IN RAY KELLEHER’S review of Annie Dillard’s book For the Time Being ("In the Face of Brutality," September-October 1999), he says that she describes children "so deformed some might call their very humanity into question. If God is omnipotent and if there is such a thing as innocence, what accounts for these sports of nature?"
The key point is that God is not, and cannot be, omnipotent at our level—the level of physical multiplicity. If one accepts this point, the world makes much more sense. Yet so many people cannot let go of the idea that God must be omnipotent at all levels.
God has other levels that, after death, redeem the horrors and injustice of birth defects, earthquakes, epidemics, and human holocausts. At the world’s level, God influences for good but cannot determine. The nature of the physical universe is the reason. God’s power is diffused in the multiplicity of God’s own creation. There are accidents. This is not God’s self-limitation so that we grow on our own, as so many theologians still say. As Kelleher points out, Dillard rightly says, "The very least likely things for which God might be responsible are what insurers call ‘acts of God.’"
People should stop wasting their time trying to reconcile God’s supposed omnipotence with the existence of accident and evil. Instead, by our good thoughts and actions, we can help God, limited by the world, help us build a better world.