Human suffering, no matter the form it takes, be it natural disasters or human-initiated evil, leads many to doubt the omnipotence of God. Catastrophes such as tsunamis, wars, or ethnic “cleansings,” whose human casualties number in the thousands or hundreds of thousands (or more), stretch our sensibilities so far that they become difficult to relate to or comprehend for a sustained period of time. But suffering cannot be relegated simply to the realm of the extraordinary (although such occurrences take place more frequently than we would like to imagine). Often, we deal with the pressures and loneliness of our own lives, pressures that tend to set a rather monotonous and annoying rhythm, but which impact us nonetheless. Many times, it is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back that leads to a “blow-up” on our part. When such incidents transpire, the questions that plague us become more personal in nature, leading people of faith to question the almightiness of God. (The atheist, or the non-theist, may have an easier time of things — if life is just a meaningless jumble of random happenings, then I need not see the hand of a higher power in the quagmire I find myself in at the moment.) We cry from the depths of our being, “Why was I not spared this once? Was I not struggling enough? If God is omnipotent, why did He allow this to take place? Surely He knows what I’m going through!”
No simple answer can or should be given to suffering. This short reflection only wants to draw attention to a particularly curious passage in the Scriptures that might serve as a guide in our quest to understand the meaning of God’s almightiness: “At a lodging place on the way the Lord met [Moses] and sought to kill him” (Exodus 4:24). This verse comes on the heels of Moses’ great commission, when God asks Moses to present himself to Pharaoh on behalf of His people and plead with him to free the Israelites so that they can journey to the wilderness and offer sacrifices to their God. Yahweh warns Moses that the Egyptian king will refuse to listen, so Moses is to perform all the miracles God has taught him in order to soften Pharaoh’s heart. The next thing we know, the Lord seeks to murder His spokesman. Yahweh may sometimes seem like a capricious deity in the Old Testament, but He is rarely irrational. He either sends Moses on a suicide mission, which Moses successfully avoids; or, more likely, there is something about this undertaking that allows Moses to come so close to the truth of who God is that death must be faced as a real possibility. It is not that Abba wishes for His servants to die (and, by extention, for His creation to suffer), but that in a fallen world that resists to the point of violence the Word of God, those who agree to be His earthen vessels choose a perilous path, fraught with sufferings spanning the entire spectrum of human experience (physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual — and even death).
Abba’s omnipotence is often understood to mean His ability to do anything He desires. Such a statement, rather than stemming from a Scriptural mind, seems to be a projection of our own misguided imagination and our own self-centeredness. It is we who wish to do as we please, not a loving Creator who refused to abandon His creatures to the grave. That Abba is almighty means that there is no situation in which He is not present or relevant, no situation that will make Him turn away from us, or cause Him to retract His love from us, or recant His commitment to us and our freedom. There is no circumstance that stumps Him or intimidates Him or frustrates His plans. There is simply nothing that God cannot transform, so long as our hearts remain of flesh.
Andreea Bălan (SVOTS ’10) was born and raised in Romania, moving to the U.S. when she was 16 years old. After graduating from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM with a degree in liberal arts, she went to study theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Upon completion of her degree in 2010, she relocated to Dallas, TX where she serves as the youth director for a local Orthodox church in the Antiochian Archdiocese.
 This paragraph is deeply indebted to Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust.