Attempts to explain how an all-powerful, omniscient God is compatible with the reality of evil & suffering in the world have spawned the concept of theistic finitism. Essentially, theistic finitism robs God of one or more of his attributes, as we shall briefly see.
A Case in point is rabbi Harold Kushner’s view in his piece Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Kushner brought to fruition the idea that although evil does exist and that God is all-loving, he is not all-powerful. In other words, although God wishes to abolish evil he has not been able to work out a plan; as Kushner himself explains: “Bad things do happen to good people in this world, but it is not God who wills it. God would like people to get what they deserve in life, but he cannot always arrange it. Even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check and limiting the damage evil can do” (1).
This is what theologians call “theistic finitism.” But, if one is to be consistent with Christian theology God is seemingly robbed of his sovereignty, which almost certainly conflicts with his alleged omnipotence or his ability, as the Apostle Paul once wrote, to work “out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
Again we see this same sort of thing with John Stuart Mill’s notion. Mill had the idea that evil and suffering flow from the fact that “the substance and forces of which the universe is composed” (2) were non-ideal or, in some manner, sub-standard. Essentially God did the best he could with what he had, but it was not good enough to produce perfection; as Mill’s explains: “The Creator did not know how to do it; creative skill, wonderful as it is, was not sufficiently perfect to accomplish his purposes more thoroughly” (3). Of course, if one is to again be consistent with Christian theology, the flaw would be that Mill denies God’s omnipotence (all-powerful nature) and omniscience (infinite knowledge). Mill’s also misses the idea that during creation God was not working with material that happened to be lying around; rather God brought all matter into existence from nothing (ex nihilo).
A further idea of theistic finitism does away with God’s wisdom. For example, at the time of the Aberfan disaster one clergyman was asked by a reporter how he could believe in God as a result of what had happened (due to a slurry that engulfed a small Welsh town 116 children and 28 adults were killed). His reply was “to admit that this is one of those occasions when the Almighty made a mistake” (4). Though tragic what this clergyman does is to deny the perfection of God’s character by claiming that even he makes mistakes. To make a mistake would suggest that God does not have absolute control of his creation, and that unforeseen events happen that he is not aware of.
To accept theistic finitism which denies certain necessary attributes of God would render God less than God, hence no God at all.
1. Kushner, H. 1978. Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? p. 42-43.
2. John Mill quoted by Francis Bridger in Why Can’t I Have Faith? (1998). p. 514.
4. Quoted by Brian Edwards in Not by Chance: God in Control (1989). p. 14.