God as unable to suffer with us, which is at odds with the New Testament witness of the God who suffers in Christ for our salvation. Moreover, the omnipotence of God invests control of the other with the status of the divine.
The changing contexts of the twentieth century have only served to highlight the problematic nature of an omnipotent God, on more than theological grounds. Theologians have learned from sociology to question the use of power for control and domination, responding with their own theologies whereby divine power has a different quality to omnipotence as traditionally understood. Contemporary science has given us insights into the interconnection and relatedness of all things, making the monarchical power of an omnipotent, impassible God all the more untenable.
The model of God and power that is developed in this thesis is panentheism: a vision of the divine that is God in relationship. What is sought is a fully Christian understanding of God that makes sense for contemporary thinkers who live in a changing, evolving and suffering world. What is proposed is a synthesis of Process theology and Moltmann’s Social Trinitarian theology to provide the basis for a fully relational, panentheistic understanding of God.
To model God as a Social Trinity in process will re-direct attention from the quantity of God’s power to the quality of God’s power. This change of focus provides a vision of the Triune God whose power of love is exercised through lure and invitation towards the good in each moment and circumstance rather than the means through which to impose a preordained divine plan. By giving freedom to creature and creation, and leaving the future open, such a model offers a viable response to the problem of evil and suffering.
A fully relational vision of God also calls for and encourages a change in the outworking of power in social relationships. It invites the view that human relationships are best modelled on the power-sharing solidarity of the Triune God; the God who in loving community feels each joy and sorrow, gently companioning all creation in non-coercive, persuasive, suffering love.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Thomson, Heather, Principal Supervisor
  • Moore, Gerard, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Grant Number

  • Power
  • Panentheism
  • Process theology
  • Trinitarian theology
  • Hartshorne
  • Whitehead
  • Moltmann
  • Social Trinity
  • Theodicy
  • Social relations
  • Philosophy


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