It is a widespread assumption that among Jews, as also among Christians and Muslims, omnipotence is considered one of God's essential attributes. Many people also assume that the idea of divine suffering is a non-Jewish idea, but many Jews, including prominent philosophers and theologians, have challenged the idea of divine omnipotence, and many have spoken of God's suffering along with God's creatures and of needing help to redeem creation. In the first part of this essay, I focus on four Jewish religious thinkers—Abraham Joshua Heschel, Hans Jonas, Edward Feld, and Melissa Raphael—for whom the idea of divine omnipotence is problematic, three of whom espouse the idea of divine suffering, and each of whom speaks of redemption as a collaborative task between God and human beings. In the second part of the essay, I begin by noting that many Christians are surprised to hear that Jews speak of the suffering of God, assuming that this is more of a Christian thing to do because of the suffering of Christ whom they believe to be God incarnate. I suggest that many Christians would likely agree with renowned Protestant theologian Jürgen Moltmann that "we can only talk about God's suffering in trinitarian terms" or they assume that talk about God's suffering must be related to the doctrine of the Incarnation. After pointing out that classical Christian theology actually rejects the idea of divine suffering and arguing that taking the Incarnation seriously should compel us to be open to insights about God that are not tied to Christian doctrines, I offer my own appreciation of the previously summarized insights of Heschel, Jonas, Feld, and Raphael. In the process, I suggest how their insights about God's limited power, God's suffering, and God's need of human help in redeeming the world, which at first may seem to conflict with traditional Christian views, can have a positive effect on Christian ways of relating to God and in formulating more realistic and thus more tenable views of God.
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Merkle, John C. 2022. Challenging the Idea of Divine Omnipotence: Jewish Voices and a Christian Response. Journal of Ecumenical Studies 57(3): 411-431. https://doi.org/10.1353/ecu.2022.0033