Limits on The All-Smitey: Omniscience & Omnipotence

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Skip the B.S.

By Skip Eisiminger

Patronus figure on the front roof of St. Marien Church, Osnabrück, Germany.

Patronus figure on the front roof of St. Marien Church, Osnabrück, Germany.

“Every time I take a walk or bike ride, I am thankful for the ‘body of God’ and man’s warm crease in it, but I gave up on the existence of a merciful deity many years ago. When I was a junior in college, an abnormal psychology class I was taking took a field trip to an insane asylum. In cell after padded cell were dozens of haggard men and women: some were tied to their beds, some were soaked in urine, and some were screaming at the absent mothers who’d borne them. The benevolence of anyone, human or divine, seemed an alien concept in that God-forsaken place.” Skip Eisiminger

“In the game of life, a queen will occasionally fall for the jack’s bluff.”—The Wordspinner

“May my mercy overcome my anger.”—Yahweh in the Talmud

Sterling (Skip) EisimingerCLEMSON South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—2/25/2013—On a recent visit, I asked my sister how her back was feeling. I knew she’d undergone radical surgery a short while back to correct a spinal curvature so serious that her lowest left rib was almost touching the top of her pelvis. She said the surgery was nothing short of miraculous for, thanks to the titanium in her back, she can now sit comfortably erect on a stadium bench for three hours or more. She’s also two inches taller.

“Thank God for modern medicine,” I said.

“No, thank God for God,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I said, stepping once more into the well-worn trap.

“Well, for starters, I was scheduled to have my surgery in 2006 but, before that took place, I had my knee broken when a hundred-pound Airedale blindsided me at a dog park. That multiple fracture meant the operation had to be postponed almost a year while I was going through rehab. Then, in 2007, I fell at work and broke my hip. That required another long postponement. By 2008, the protocol for my back surgery had changed radically, which meant I was able to take advantage of a procedure that didn’t even exist in 2006. I’m convinced that God didn’t want me to have my back surgery until the best chance for a full recovery was available.”

“Your God is a tough customer,” I said. “Seems like He could have found a way to help you through your back troubles without breaking your knee and hip.”

“But He had lessons to teach me,” she said. “I learned an awful lot about myself over those three rehabs, and I’m a better person for it today.”

I didn’t want a religious quarrel to spoil another visit, so I told her the story about an agnostic friend of mine who’d been in a rather serious accident. Will Jackson was sitting at a stop light in his Buick one day when he was rear ended so hard he was slammed into a car stopped in front of him. Suddenly, the passenger compartment exploded with airbags, and Will was briefly unconscious. As he was coming to, he heard a concerned but pleasant voice ask,

“Are you OK, Mr. Jackson?”

“Is that you, God?” Will wondered aloud in a daze.

“No, Sir,” the disembodied voice said. “This is On-Star.”

After he’d regained full use of his faculties, Will was more disappointed in his wrecked car than in God’s failure to communicate. My sister chuckled as I finished the story, but her face hinted that she didn’t understand why I’d told it. She probably gives God credit for inflating the airbags and, of course, I wouldn’t try to disabuse her of that quaint notion.

As I have explained to my Calvinist sibling, I have the greatest respect for the Creator. Without His or Her spark, that infinitely dense lump of matter might still be waiting for a light. But, in my view, God is eternally omnipresent, not omniscient nor omnipotent. That doesn’t make Him stupid and weak, just something or someone suprahuman overseeing the complex beauty of His handiwork without meddling in it. But, of course, He can meddle and no doubt does; we humans just don’t know when He does.

Indeed, He reminds me a lot of myself, or the self I’d like to believe is me. Imagine me daydreaming beside the window of my eighth-floor office. Below, I see my friend Ray’s car. As usual, Ray has the best parking place in the library lot. I envy him for that, but I’m not willing to rise at five to get that spot, either. Suddenly, an unmarked van pulls up behind Ray’s car, and a man in overalls gets out, looks nervously about, and slides under the car.

“Uh, Oh, Ray’s got car trouble,” I think, “and he’s called AAA.” About that time, the mechanic crawls out from beneath the car, gets in his van, and drives hurriedly off. Near the spot where he’d been working, I see sunlight shimmering in some liquid oozing across the pavement. Wondering whether it’s water, oil, or something else, I see Ray approaching his car from the library. But before I can get my window open,he enters his car, and drives off.

For a few moments there, I had a God-like overview of the events unfolding below me. I did not, however, know who the “mechanic” was, and I was helpless to prevent him from filing a hole in Ray’s brake line as I later learned he had. Priding myself on being my brother’s keeper, I had called my colleague on his cell phone, and he’d managed to bring his car to a safe stop, but not before raking the right side of his Camry against some parked cars. I’m not certain God could or would have done likewise. Too many people die every day without divine intervention, and the simple reason is He either doesn’t know what’sgoing on, or He knows and can do too little to stop it. Unlike my sister, I’m comfortable with either of those reasons.

Every time I take a walk or bike ride, I am thankful for the “body of God” and man’s warm crease in it, but I surrendered my notions of a merciful deity many years ago. When I was a junior in college, an abnormal psychology class I was taking took a field trip to an insane asylum. In cell after padded cell were dozens of haggard men and women: some were tied to their beds, some were soaked in urine, and some were screaming at the absent mothers who’d borne them. The benevolence of anyone, human or divine, seemed an alien concept in that God-forsaken place.

My heretical notions were reinforced when I realized Hitler was allowed the luxury of suicide at 56; Stalin died of old age at 75, and Mao died in bed at 82. The three of them, all heads of state when they died, are responsible for the deaths of somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty million people. If so, and if God has all the power, can He truly be just? Or is He like me in my office with a suspicious person 80 feet below when I suddenly realized I had not placed a friend on speed dial?

Note: The illustration for this column was taken via Flickr from http://www.flickr.com/photos/downhilldom1984/with/5472991327/#photo_5472991327 and was shot by photographer Dominik Bartsch.

 

About Sterling Eisiminger

Dr. Sterling (“Skip”) Eisiminger was born in Washington DC in 1941. The son of an Army officer, he traveled widely but often reluctantly with his family in the United States and Europe. After finishing a master’s degree at Auburn and taking a job at Clemson University in 1968, he promised himself that he would put down some deep roots. These roots now reach back through fifty years of Carolina clay. In 1974, Eisiminger received a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, where poet James Dickey “guided” his creative dissertation. His publications include Non-Prescription Medicine (poems), The Pleasures of Language: From Acropox to Word Clay (essays), Omi and the Christmas Candles (a children’s book), and Wordspinner (word games). He is married to the former Ingrid (“Omi”) Barmwater, a native of Germany, and is the proud father of a son, Shane, a daughter, Anja, and grandfather to four grandchildren, Edgar, Sterling, Spencer, and Lena.
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