*Warning* I went out of my way to avoid revealing major plot details, but there may be minor spoilers ahead if you have not already seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
After waiting 3 years since its announcement, the geek in me was beyond excited to see Batman v Superman. Despite Affleck’s troubled past in super hero movies and discouraging reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, I was not to be deterred in seeing this movie. I’m glad I wasn’t. The movie wasn’t the kind of purely entertaining super-hero film to which audiences have been conditioned. Rather, Batman v Superman was a sobering story with complex, vulnerable characters dealing with all kinds of heavy philosophical issues.
Most of these issues had to do with the ethical implications of holding immense power, but Lex Luthor raised an interesting issue when, before the climactic battle between batman and superman, he stated, “God is tribal, God takes sides! If God is all-powerful He can not be good, if God is good He can not be all-powerful!”
This could be a harrowing charge against the idea of God. Nobody would actually want to believe in such a being, at least not in the 21st Century. While this could be turned into a rant on Hollywood’s antagonism against Christianity, I think it is to the script-writers’ favor that they had a lunatic villain make such a serious charge against God. Nevertheless, there are many whose faith will be challenged, and even more whose atheistic biases will be encouraged by Luthor’s bold claim.
So, is Lex right? In reference to many religions including Islam and ancient mythology, the answer is that Lex isn’t wrong in his claim that God is tribal and has favorites. But as a Christian, his charge breaks into two parts: a claim about the nature of the Old Testament God (if my memory serves me correctly, Luthor refers directly to Yahweh), and the problem of evil. While I can’t possibly hope to write an exhaustive rebuttal to Lex’s claims in a single post, I want to briefly demonstrate that there are perfectly good responses which sweep the legs out from under those who make claims like Lex Luthor’s.
On the Claim That Yahweh Was Tribal:
Did the God of the OT have favorites? In some senses, yes. Does this suggest that God arbitrarily favored a certain group? Or even worse, does this suggest that God was merely a fabrication of the Hebrew people as a deity no different than the contrived deities of other peoples? Absolutely not. In order to see this, we must have an accurate understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition (as opposed to satirical caricatures of it).
The abridged Hebrew narrative is that Yahweh is the only real and sovereign God. Eventually, God promised Abraham that He would make his descendants into a great nation, that they would have a home in Canaan, and that it would be His nation (Genesis 17). This was not arbitrary favoritism on God’s part, it was a reward for Abraham’s faithfulness.
We could ask why God wouldn’t just make everyone His chosen nation, but this question assumes such a scenario is even realistic. A better question would be to ask why God would have anything to do with even the Hebrews given their constant disobedience and rebellion. The reason is that God was upholding His promise to a faithful man. There is no convincing reason to believe the rest of humanity would have been any different in their wrongdoing, and without a pre-existing covenant, God owed nothing to them.
Furthermore, God didn’t just ignore the non-Israelites. One could find numerous examples in the Old Testament of God showing grace and mercy to the gentiles (even though He owed nothing to them). The first example that comes to mind is Rahab and her family whom God spared in the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 2).
The salvation that comes through Jesus Christ in the New Testament is explicitly extended to the whole world, and demonstrates that the Christian God is anything but a tribal God. This undermines any claim that the God of the Old Testament was merely tribal as the God of the New Testament is the same God of the Old Testament. The reality is that He was working through the Hebrew people to bring about the Messiah at a time and place in the ancient world from which Christianity could explode.
The Problem of Evil
The problem of evil is nothing new in philosophy/theology. However, Luthor’s application of it is an interesting one. The problem of evil usually uses the existence of evil in an attempt to demonstrate that God is either not good or not all powerful (and a God that is supposed to be both does not exist). However, Luthor’s claim in the context of the movie is even more bold. His claim is that if God is all-good, then He can essentially be manipulated by evil in a situation where God is presented with an ultimatum in which he must do a good thing that is advantageous for evil, and is, therefore, not all powerful.
Luthor makes his claim in a situation in which Superman is given an ultimatum wherein he must kill batman (arguably a good deed in Superman’s mind already) in order to save someone whom he cares very much about. The catch is that this would have benefitted Lex Luthor who is the greatest evil in the situation.
Thus, the claim is that a good God could be manipulated by the necessity of His goodness, and is not omnipotent. However, this claim is absurd since an omnipotent God would not actually be limited in an ultimatum. Superman was not omnipotent in the movie. He was potent, but limited enough in his power to be outwitted by Luthor. An omnipotent God could have done any number of things to remedy the situation (or any other situation, for that matter).
Once could argue that since such a God is all-good, he could not do anything wrong and is therefore limited in power. But this is only as profound as stating that a triangle cannot have four sides. God is unlimited in His power. He is only limited by his character which is hardly a limit in any meaningful sense.
Much to Luthor’s chagrin, the reality is that Luthor’s argument reveals that it is necessary for an all-good God to be omnipotent. If there was an all-good God who was limited in power, then we could dream up scenarios where that all-good being could be manipulated into doing something wrong (and would therefore not be all-good). A God could only be all-good if there was no possibility that He could be caught up in true moral dilemmas. Such an ability would require omnipotence since any lack of power would create a weakness that could somehow be exploited. Therefore, only an omnipotent God could be all-good.
Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan
The Analytic Theist by Alvin Plantinga
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