Freedom and God's omnipotent love

This post continues a review of key points in Ron Highfield's book, God, Freedom & Human Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1234, 578910111213.

In this post we'll continue Highfield's exploration of how the God-centered self contrasts with the me-centered self, the latter being prevalent in our fallen, largely narcissistic world.

If our core identity (sense of self) is going to be truly God-centered, we (by the grace of God) must begin by understanding who God is as revealed in the person and work of Jesus. According to Highfield, "Through Christ we come to know God as the eternal Trinity who lives by loving" (p. 127). By creating, sustaining and saving us in Christ and by the Spirit, this triune God shares with us, through a relationship of love, God's own self---his freedom and personal dignity---thus giving us our true identity as his dearly beloved children.

God reaching out to Adam by Michelangelo (detail of Sistine Chapel - public domain)

Sadly, many people (including many Christians) hold in their minds and hearts a conception of God very different from the one revealed in and by the person and work of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God (the God-man). They view God not as the tri-personal communion of love that he is, but as a self-centered being who we feel we must compete with, mistrust and fear. This misconception often is grounded in a misunderstanding of God's divine attributes. His omnipotence is a primary case in point, as Highfield notes:
Many think of God's power in quantitative terms, that is, that affirming God's omnipotence implies that God possesses all power.... [But] God's power is not quantifiable at all, because power is not something God has...but something God is.... God does not need power. He does not gain, lose, hold or even use power. God is power...[and] God shares power... [as Clark] Pinnock explains: "The Lord of the universe has chosen to limit his power by delegating some to the creature." (pp. 128-9)
If we view God as the all-powerful one who hordes his power, we will view him as a competitor who by limiting our freedom (keeping us powerless) is undermining our dignity. But the truth of the actual nature of God's omnipotence shows that God is not a threat to us. Instead, he is the one who, as love and in love, is reaching out to us, empowering us to both be and to do. Indeed, his omnipotence gives us a sure foundation both for our being and our doing as Highfield notes:
Far from suppressing our freedom, God's power frees us from nothingness into existence, from death into life, and from paralysis into activity. Without his power we can do nothing, but with it we can do whatever God wants us to do. (p. 130)
One is reminded here of Paul's confession: "I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13 NCV). Highfield continues in addressing how God empowers us and how that relates to our freedom and dignity:
God's wants human beings not only to exist and reflect his glory simply by being there but also wants them involved in their growth and salvation. God wants us to know love and to love in return, to know God's will and desire it. God gave us existence before we could do anything, but God will bring us to perfection through our own freedom. (p. 131)
In implementing his loving plan for us (in ways that accommodate our freedom, thus giving us dignity), God exerts his power. But how? This question has been definitively and finally answered in Jesus---through the Incarnation of the Son of God, and then through Jesus' incarnate life, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, and (remaining human) his continuing ministry as our High Priest.

Woman At The Well by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with artist's permission)
In the Incarnation we see displayed God's creation power, used not to hurt us or to limit our freedom but to save us and set us free as children of God. And in Jesus' gospel-shaped ministry we see what Highfield calls God's gospel power---power being exerted in and through Christ to persuade (but not to coerce). Jesus, in that regard, referred to himself quoting Isaiah's comment concerning the promised Messiah: "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out" (Matthew 12:20). That is a description of the all-powerful Messiah using his power to bless, not to harm; to free, not to enslave or diminish. As Highfield notes, "Persuasion moves people to move themselves freely" (p. 134). He continues the thought:
Divine persuasion [as seen in Jesus] must be distinguished from human persuasion... God is the perfect persuader. Through the Spirit God can move without coercion by enabling us to move ourselves toward our perfect joy and fulfillment. God knows perfectly the truth and goodness we need because God is the truth and goodness we need! God knows our nature and how to bring it to perfection because God [exercising his creation power] created us. God knows our thoughts and wishes, our sins and illusions, our habits, fears and wounds. And God [exercising his gospel power] can place himself right in front of the eyes of our hearts because God is the Spirit. What does God place before our spirits to move us to move ourselves? God's own self. But not the self we sometime imagine him to be, blindingly glorious and thunderously powerful---and self-centered. God appears as a lamb slain, as Jesus Christ crucified, as perfect love and goodness and joy. (pp. 135-6)
Via the Incarnation, God comes to us in Jesus, wrapped in his gospel. Jesus comes as one of us---one with us---our representative and substitute. In his vicarious humanity, Jesus has "pioneered the way we can become our true selves" (p. 137). That is how God uses his power to create, redeem, and transform us---all for love and in love, for our good. Noting that this is persuasion based entirely in grace, Highfield draws this conclusion:
We need not fear that God's omnipotence somehow threatens our freedom and dignity. On the contrary, God's creation power gives us being, life, freedom and all good things. Apart from it we could will nothing and do nothing. The Spirit places the love of God before our hearts and persuades and empowers us to move ourselves beyond the futility and despair of sin.... [God exercises his powers in ways that] raise us from undignified slavery to fantasy, pride and lust to the glorious station of the children of God. With this view of divine power in mind we can understand why the psalmist exclaims, "The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice" (Psalms 97:1 ESV). (pp. 137-8)

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