Great Power, Great Responsibility – Uncle Ben vs. God


“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Uncle Ben

Uncle Ben is laying the smackdown of truth right here. This idea is fundamental, and it even factors into our justice system. Minors get charged differently, because we ascribe a different level of responsibility to their actions. People who are mentally ill are not culpable in the same way as an average 30 year old. The 10 year old that bashes his mother’s head in with a baseball bat that she bought him for his birthday is sure as hell going to haunt our dreams, but he’s not the same as Dexter serially slaying people on Showtime, and we know that.

Scariest child murderer ever? Sarah Hyland in the SVU episode “Hothouse”. Just. Don’t. Even. DO. IT.

This is about culpability. It’s about the fact that along with the other factors that we consider when we define culpability, we recognize that being fully culpable is directly proportionate to an agent’s understanding of their actions. This is actually why the question of how to treat criminal minors is a hot button topic, especially when considering the possibility that their decision making capacities are impaired during that period in life due to lower brain activity in the frontal lobe and more in the amygdala, leading to a lack of true understanding of their actions.

Understandings of God

  • He is all powerful. (Soundbite: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”; Full length ego-trip: “I’m so badass.” (Job 38-41)
  • He knows all. I always like to add my personal caveat that my understanding of the Christian conception of God is not only that He knows everything, like some Encyclopedia Britannica, but that He understands everything. The cause and effect for everything in the past, present, and future is with Him, and He understands, not just every single thing, but how every single thing interacts and works together (Rom 8:28).
  • He is good/love. We don’t have time to debunk that claim here and now (see here and here for just a taste), but let’s take it, as they say, “on faith.” Verses like Psalm 145:9 even go the extra mile to say that God’s not just good, but He’s good to everybody.

Here’s the thing: These are highly specific claims, and they raise God’s power levels faster than a Mario mushroom or power flower. This brings us back to the timeless wisdom of Uncle Ben (maybe Voltaire, but mostly Uncle Ben): “With great power comes great responsibility.” Put a different way, it might sound like this:

 …For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:48)

Given the nature of the claims we’ve just entertained, God would ultimately have the absolute highest degree of culpability for what He does and creates. He knows all, can do all, and is fundamentally good. Remember: Our judgment should be directly proportionate to the agent’s understanding and capacity.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things (Isaiah 45:7)

Now consider teachers. We place our children in teachers’ care every day, and if something happens to them under the watch of the teacher, largely, it is the teacher’s fault. But teachers are neither omniscient (“I didn’t know that he was eating rat poop”), omnipotent (“Actually, sir, that’s a 300 pound man gorilla masquerading as a high schooler, and I spent the last 7 years of my life reading books, so no, I couldn’t break up the fight so easily”), or omnipresent (“I was not there when he punched Petey into orbit, Mrs. Wilson, I’m sure he’ll come down soon”). Teachers lack all these powers, and we still think it’s their fault when something goes wrong. Furthermore, if we were to add even one of these qualities to Mrs. Higgenbottom or Mr. Scratchcraggle, their culpability would be even higher and we would blame them MORE for failing to keep our children from harm. The crucial question: where is God’s responsibility?

I swear, the bear thing with Elisha in 2 Kings was totally…ahem…legit.

For some reason, the fact that Yahweh can commit genocide against the whole earth because He regrets making us, order the killing of Amalekite infants, bizarrely care about foreskin, condone and endorse slavery, or leave a shocking amount of today’s ills off of His almighty to-do list is easily shed by modern Christians by simply claiming a different interpretation of the text. God can say things as clearly as “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7) and somehow Christians still blame most of the world’s woes on sin, free will, and our choices that lead us away from God.

Surely anything claiming to be good, loving, all powerful and all-knowing should have the screws put to it for a world as poorly designed as this one. Or, of course, He doesn’t actually exist. There’s always that possibility.

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