The following audio is from a talk delivered at Cal Poly Pomona in conjunction with their MSA entitled, “Why NOT Islam? An Ontology of Tawhid”.
Omnipotence For Dummies
The following is an account from one of the many counseling sessions I do in my role as imam. In this session we discussed some questions regarding qadr (often translated/understood as “predestination” but whose root is much closer to “measuring”) and God’s omnipotence, particularly in the face of human tragedy. The results from the session were found to be useful for this particular person and per their suggestion and permission. This article was originally posted on Marc Manley Dot Com as Qadr For Dummies.
Omnipotence as we often imagine it, as fragile and limited beings, is akin to a driver who has a stifling set of hands on the wheel and as thus, doesn’t let anyone else drive or participate.
Let us imagine another type of omnipotence: your child (4-years old) invites friends over to your house to play. In the process of playing they make a mess, spill pop (soda for Midwesterners), drop food on the floor, maybe even break a plate. Oh, and they also get into a fight. But is any of this out of your jurisdiction or control as a parent? No. Why? Because you have the power to clean it up and resolve their disputes. Likewise, even in the face of terrible tragedy, God has the capacity to take account (qadr) and to set affairs straight: reward or punishment as well as mete out justice and give recompense.
It is strange sometimes that we are unwilling to apply the same findings about the natural laws of the universe to other problem sets. Perhaps this is the failed results of attempting to divide life into sacred and profane realms. For instance we find all objects have mass, density, and gravitational pull. The larger, more dense an object is, the greater its gravitational pull. Likewise, the gravity of a group of 4-year olds playing, making a mess, breaking a plate and bickering over toys is trivial. But in the minds of those children, it is grave indeed. Thus, a parent is the suitable judge to arbitrate and adjudicate this scenario. Scaled up, one may understand who God is, what life is all about, how to process and compartmentalize life’s joys and sorrows, and ultimately know that nothing is outside of God’s capacity to arbitrate and adjudicate. As God says in the Qur’an, chapter 57, verses 1-2:
سَبَّحَ لِلَّهِ ما فِي السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ وَهُوَ العَزيزُ الحَكيمُ
لَهُ مُلكُ السَّماواتِ وَالأَرضِ ۖ يُحيي وَيُميتُ ۖ وَهُوَ عَلىٰ كُلِّ شَيءٍ قَديرٌ
“Whatever is within the heavens and the earth reflects the glory of God, and He is the Powerful and the Wise.  To Him belongs the control of the heavens and the earth. He alone grants life, He alone grants death, for He has power [qadr/qadir] over all things. ”