A few (controversial) tentative thoughts which welcomes push back.
I've repeated these words a million times. Whether whispered in prayer, belted out in worship, or absorbed from the sacred pages of scripture, they seemingly declare a truth: God is full of might, exerting absolute power, and omnipotent. If we think about it these words ‘Almighty God’ supports a theological position that God always gets what God aims for, God's will never wavers, and God can pull off anything.
We sing the repeated refrain , ‘Who can stand against the Lord Almighty?’ Yet, we, humanity, throughout history, across the globe, and in our personal lives, endure endless traumas and witness the embodiment of evil.
The almighty omnipotent could put a stop to it all in an instant, yet the tears keep flowing, and the pain persists.
This begs the question, not just in the halls of academia or lofty philosophical debates, but in the raw, unheard cries of those in the Christian fold who grapple with the paradox: God is all-powerful yet full of love. How can these both be true?
Would a loving and omnipotent all powerful God not stop the most brutal acts of evil taking place?
Still, the phrase "almighty God" finds its place in scripture and therefore rightfully shapes our language of prayer, liturgy, and sung worship. But here’s the hitch:- an alternative perspective- while mainstream translations tout "almighty God" — the Bible said it, we believe it, that settles it — these words don't fully capture the Hebrew or Greek originals. Remember, the Old Testament was penned in Hebrew and the New Testament in Koine Greek.
Let’s dive into the Old Testament for a moment (maybe we’ll tackle the New Testament at a later point)
"Almighty" first surfaces in scripture as a translation of ‘ēl shaddai / šadday. Most likely, shaddai translates as ‘breasts’, so ‘ēl shaddai becomes ‘God of Breasts’ or the Breasted God. Metaphorically, it describes God as the one who nurtures and sustains. It's feminine imagery, an alternative to a distorted masculinity of dominance and control that condones violence.
This imagery of nurture , fertility and sustenance makes sense of the following passages.
Genesis 35:11: "And God said to him, 'I am El-Shaddai: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.'"
Genesis 48:3-4: "And Jacob said to Joseph, 'El-Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and he blessed me, and said to me, "Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession."'"
Genesis 49:25: "by the El-Shaddai who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb."
Genesis 28:3: "El-Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples."
Alongside "breasts", shaddai also refers to mountains. Not only do they resemble breasts, but like breasts, they offer safety and sanctuary. Check out Psalm 91
“Whoever rests in the shadow of shaddai finds shelter. They’ll say of the Lord, ‘He’s our refuge, our fortress, our God, in whom we trust’” (Psalm 91:1-2).
El Shaddai, the breasted-mountain God who nurtures and protects.
This quick look at shaddai doesn’t disprove God's almightiness or omnipotence. I may be mistaken. However, it stirs questions, adding pieces to the puzzle challenging the idea that God meticulously controls everything.
I’ll continue to use the phrase Almighty God,- it’s locked into the traditon- but I’ll perhaps pause and reflect that power doesn’t equal absolute control but is rather a power, like that of a good mother, that reveals itself as self giving sacrificial love.
A love that looks like Jesus.
In recent years I have found both Thomas Oord and Greg Boyd helpful in unpacking and critiquing a a theological construction of a god who meticulously controls all things.